When a team has a true shutdown cornerback, he functions like a sign in the front yard that says “Secured by ADT.” A lockdown corner is a deterrent. Opponents are dared to throw to his side of the field, and many refuse the challenge. Think of the Nnamdi Asomugha years in Oakland, when he was thrown at just 87 times over a three-year span.
Coming into this season Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell thought they had just that in junior cover man Bradley Roby. He was a first-team All-American in 2012 after breaking up 17 passes, picking off two passes, and adding 63 tackles. He was going to be the guy; a repeat All-American and a top 10 pick in the NFL Draft.
So, when Roby was arrested on July 21 in Bloomington, Indiana on a Class A Misdemeanor Battery charge, Buckeyes fans and coaches were understandably worried. The Big Ten isn’t loaded with explosive receivers, but Ohio State had larger designs than just winning their conference. Accomplishing those goals would be much harder without their standout corner.
While Roby’s charge was quickly reduced to a Class B Disorderly Conduct, Urban Meyer didn’t wait for the case’s resolution to suspend the Buckeye star for the season opener against Buffalo (the charge was eventually dismissed). Sophomore Armani Reeves started in Roby’s place against the Bulls and was victimized a few times by quarterback Joe Licata. He also was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty that extended a Buffalo drive that ended in the end zone.
Reeves’s poor play didn’t hurt too much against the MAC opponent, but Buckeyes fans were surely excited for Roby’s return. Against San Diego State, the Buckeyes welcomed both Roby and starting safety C.J. Barnett (who missed the Buffalo game due to injury) back to the lineup and they helped Ohio State limit the Aztecs to 216 yards passing, a number that’s even more impressive when considering the fact that SDSU was behind and throwing the ball much of the game.
San Diego State didn’t prove to be much of a challenge for Roby, but the next week saw the Buckeyes traveling to Berkeley to take on Cal, a real BCS conference team that loves to throw the ball. Freshman quarterback Jared Goff showed no fear, going right at the All-American.
Midway through the first quarter, Goff stood in against pressure and launched one down the left sideline to James Grisom. Roby failed initially by allowing Grisom to get behind him, but he was still in position to make the tackle as the catch was made. Instead, Roby grasped at the Golden Bear receiver but ended up pushing him towards the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown. On the day, Goff totaled 371 yards and three touchdowns.
I’ll ignore Roby’s performance against Florida A&M. He apparently had an interception, but since Rattler quarterback threw for the staggering total of 30 yards, I don’t think anyone was really paying attention to what Roby did.
And then there was last week against Wisconsin. While the Badger running game gets top billing, Jared Abbrederis is no slouch. The senior is one of the top wide receivers in the entire nation and will definitely be playing on Sundays next year. After amassing 104 catches for 1,770 yards and 13 touchdowns over the last two seasons in Wisco’s run-heavy offense, Abbrederis already has 33 receptions for 572 yards and four touchdowns in only five games this season. But still, the All-American Roby should have been able to at least neutralize the Badger wideout, right?
Nope. Not at all, actually. Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave looked for Abbrederis early and often. The receiver ended the evening with 10 catches for a staggering 207 yards and an incredible touchdown catch (see it at the 0:33 mark of this video) where he ripped the ball away from Roby, who actually had great coverage on the play. Abbrederis beat Roby all over the field. Sometimes he was wide open and made catches in space, and other times he was tightly covered but still managed to get the best of the Buckeye defender.
Roby’s own stats in the game don’t look that bad – eight tackles, three passes defended, and an interception. But dig a little deeper and his poor game becomes more apparent. The interception was thrown right to him after Stave was crunched by Adolphus Washington. Many of his tackles were made on Abbrederis after he surrendered a catch.
But dig even deeper. Early in the game, Roby was active in run support against the powerful Wisconsin rushing attack of Melvin Gordon and James White. He made at least two strong tackles that stopped plays for short or no gain. However, on the second such stop, Roby suffered what looked like a stinger to his neck or shoulder. He remained down on the turf before being helped off the field. While he did return a few plays later, he looked tentative and the physical presence that he had displayed in the first quarter was much diminished.
Additionally, the Buckeyes’ own game plan did Roby no favors. Fickell’s defense declared that Gordon and White were not going to beat them and loaded up the box to stop the run. That tactic worked, as the Badgers managed just 104 yards on the ground, but it often left Roby and the secondary on their own. The sophomore Stave took advantage to the tune of 295 yards and two touchdowns. Roby was often the victim, but he wasn’t alone.
So what’s the final verdict on Roby’s performance last Saturday? Decidedly mixed. He certainly wasn’t as bad as the initial reactions suggested considering all the circumstances. But it was far from his best game.
Buckeyes fans need not worry though. First off, Roby should be better going forward as he continues to face stiffer competition than San Diego State or Florida A&M could provide. However, with the meat of the Big Ten schedule approaching, the Buckeyes secondary doesn’t exactly have a murderer’s row of aerial attacks coming up. The best remaining passing offense on the Ohio State schedule is Indiana. The Hoosiers spread attack is ranked eighth in the country with an average of almost 350 yards a game, but those numbers have come largely against inferior competition.
This Saturday night, Urban Meyer’s charges get Northwestern in Evanston. It’s another 8 PM kickoff, and ESPN’s College GameDay will be there. Roby will likely be matched up with Tony Jones, the leading Wildcat receiver with 24 catches for 362 yards and three touchdowns in four games. The junior, who entered the season with just 40 career catches, is certainly not in the same stratosphere as Abbrederis. Expect the Twitter conversation about the Buckeye cornerback to be a little different this weekend.
Roby has not yet lived up to this season’s lofty expectations, but there’s still time for him to remind opposing quarterbacks why they used to have hallucinations of those blue ADT signs whenever they looked to his side of the field.
Oh, and don’t forget, in spite of Roby’s somewhat exaggerated struggles, the Buckeyes are still undefeated and a 1:2 favorite to win the Big Ten title. Go Bucks.
Mitch is a native Clevelander currently attending the University of Pennsylvania. Thanks to the marvel of the Internet, he is still able to follow the Browns, Cavs, Tribe and Buckeyes from Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter at @M_Joseph_29.