Mathews continues to shine in first season


Despite being thrust into a major role in Ohio State’s biggest test to date last week against then-No. 7 Penn State, the moment was never too big for true freshman cornerback Jermaine Mathews Jr. as he responded with an impressive performance to aid a dominant effort from the Buckeye defense.

Stepping in for injured cornerback Denzel Burke when Jordan Hancock moved to the slot, Mathews tallied three solo tackles and defended one pass in what was only his fourth collegiate game. Following the game, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said of Mathews, “The kid’s got moxie.”

Knowles speculated that, perhaps, Mathews didn’t have a full grasp of how big a moment he was playing in given his inexperience, adding that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because it allowed Mathews to play freely. “He just went out and played, made some tackles, and didn’t flinch,” Knowles said.

But while there may be some truth to the adage that “you don’t know what you don’t know,” Mathews said on Wednesday he was fully aware of what was on the line and the part he needed to play in helping his team to remain undefeated.

“I knew the moment was big, and I just wanted to go in there and do my job and ensure that we win the game. That was my whole mindset coming into the game,” Mathews said.

Asked if he felt pressure in any capacity, Mathews said flatly, “Pressure breaks pipes.”

Mathews got a taste of the big stage two weeks ago when he found himself on the field often at Purdue following Burke’s injury, but it paled in comparison to what was being asked of him last Saturday. His teammates were hardly surprised to see Mathews play well, though, because they’ve seen it coming since he stepped on campus as an early enrollee in January.

“It felt like he was built for that moment, honestly,” safety Josh Proctor said on Wednesday. “It wasn’t too big for him. He went out there and played like a vet who’s been out there before.”

Quarterback Kyle McCord, who has seen plenty of Mathews in practice, called him “one of the most competitive kids on the team” who brings the same energy to every practice repetition, even if it is while going against Ohio State’s pair of star receivers in Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka.

“It kind of reminds me of Denzel Burke in his freshman year when he started,” McCord said of Mathews. “His eyes light up at the opportunity to play against good competition.”

Mathews said competing against the highest quality receivers in the country every day has helped him significantly in preparing to contribute on the field quickly.

“If you feel like you’re going against the best every day, nobody you’re going against on Saturday is going to equate to that,” he said. “I feel like the ‘iron sharpens iron’ (mentality) is something every team needs and is something that’s gotten me better.”

While his performance against Penn State may have been the biggest stage of his young career, it wasn’t the first time this season he’s made big plays in front of the Ohio Stadium crowd. Against Western Kentucky on Sept. 16, Mathews returned an interception for a touchdown to formally introduce himself to the fanbase as a name to remember. Now tested against quality competition, Mathews represents a safety blanket for Knowles at a position that can never have too much depth.

Burke is expected to return soon, making Mathews’ path to more playing time difficult in the coming weeks. Whether another injury pops up or he has to return to waiting his turn, Mathews is simply happy to be making an early impact.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason, and I’m just blessed to be in this position. I’ll just take everything I get and won’t take anything for granted,” he said.

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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