Khalil Mack is one of the best linebackers in the country you might not have ever heard of. Standing at 6-3, 245 pounds, Mack is an athletic freak off the edge and one of the best pure pass rushers that the Buckeyes will have to deal with this season. In his first three seasons at Buffalo, Mack has recorded 229 tackles, 18 sacks, 11 forced fumbles and 14 pass break ups. When watching his film, he seems to always be blowing up plays in the backfield as he currently has 56 tackles for loss in his career, 19 away from the NCAA record.
Former Louisiana State University defensive coordinator and current defensive coordinator at Buffalo, Lou Tepper uses Mack all over the place in his defense. Coach Urban Meyer and Tom Herman used the terms "unique" and "unorthodox" when describing the Buffalo defense. They show both 3-3 stack and 5-4 looks and move around a lot pre-snap, giving the opposing quarterback and linemen fits.
When charting 37 plays against Kent State, Mack lined up primarily in a two point stance off the edge, sort of how the Green Bay Packers use Clay Matthews. In 13 out of the 37 plays, Mack played on the end of the line of scrimmage in a two point stance with three linebackers on the field. In 21 out of the 37 plays, Mack played outside linebacker with four linebackers both on and off the line of scrimmage. He also lined up on the guard in a three- point stance and defended in the slot. Out of the 23 pass plays that I charted, Mack blitzed the quarterback 20 times and dropped back into coverage only three times.
Mack constantly fights double teams and uses his hands very well to gain separation from blocks. He possesses a relentless motor and rarely takes a play off, as he is always in pursuit of the ball carrier. Although Mack is very raw when it comes to pass rush technique/ moves, he uses his speed and athleticism to get to the quarterback and if he does not get there in time, he gets his hands up in passing lanes to disrupt the quarterback.
Let's take a look at how Coach Tepper used Khalil Mack in last year's loss to Kent State:
Here Mack is lined up on the guard in a three-point stance. He uses his arm strength to gain separation on the guard and a bull rush technique to collapse the pocket, getting his hands up at the last second to almost bat the ball down.
This is an example of one of the few times where Mack did not rush off of the edge, but used his athleticism to get out to the perimeter and deliver a huge hit on the inside slot receiver.
Typically, Mack is lined up on the edge in a two point stance. Here, he jacks up the tight end, drops back, then pursues the quarterback before knocking his pass attempt down. This just shows his strength, instincts and constant hustle.
Here is Mack lined up in a two point stance on the end of the line of scrimmage. He fires off the ball, rips through the lineman and drops the running back in the backfield.
Leaving Khalil Mack unblocked is generally a bad idea.
In this play, Mack is lined up at outside linebacker and this is where his aggressiveness put him out of position to make a play in the backfield. He read his keys and recognized the play right away, but did not break down and use proper technique to drop the running back in the backfield. What could have been a huge play for the Buffalo defense, ended up being a touchdown for Kent State.
On Saturday, both offensive tackles for the Buckeyes will have their hands full with Khalil Mack. I think the Buckeye offense will run the zone read right at Mack and try to use his over aggressiveness against him. Will he constantly crash down on the running back, allowing Braxton Miller to get outside, or will he have the patience to stay home and trust his linebackers to fill the seams, while he worries about Miller? I believe that running the read option right at him could cause problems for a very aggressive player like Mack.
In the passing game, we will see if Coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman will allow the offensive tackles to block him 1-on-1, or if they will use a tight end to chip and double team Mack. When the Buckeyes play against someone like Mack with supreme talent on an average football team, expect him to make plays, but he does not have the help around him to slow down the high octane Ohio State offense. Wait until next year on Sundays for Khalil Mack to really show his talents.