CB Howard raises game

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There are usually two options for attacking cornerbacks.

A quarterback can look to the side that was expected to be dangerous entering the season, where the fastest guy on the Ohio State roster is lined up and developing into one of its top playmakers.

Then there's the other side where there's a player who readily admits he's coming off a disappointing season that didn't even guarantee him a starting job as a senior.

But that second choice might not be so appealing now as Central Florida prepares for its trip to Ohio Stadium on Saturday, not with Travis Howard coming off a two-interception outing that has seemingly made it just as risky to throw to his side of the field as Bradley Roby's.

"Bradley and I have the conversation a lot about how good we were supposed to be in the Big Ten last year, but we kind of had some slip-ups," Howard said. "This year, it was kind of a focal point for us to come out and compete and just leave it all on the line.

"I don't think it's anything like he's No. 1 and I'm No. 2. I feel like we're two great corners that compete a lot, and we do have the capabilities of being a dual threat at the corner position."

The Buckeyes need both of them operating at a high level if they're going to help establish the defense as one of the best in the nation again this fall, and both of them got off to strong starts in the opener.

Roby showed off his top-end speed by running down a would-be touchdown from behind, breaking up a couple passes and adding a score of his own by recovering a botched snap in the end zone on special teams. But as impressive as the sophomore was against Miami (Ohio), that performance fit in with the great expectations Ohio State has for him.

Howard's two picks, though, turned a few heads and qualified as something of a surprise. But it obviously was an encouraging development and validation of a renewed focus on the practice field that had suggested Howard might be capable of producing a few turnovers to spark the defense.

"I noticed all week last week coming up to the game he was fired up and ready," defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said. "He was just determined that he was going to have a great game and he was going to stop them. He went out there and did it.

"He was a leader, and he stepped up to the plate and did what he said he was going to do."

The work certainly isn't done yet for Howard and the Buckeyes after just one game, and there were some issues that popped up that must be addressed as the degree of difficulty goes up this season.

Miami's pass-happy spread offense was bound to pick up yardage in the opener, and it finished with 294 and could have easily had more if not for a handful of drops. The secondary had a couple of communication breakdowns and was burned on the only touchdown of the game for the RedHawks, a 44-yard strike that was a clear product of a missed assignment.

But Howard helped make up for that by forcing two turnovers, and there's a cornerback on the other half of the field waiting for his turn to match him.

"I think [Howard] doesn't feel like he made enough plays last season, so I think he's just trying to come out this year and open a lot of eyes," safety Christian Bryant said. "With Travis and Roby, teams are going to have a hard time throwing on either one of them.

"I don't know who I would pick on if I was the offense."