One of the worst clichés in sports is, “next man up.” I can’t stand when people say that as soon as there is an injury or someone is ruled out. Such was the case on Saturday when the Ohio State football team announced that starting cornerback Denzel Burke was unable to play against Penn State due to the injury he suffered a week ago in West Lafayette, Indiana against Purdue.
One of the reasons I don’t like that cliché is because many times the “next man up” isn’t nearly as good as the guy who suffered the injury. But that wasn’t the case on Saturday in Columbus. Freshman CB Jermaine Mathews Jr. made his first career start in place of Burke and had an amazing game.
Mathews Jr., who had a pick-six earlier this season against Western Kentucky in mop-up duty at the end of the game, was truly the “next man up” against Penn State. The best compliment I can give him is that I didn’t notice that Burke wasn’t even playing.
Ohio State only gave up 191 yards passing on Saturday, 73 of which came on the last scoring drive that Penn State had when the Buckeyes were in prevent defense. Matthews Jr. didn’t look overwhelmed by the fact that he was making his first collegiate start and it happened to be in a top-10 matchup. Along with fellow cornerbacks Davison Igbinosun and Jordan Hancock, the Ohio State secondary against Penn State was lights out as Penn State went 1/16 on third downs.
Earlier in the week when speaking to the local media, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles spoke glowingly about Mathews Jr. Whether Knowles truly believed what he said or was trying to speak it into existence, after the win against Penn State, everyone believes it.
"“For a true freshman, he’s got a lot of guts, got a lot of moxie. He’s just talented and he’s shown the ability to make plays, so we’re confident putting him in there.”"
After today’s performance, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Mathews Jr.’s confidence and moxie is going to be through the roof.
Buckeye Nation and Ryan Day can take a deep breath and allow Burke to use as much time as needed to heal. the Ohio State football team returns to action next week as they go on the road to play Wisconsin in a prime-time affair.