Think offensive line and defensive line – pretty self explanatory, right? Linebackers back the line. Quarterback, halfback and fullback have seen their roles mutate over time, but the word “back” gives you a pretty good idea of what they’re supposed to do.
Then there’s the safety position. Yes, it’s in the defensive backfield (again, self explanatory) or the secondary, but it’s one of the few football positions that has its role rather than its position in the name.
They’re the failsafe of the defense, the person often standing between a 10-yard gain and an 80-yard one. If a safety misses, there’s no other safety net, and often that means six points on the board.
In fact, Bell didn’t even start the opener, instead backing up Cameron Burrows. But as the season has gone on, the two have become more and more dependable and even become playmakers for the Ohio State defense as it gets ready to take on Marcus Mariota and Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
“Well, as far as me and Vonn are concerned, it's been an up and down season, we've done a lot of growing up this season,” Powell said Tuesday. “We had a lot of MAs, sometimes it was tackling, sometimes it was pass coverage. I mean in the beginning of the year Vonn's pass coverage wasn't good, my tackling wasn't good and we've done a lot to correct that where that's not an issue anymore. That's just improvements that I've seen.”
How good has Bell’s pass coverage become? So much so that he has six interceptions on the campaign, including three in the last three games. Those have been big ones, too, with the Buckeyes dumping Michigan, Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in consecutive games.
The five-star prospect in the class of 2013 from Chattanooga, Tenn., has always been among the Buckeyes better chase ‘em down and make a tackle guys, but that help in shutting down opposing aerial attacks has been key in the Buckeyes’ late-season run.
“Just being a football player, you know,” said Bell, who has taken to calling interceptions “money balls” and said he hopes Mariota’s fourth interception of the season ends up in his hands. “Just watching numerous film and you know it’s coming at you, so you just take the play. You step right in front of it and tell the quarterback ‘Thank you.’ ”
Powell, meanwhile, has chipped in 67 tackles – good for fourth on the team – and has picked off four passes of his own. He hasn’t always been the surest tackle – note missed tackles on touchdown runs by Minnesota’s David Cobb and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman – but he has helped the Buckeye defense allow just two runs of more than 20 yards the past two games against powerful Wisconsin and Alabama offenses.
The challenge gets even tougher against the Ducks, one of the premiere offensive outfits in the nation. Oregon is in the top 20 in the nation in every major offensive category including first in passing efficiency, second in scoring and third in yardage, and the Ducks have turned the ball over just 10 times in 14 games.
One of the first schools to embrace the spread option attack, Oregon has racked up impressive offensive numbers the past few years with a difficult-to-defend attack that stresses the defense at multiple points and goes as fast as any in the nation. As a result, Oregon has 101 plays of 20 yards or more this season, the most of any Power 5 school in the nation.
But Bell says the Buckeyes have the defense – and the safeties – to keep the Ducks offense in check.
“I think so,” Bell said. “They like to get on perimeter space. They think we don’t have speed too, but we do. We just have to execute our keys. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s more tempo. We see our offense every day, so you know they got speed. There’s speed everywhere on our offense. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before.”
Then there’s Mariota, who won the Heisman Trophy after 40 touchdowns and three interceptions this year.
“Going against a Heisman quarterback like Marcus Mariota, I mean the man is smart, he makes the right throws, so it's up to us to read our keys and do everything that we are supposed to do,” Powell said. “Basically I feel like the secondary will be tested. I feel like this game could be won or lost with the secondary because they're going to challenge us a lot. And me and Vonn being leaders of the defense and the secondary it's up to us to make sure everybody's lined up and make sure everybody's right.