COLUMBUS — His season marred by suspension, ejection, and imperfection, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby is thankful the story of his junior year is far from over.
"As the season goes on, you’re supposed to get better," he said. "It's not about what happens in the first half of the season. It's how you finish."
Roby is confident the fourth-ranked Buckeyes’ rout of Penn State represented the narrative turn in his twisting junior season, which continues Saturday at Purdue. A year he hoped would outpace his All-American one last fall veered back on course with what OSU coach Urban Meyer called the cornerback’s best game this season.
The fourth-year Georgia native helped stall the Big Ten’s top receiver — Allen Robinson had only 48 of his game-high 173 receiving yards against OSU’s starters — and, just as important to a coach who scoffs at the suggestion some players are "gamers," was fully engaged in the run-up to Saturday.
"He really had a great week of practice," Meyer said. "That’s his whole issue, his practice. When he practices well, he usually plays well."
Roby’s season had previously been marked by one distraction after another. The one-game suspension for a summer bar scrape in Indiana. The pangs of regret from passing up NFL riches. The ejection in the Iowa game.
In fact, don’t get him started on the new targeting rule, which cost him most of the Buckeyes’ comeback win over the Hawkeyes. Roby was tossed in the first quarter for launching into Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.
"It was very tough, esepcially considering that after I watched the replay, I didn't think there was anything wrong with that hit," Roby said. "If that’s a penalty, I just don't know how to play football. ... That's not fair to do to a player. I prepare my tail off that whole week for that game and to get kicked out in the first quarter, I thought it was very unfair. It gives the referees too much power. But that's not in my power to change, so I just have to abide by the rules."
As for his play, Roby was the face of a pass defense Meyer recently called "very alarming." After leading the nation with 19 passes defended last year, he was at times exposed earlier this season. Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis, for instance, pulled in 10 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown in single coverage against Roby.
There were explanations, including an off and on pass rush and OSU’s all-in run defense leaving him on an island against the opponent’s top receiver. But for Roby, who is likely still vying for a place in the first round of next year’s NFL draft, there were no excuses.
He wants that pressure on him. And he wants to be a big name — just as long as he doesn’t consume himself trying to live up to it. Roby said he tried to make so many big plays early this year that he often gave them up instead.
"I think I had more opportunities last year," said Roby, who has a pair of interceptions and 10 passes defended this year. "A lot of teams didn't really know who I was. But everybody makes mistakes. I've messed up a few times.
"Hey, that's the life of a cornerback."
NOTHING TO SEE: Penn State coach Bill O’Brien’s drive-by postgame handshake with Meyer and his later comments to the media — "We’ll remember some things," he said — kindled a mini-controversy after OSU’s 63-14 win.
But O’Brien insists there are no hard feelings. Asked again Tuesday about the Buckeyes successfully challenging a spot with a 49-point lead late in the third quarter, he said, "I didn’t take offense to anything."
Ohio State pulled its starters against the undermanned Nittany Lions in the third quarter.