Several notable Ohio State players made their 2013 debuts or saw extended playing time against San Diego State, and the early feedback from teammates and head coach Urban Meyer is encouraging.
Ohio State junior corner Bradley Roby and running back Rod Smith both returned from one-game suspensions in the then-No. 3 Buckeyes’ 42-7 win at Ohio Stadium on Saturday. Senior safety and game captain C.J. Barnett (ankle) also debuted after missing the first game of the 2013 season. On the advice of team trainers, senior center and game captain Corey Linsley took just 17 snaps in the opener against Buffalo but saw his role expanded on Saturday.
It didn’t take long for Smith to impress Meyer. Starting his day on special teams, where he had to earn his way back into the battle for carries at running back, Smith found himself in the backfield of OSU’s offense in the first half against the Aztecs. Smith carried three times totaling 11 yards and found the end zone on a 1-yard run in the second quarter.
“Rod Smith was on punt team, which you can’t play unless you’re involved,” Meyer said, “and that tells you how much I trust him because he works really hard at it.”
Roby didn’t start on Saturday either, as his usual starting assignment belonged to sophomore Armani Reeves. However, Roby’s number was called on just the third play of the game as he contributed on a third-down stop by the Buckeyes.
The box score can be partly telling of a player’s success, and the stat sheet does indeed point to good returns for Roby as well as Barnett. Roby finished the game with four tackles and, fittingly enough for a player that lead the nation in passes defended per game in 2012, a pass breakup. Barnett, who said it was amazing to be back on the field, totaled a team-high seven tackles.
Aspects of the game such as Roby’s and Barnett’s ability to change an opponent’s game plan just by being on the field might not show up in the box score or on note sheets in the press box, but these important details are clearly visible from OSU’s bench.
“It helped a lot,” Ohio State junior cornerback Doran Grant said of Roby’s return. “It seemed like San Diego State kind of shied away from him, obviously. That shows the respect he commands and that’s something I’m trying to earn. But with (Barnett) and (Roby) being back, it’s just a good feeling. You feel like electric, feel it all through the defense and the team, just having your players’ back. That was the most important part – playing with your brothers.”
Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier agreed.
“That’s great for us (to have Roby and Barnett back) because it kind of keeps teams from wanting to throw the ball in certain areas,” Shazier said. “We can kind of control where they put the ball.”
With Ohio State clearly banking on playing meaningful games in November, December and beyond, its training staff is attempting to preserve Linsley by slowly adding more snaps and more game minutes to his list of responsibilities each week. Linsley said this course of action is for the team’s short-term benefit, adding that it frustrates him because he falls out of synch with his fellow offensive linemen.
“I can go out there and play like crap and hurt my foot and then play all right for a little bit but play like crap by game six, so pretty much they’re just doing it for the long haul,” Linsley said. “My foot’s not a big deal right now. It’s just, again, for the long run.”
Even though Linsley might feel like he’s not keeping up with the other offensive linemen, teammates say he’s still getting the job done. The improvement from his short appearance in the opening game of the season to Saturday’s game was noticeable, senior lineman Andrew Norwell said.
“He did well. Coaches called him in, but he didn’t miss a beat when he was out there,” Norwell said. “I feel so comfortable when he’s out there. You know, he’s healthy. They’re just playing it smart with him but he played a lot today and he played well today.”
Of course, only one man will make the final stamp of approval at Ohio State, and that’s Meyer. His final determinations on the players’ performances won’t be made until he’s completed some film study, but his general impression after beating SDSU was a positive one, saying, “I think they played pretty good.”