The Ohio State defense, which has produced quality NFL caliber defensive backs in the past, has been in a state of crisis the past year.
Sophomore safety Vonn Bell said Wednesday he and his teammates are ready to prove that the Buckeyes’ secondary is capable of slowing down an opponent’s pass game.
“Everybody criticized the pass defense here at Ohio State and we want to show the world who we are,” Bell said. “That we are one of the top elite pass defenses in the nation and in college football.”
In the past, the OSU defense has seen Thorpe award winners such as Antoine Winfield — who was inducted into the OSU Athletics Hall of Fame last week — and Malcolm Jenkins shut down opposing receivers.
The Buckeyes could need a Thorpe-worthy performance this week in order to shut down Maryland junior wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
Diggs was named to the Biletnikoff preseason watch list — a lineup for the award for the best receivers in the nation — and leads the Terrapins in catches and yards with 29 receptions for 398 yards and two scores.
Bell said he has watched Diggs on film and noted that the receiver reminds him of one of his own teammates. “He’s a little shifty guy. He reminds me a little bit of (sophomore H-back) Dontre Wilson, you know, a speedy guy,” Bell said. “(Diggs) really wants to get out in space, make the big guys miss. He has swagger, he is very confident.”
Diggs has every reason to be confident, as he is coming off of a game against the Indiana Hoosiers in which he caught six passes for 112 yards and a touchdown.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said he knows how impactful Diggs is not only from film, but also because he recruited the receiver out of high school.
“We had a good relationship with Stefon Diggs and his family,” Meyer said Monday. “And I really thought we had a legitimate shot at him. I knew when watching him play that he was special. Now that I see him, he’s as good as there is in America.”
In addition to Diggs, Maryland senior wide receiver Deon Long also poses a threat, as he has caught 21 balls this season for 250 yards, with 108 of those yards coming against Indiana last week.
Despite the multiple offensive threats, Meyer said he feels confident in his defense.
“I really do. We had a good day today and, man, are we working at it, so I really like where we are heading,” he said Wednesday.
One question mark heading into the game is who will play quarterback for the Terrapins. Redshirt-senior quarterback C.J. Brown, who leads Maryland in passing and rushing, left the Indiana game early with a wrist injury and it is unclear whether he will play against the Buckeyes.
Meyer said he believes that the Maryland offense is more diverse when Brown is on the field.
“Obviously when (Brown) is in there, it is changed,” Meyer said. “It is a much different offense than when the other guy is in there. The quarterback run is a big part of it. I don’t think they are going to announce it until gameday.”
The other guy Meyer mentioned is Maryland junior quarterback Caleb Rowe, who is known more as a traditional passer. The backup threw for 198 yards on 12 of 18 passing for two scores following Brown’s exit against the Hoosiers.
OSU sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa said Wednesday that regardless of who takes the snaps for the Terrapins, the Buckeyes have to prepare for a complex Maryland attack.
“They have a tricky offense. It has been a little rough adjusting, but today was a much better practice for me at least,” Bosa said. “They throw a lot of screens so we are going to have to stop that first before we can get any pressure.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled to travel to College Park, Md., Saturday to take on the Terrapins at Byrd Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon.