Jermaine To The Situation
When starting cornerback Denzel Burke went down with an injury against Purdue this past Saturday, freshman Jermaine Mathews, Jr. was thrust into the lineup. He played most of the second half for the Buckeyes, and played well.
It wasn’t his first action of the year — as evidenced by his 58-yard pick six against Western Kentucky — but it was his most extensive action this season.
With Burke’s situation still up in the air, Mathews could be called in again to help out when needed. If he is, the Ohio State defensive coaches have confidence that he will once again rise up to the challenge.
“Yeah, we’re confident in Jermaine,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said on Tuesday. “For a true freshman, he’s got a lot of guts. He’s got a lot of moxie. He’s just talented. And he’s shown the ability to make plays. So we’re confident in putting him in there. I could see a similar situation.”
Mathews’ rise hasn’t been a surprise. He has impressed Knowles from the first day he worked with him at a recruiting camp a couple of years ago. But you never really know until they enroll and get to work, and that’s when Knowles’ suspicions were confirmed.
“Yeah, really from the first day he arrived on campus,” he said. “He’s one of those guys that has a lot of energy. And like I said, he’s got ‘moxie,’ I call it. From day one, he was willing to step in there and compete against some of the best receivers in the country. When you see a young guy do that, you think he’s got a chance.”
It’s Not Supposed To Bend That Way
One of the reasons Jim Knowles has been a successful defensive coordinator over the years is because he has used aggression to his benefit. He has dialed up blitzes and chaos to a disruptive degree throughout his career.
This year, however, that dial has been turned down a bit out of choice. It wasn’t an easy choice, but it was done to eliminate the large number of explosive plays the Buckeyes allowed last year.
Over the course of the 13-game 2022 season, the Ohio State defense gave up 18 plays of 40 yards or more from scrimmage. Only nine teams nationally allowed more. This year, with a less-aggressive-and-more-sound defensive approach, the Buckeyes haven’t yet allowed a single play of 40 yards or more through six games.
Sometimes, a less-aggressive approach is labeled “bend but don’t break.” But Knowles doesn’t want to hear that terminology used when talking about the Buckeyes.
“I don’t know, I just don’t like the way it sounds,” he said.
So what should this defensive style be labeled?
“One that prevents points,” he said. “And that’s our job. The stop rate is so important because that’s the job of the defense no matter where you go on the field. You’ve got to prevent points, stop points.”
Simon Says ‘Play Me’
Senior linebacker Cody Simon has been a valuable reserve for the Buckeyes over the past two years, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering he started 10 games for Ohio State as a sophomore in 2021.
Simon has the ability to play the Mike or Will linebacker spots for the Buckeyes, which he has done throughout the season. More and more, however, he is seeing time throughout the game at Will, splitting snaps with Steele Chambers, who has been the starter at that position the past two seasons.
In fact, Simon got more snaps at Will than Chambers did at Purdue last Saturday.
“Yeah, they’re neck and neck,” Knowles said. “I mean, Cody is continuing to earn more playing time. He plays both positions. Extremely valuable. But he’s earned the time and he’s extremely competitive at that position.”
Simon finished with eight tackles against Purdue, and with Penn State’s running attack coming to town this weekend, his ability to stop the run may see him log more snaps than Chambers once again. They both have their skill sets that will continue to be utilized throughout the season, however.
“Cody brings kind of an added dimension in the run game because he’s more of a mike linebacker type, so when he’s in there at will he can be more effective in the run game,” Knowles said. “And obviously Steele brings stronger athleticism. He seems to be able to make more plays in in the in the passing game and cover more space.”
Penn Station To Station
Penn State leads the Big Ten in scoring this season, averaging 44.3 points per game so far through six contests. Against conference foes, however, their average drops 10 points, which is more in line with what should probably be expected the rest of the season from the Nittany Lions.
Penn State is second nationally in time of possession and first in the Big Ten in number of first downs. They have shown a consistently solid offense so far this season, but one that hasn’t exactly been explosive. They are fifth in the Big Ten in yards per play (5.53), and 13th in the number of plays of 20 yards or more (16).
The Nittany Lions have one completion of over 40 yards this season, and that happened on their second pass attempt of the season. But it’s their steadfast commitment to staying on schedule that poses a problem for the Buckeyes this week.
“Yeah. Their time of possession is awesome, and I think the most red zone plays in the country,” Knowles said. “The challenging part is finding a way to get them off schedule. You know, if they just stick to a schedule and they can move down the field, they’ve been very successful with that. So try to knock them off, kind of get them behind the sticks. But winning the situations, you know? The third down and red zone, that becomes even more important because if you can win the third down it’s like stealing a possession.”
Is Drew Due?
Speaking of stealing possessions. Penn State sophomore quarterback Drew Allar has now thrown 241 passes in his career and has yet to throw an interception.
This season he has completed 118-of-181 pass attempts (65.2%) for 1,254 yards with 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions through six games.
Allar has been criticized by some this season for checking down and making safer throws. His head coach James Franklin hasn’t been one of those critics, and neither has Jim Knowles when speaking about Allar and getting the offense off schedule.
“You’ve got to challenge receivers in the intermediate area,” Knowles said. “He’s really good at those passes. And you have to be able to put some pressure on him and kind of present different looks to him just to kinda get him thinking. We’ve got to push our rush and really defend that intermediate zone.”