Ohio State Football: Denzel Ward vs. Sam Darnold key match-up

Denzel Ward continued a long line of great Ohio State corners. INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 02: Denzel Ward
Denzel Ward continued a long line of great Ohio State corners. INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 02: Denzel Ward /

Ohio State’s secondary will be put to the test against USC, but Denzel Ward’s performance could swing the battle.

It’s well documented that No. 8 USC‘s starting quarterback has a heck of a right arm. This is why he’s been projected to go in the top-10 of NFL mock drafts since this time last season.

Sam Darnold finished 2017 with the 11th most passing yards in college football with 3787 yards. While the sophomore quarterback didn’t look as surefire at certain points during the season, he played very well down the stretch.

However, the Ohio State defensive secondary also found their rhythm late-in-season. While they struggled at times as a unit, it’s their own first-round draft prospect who stepped up over and over again in 2017; that would be the junior corner, Denzel Ward.

Simply put, he’s been lights-out as Ohio State’s top corner. Ward leads the Buckeyes with 15 passes deflected, nearly twice as many as Damon Arnette’s 8 putting him in second-place.

Ward’s two interceptions this year came at opposite ends of the season; one against the Indiana Hoosiers in week one, then one in the Big 10 Championship victory over Wisconsin. Darnold should be on alert for Ward to grab his third.

The Cotton Bowl puts Denzel Ward to the test against a legit NFL quarterback. 

Sam Darnold is good enough to be an NFL team’s starting quarterback in 2018. While he may draft-dodge in order to avoid Cleveland, he’s at the top of any team’s draft board. However, if Denzel Ward is anything like his former teammates, he should be considered a legit NFL corner circa 2018.

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Ward will likely match-up with fellow junior Deontay Burnett, USC’s leading receiver (975 yards) and Darnold’s top target (74 receptions). However, there are a smattering of solid receivers on this USC team, as three have at least 600 yards and 4 touchdowns.

In terms of good overall football, this match-up is going to matter in all four quarters. There’s a distinct possibility that this game will come down to the fourth. We’ve seen JT Barrett lift the Scarlet side, but Darnold is fully capable of winning a game late as well.

However, in games against Penn State and Wisconsin, Ward proved his ability to mesh with his fellow 11 defenders in making Ohio State’s secondary a no-fly zone.

While it’s not unlikely that the two will clash on Sundays for years to come, we’re getting a rare treat in the Darnold-Ward match-up.

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Ohio State will struggle to win this game if USC passes the ball well, whereas USC will struggle if the aerial routes aren’t open. Darnold vs. Ward may very well be the determining factor in the Cotton Bowl.