The absolute thrill of playing cornerback is facing a challenge on virtually every play, a personal challenge that is. I have to believe the adrenaline rush of being one-on-one with a receiver out on what they call the ‘island’ defines that thrill, especially on third and long. Is there a greater situation on the gridiron than knowing the ball is coming and having the ability to make a play if you beat the guy across from you? Maybe not, but the scenario is one of the most pressure-laden challenges placed on corners every week in football.
When a team has talent at cornerback, it opens up a variety of options for the other nine players on the defense. For example, if a corner can cover a receiver and effectively limit his catches, or rather yards after a catch, safeties can patrol nearer the line of scrimmage and become active in the blitzing schemes. If your defensive coordinator believes that man-to-man coverage is an advantage, the run defense and pass rush improves because you have more flexibility with personnel.
Tim DeRuyter has that luxury this season. The Ohio Bobcats have one corner, senior Bop White, who has proven he can cover the best receivers week after week, and another, sophomore Chip Cox, who is proving he can as the young season unfolds.
If any defensive back in the Mid-American Conference deserves recognition, it’s the steady White, who brings a quiet confidence to the field every time he suits up on game day. The Cincinnati native is the owner of 14 career interceptions and has played in every game of his collegiate tenure, showing not just ability but also endurance in those 36 contests. With an extended 12-game schedule and a good start (3 picks in 3 games), White could challenge for the Ohio career interception record of 18, held by Joe Callan (1975-79).
Like all good athletes, Bop draws on his experiences of the past in aiding his cause of the present. That cause is shutting down the opposition’s top wideouts, and Bop has faced a good number of top receivers in learning the tricks of his trade. In his career, the Bobcat senior has gone toe-to-toe with Ohio State’s Kenyon Rambo, Steve Neal of Western Michigan, Minnesota’s Ron Johnson, Darius Watts of Marshall, and most recently, Florida’s Taylor Jacobs. That’s no list of pushovers, folks. Having good size (6-0, 183) and speed helps, but sooner or later, a college cornerback gets put on the island alone in coverage and must rely on instincts and fundamentals to survive on a given Saturday afternoon. Bop has more than stood the test of time.
It should also be noted that Bop has family ties to the Bobcat secondary, his older brother Donnie having played corner for Ohio from 1997-2000. The 2000 season saw both White brothers starting in the secondary. Donnie White finished his career with eight interceptions and a reputation for being a terrific run-support boundary cornerback.
Offensive coordinators may be tempted to draw up game plans that feature throwing away from Bop White, and if that be the case, expect a big year from Chip Cox. Thrown into the mix last season as a freshman (three starts, saw action in all 11 games), Cox – who played at Beechcroft High School in Columbus – struggled at times while also displaying a knack for big hits and in-your-face aggressiveness. At 5-9 and 185 pounds, the sophomore won’t scare too many receivers on paper, but Cox’s strength is his physical play, both breaking up passes and causing fumbles. It doesn’t hurt that he is a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and boasts a 39.5-inch vertical leap.
On the year, Cox has recorded 16 tackles, including 13 solo, and has knocked down five passes. He also has forced a fumble.
Last Saturday evening in Gainesville, Gator wideouts – including Jacobs, who was averaging 23 yards per catch – challenged Chip again and again on deep outs and intermediate routes, and the results were two pass deflections and blanket coverage resulting in several incompletions by Rex Grossman. Cox finished the game with a team-best eight tackles.
The jury is still out on this season, but already Ohio fans have noticed a striking difference in the way this team’s defense plays. It attacks from everywhere and even gambles at times, but the results are beginning to pay off. Ohio has given up only five plays of 20 yards or more, and two have been runs that were the result of a missed tackle. DeRuyter often uses a phrase in meetings that sums up both part of his defensive philosophy and the mindset of great cornerbacks: “FIDO: Forget It and Drive On.” In other words, the offense is going to make some plays on Saturday, maybe even a big play. Rather than dwell on it, line up again and make one of your own. The secondary has gotten the message loud and clear.
Against Pittsburgh in week one, Panther Lamar Slade beat Bop White over the top for a 26-yard touchdown reception on the game’s first drive. Though the Bobcats would eventually fall 27-14, White would come back and intercept two Rod Rutherford throws while he and Cox helped hold Pitt’s quarterback to a meager 97 yards on 9-of-22 passing with three interceptions. Slade didn’t catch a ball in the second half.
In the coming weeks, Ohio will face other squads who make their living throwing the football and spreading out the defense. Once inside the MAC schedule, the likes of Miami, Marshall and Central Florida alone are enough for most secondaries to contend with. Saturday the Bobcats will travel to Connecticut and face a young but efficient passer in sophomore Dan Orlovsky, who has completed nearly 60 percent of his throws for 196 yards per game. The Huskies spread the wealth through the air (four players with nine catches or more), but one gets the distinct feeling that regardless of the personnel, formation, down or distance, Ohio corners Bop White and Chip Cox have it covered.
Josh Hatfield can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.