Freshman focus: Bowl springboard

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The outcome wasn’t what Ohio State was hoping for last weekend as the season ended with a 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl, but the Buckeyes did have a handful of standout performances from freshmen, including what effectively amounted to a debut. Here’s a closer look at a handful of young Buckeyes who figure to be playing crucial roles in 2014 and could ride the momentum from strong Orange Bowl performances. + EnlargeStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesVonn Bell celebrates with teammates after his interception of Tajh Boyd in the Discover Orange Bowl.S Vonn Bell: The Buckeyes had every intention of taking it slow with perhaps the crown jewel of the 2013 signing class, and they stuck with that plan even after the season-ending loss of Christian Bryant cut down on the talent and experience ahead of Bell in the rotation. But after the two-game defensive skid against Michigan and Michigan State highlighted Ohio State’s suspect defense, the coaching staff took the training wheels off and plugged Bell into the starting lineup at nickelback to really see what he could do. The Buckeyes certainly weren’t disappointed with his willingness to stick his nose in and deliver a hit as Bell finished with seven tackles, and his red-zone interception will ramp up the hype heading into spring practice. The soft throw from Tajh Boyd might have been ill advised, but it might have worked if not for the quick reactions and incredible athleticism of Bell as he jumped, stretched out his right arm and hauled in a crucial turnover. There won’t be any more waiting for playing time for the safety, and he’s headed toward a full-time role on every down, not just in nickel situations. DE Joey Bosa: The ability to disrupt an offense with his mix of speed, size and aggressiveness wasn’t a new development, as he spent most of the season in the starting lineup, but Bosa still found a way to raise the bar for his potential in the final game of the season. Clearly not at full strength and helped off the field because of injuries on two separate occasions, Bosa fought through the pain to chip in five tackles and tacked on another sack to his resume to give him 7.5 during his freshman season, only adding to the buzz about his future as a cornerstone on what could be a scary defensive front. There wasn’t any reason to question his toughness in the first place, but he was given a big stage to show it off in the Orange Bowl and clearly didn’t leave any doubt about his competitiveness, which augments his natural ability.

RB Dontre Wilson: The number of chances to make an impact was relatively small, but it was how Wilson used his opportunities that offered a glimpse at how far he’s already come. The freshman handled the football plenty for a first-year player, and he demonstrated his explosive capabilities several times in averaging 8.8 yards per touch as a hybrid receiver/running back. But there were times when Wilson seemed to either miss holes or spent too much time trying to reach the corner, looking for a home run instead of turning a play upfield and simply taking the yardage available. That made his three carries against the Tigers stand out as an improvement. Wilson was more than willing to put his foot in the ground, square his pads and head down the field in his final game of the season, and while those 24 yards might not look great on the stats sheet, the way he picked them up indicates a maturing skill player who should be poised for a breakout sophomore season.

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