Orange Bowl 2014: Ohio State Will Get Glimpse of Future on Defense

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IDecember 31, 2013

Nov 2, 2013; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes safety Vonn Bell (11) reacts as he runs onto the field before the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State's defense has been the topic of much consternation over the past month-plus, thanks to subpar efforts against Michigan and Michigan State in back-to-back games. 

Come the Orange Bowl, some will get their wish, as Ohio State's defense is about to look a lot different than it has all season long. 

For some, it couldn't be much worse than giving up over 1,000 yards and 75 points in a two-game span. 

With those kinds of results, could the young replacements really do much worse?

We're about to find out. As many as four changes are in store from the defense that took the field in the Big Ten Championship game. 

Some of the changes are due to injury situations, and others are because of the flu bug going around the Ohio State locker room, but perhaps the biggest blow comes not from injury or sickness, but from an issue away from the game of football. 

Ohio State's best pass-rushing threat, Noah Spence, didn't make the trip to South Florida with the team and may not be able to be in attendance due to what the team is describing as a "personal issue."

CHAMPAIGN, IL - NOVEMBER 16: Armani Reeves #26 of the Ohio State Buckeyes brings down V'Angelo Bentley #2 of the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Couple that with the news that Bradley Roby isn't a for sure go thanks to a bone bruise in his knee, according to Eric Seger of The Lantern, and you have two of the most important pieces against the high-powered Clemson passing attack missing. 

That means it could be on sophomore Armani Reeves to tackle the tough task of Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (85 receptions, 1,237 yards, 10 touchdowns). 

Watkins is nothing but confident about his abilities and the matchup against either Roby or Reeves.

"I think I’m the best receiver in the nation and I think cornerbacks should have their chance," said Watkins, according to "Overall I think I can’t be guarded, that’s just my mindset. But it’s definitely fun going against great cornerbacks."

Reeves has played in 12 games this season, making 22 tackles and recording seven pass breakups along with eight passes defended. Not bad, but he also hasn't taken on the combination of speed and size that Watkins possesses. 

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 21:  Jamal Marcus #34 of the Ohio State Buckeyes makes the tackle on ballcarrier Omari Albert #32 of the Florida A&M Rattlers in the fourth quarter at Ohio Stadium on September 21, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated FAMU
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

As for the help a pass rush gives defensive backs, according to Brian Bennett of, the team is working to get Jamal Marcus and Steve Miller (no, not the band, you're better than that joke...but I'm clearly not) ready to go against the Tigers. 

Marcus and Miller have combined for 27 tackles, eight tackles for loss and five sacks this season. There's talent there, but it's a big step up from playing in situational roles to being expected to play nearly every down. 

The positive news is that Roby may still end up playing in the Orange Bowl, but according to Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, it could be a case of mind over matter for the star cornerback(h/t to Eric Seger of The Lantern): 

You’d have to ask the doctors. I mean, there’s—there’s a lot of injuries that—you know, it’s not an exact science. I always tell those guys, a mind is a powerful thing. A doctor can tell you one thing or a trainer can tell you one thing, but what’s in your mind and how well you can heal and what you can do is probably as powerful as anything. So we don’t really know.

Even if Roby sees the field, there will be other changes behind him, as Tyvis Powell gets the start at safety and highly touted freshman Vonn Bell gets the start at the nickel spot

Senior linebacker Curtis Grant is also an injury concern, dealing with back and ankle injuries that have bothered him off and on all season long. 

Yes, Ohio State will be playing nickel most of the game, trying to matchup with what Clemson likes to do offensively. 

What remains to be seen is if the changes in the secondary allow for better play by the defense overall or if it's a case of too little, too late for Ohio State. 

For those hoping the future is brighter than the 2013 season looked on defense, Ohio State will give you a good glimpse of what's to come—it just may not be ready to challenge a top15 opponent just yet though. 


*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens


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