The Ohio State football team’s secondary received a boost Saturday from the return of redshirt-senior safety C.J. Barnett and redshirt-junior cornerback Bradley Roby, but with Roby, that boost did not come until the third defensive play of the game.
Barnett and Roby, two of four returning starters from last season on the Buckeyes’ defense, made their season debuts Saturday in OSU’s 42-7 win over San Diego State. Both players missed the season opener versus Buffalo one week earlier. Barnett sat out that game with a sprained ankle, while Roby was suspended for his involvement in an incident at a Bloomington, Ind., bar in July.
Roby’s suspension, at least in terms of him being kept out of his regular starting spot on the field, was extended by two plays.
Both players were mainstays on the field Saturday through the first three quarters of the game, before the Buckeyes began taking some of their starters out of the lineup with the game’s result well in hand. But while Barnett received his 25th career start, sophomore cornerback Armani Reeves started in Roby’s place opposite junior Doran Grant.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said earlier in the week Roby would have to compete with Reeves to earn back his spot in the lineup, but from the third play on, Roby was a constant in the defensive lineup while Reeves barely saw the field on defense again until the fourth quarter.
Meyer and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs both declined to explain why they decided to start Reeves.
“It’s just a decision that our staff made,” Meyer said.
Coombs said there was “no rationale” behind the decision.
“Just doing my job,” Coombs said of the decision. “Sometimes everybody’s got to be careful about what they see and the inferences that can be drawn from that.”
Coombs, however, said the Buckeyes are better with their star cornerback on the field.
“We’re obviously a better team when Bradley’s on the field,” Coombs said.
With Roby on the field for most of the game, the Buckeyes gave up only 132 passing yards and 176 total yards of offense through the first three quarters. San Diego State’s offense only managed one scoring drive.
Roby made a number of key plays. He had four tackles for the game, including a touchdown-saving tackle at the two-yard line on the second-to-last play of the first half. He also swatted a pass down in the backfield off a corner blitz in the second quarter.
Coombs said he thought Roby played well, but not as well as he could have.
“We’re really good when Bradley Roby plays, because Bradley Roby’s a really good player,” Coombs said. “He played well, not nearly as well as he will play as the season progresses, and he knows that. He’s got a real high standard for himself, but we’re real excited to have him back.”
Roby said he felt “a little rusty” in his first game action of the season.
“It felt kind of weird at first just getting used to it because we didn’t play in a bowl game and I hadn’t played in so long,” Roby said. “But just getting back out there and playing with my friends, it was good, I’m glad I’m back out there. As the game went on, I got in a rhythm.”
Barnett also made a key impact on the Buckeyes’ victory, leading the team with seven tackles.
Barnett said the secondary was “complete” due to his and Roby’s returns to the lineup.
“We’re able to have two guys with a lot of experience and pretty good players just come in there and bring some playmaking ability but also some leadership,” Barnett said. “With me, (senior safety) Christian (Bryant), Roby and Doran (Grant), you got four good guys in there … we work well together.”
Starting opposite Reeves and then playing with Roby the rest of the day, Grant was also a key performer. He made a deep-ball interception in the first quarter, was credited with two pass breakups and finished the game with four tackles.
Grant said the presence of Roby and Barnett gave him more opportunities to make plays Saturday.
“I know that the (opposing) team’s going to shy away from Bradley, and Christian Bryant, probably C.J.,” Grant said. “(The opposing team was) going to come at me and I was going to make the best opportunity I can and train hard.”
With Roby and Barnett back in the lineup, the Buckeyes defense had double the number of returning starters it had in the season opener. Bryant and junior outside linebacker Ryan Shazier were the only starters from the 2012 season to play on defense versus Buffalo.
Shazier said having Roby and Barnett in the secondary allows the Buckeyes to control what spots on the field opposing offenses pass the ball to.
“(Roby and Barnett’s presence) kind of keeps teams from wanting to throw the ball in certain areas,” Shazier said. “It was great to have Bradley and C.J. back because they feel like your security blanket. You mess up, those two guys know exactly what they’re doing, and they’re great players, they’re in the All-American debates … we know that they’re going to take care of their business if somebody messes up.”
Roby, a second-team AP All-American and Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist in 2012, will be expected to retain his starting spot opposite Grant for the remainder of the season. Coombs, however, said Reeves will continue to see playing time, even though Roby and Grant were the team’s two outside cornerbacks for nearly all the significant time in Saturday’s game.
“I think Armani has done every single thing that we’ve asked him to do, and I think he’s going to be a great player for us,” Coombs said. “We’re going to keep playing all three of them and the young guys are, once they play on special teams, young guys are going to be playing too.”
Reeves came back into the lineup in the fourth quarter and came up with an interception on SDSU’s second-to-last defensive series. He finished the game with five total tackles.
The Buckeyes improved to 2-0 to start the season with the win over the Aztecs. OSU will play its first road game of the season Sept. 14, when it travels to Berkeley, Calif. to take on the 1-1 California Golden Bears. The Golden Bears picked up their first win of the season Saturday over Portland State, after dropping their season opener to Northwestern.