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Ohio State's defensive dominance started by shutting down Melvin Gordon

Ohio State knows a thing or two about stopping awesome running backs

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

While the Heisman finalists for the 2015-2016 season have yet to be announced, it appears the five year streak of a quarterback winning college football's most prestigious award may soon be nearing its end. This is due in part to this year's abundance of sensational running backs, but also due to the fact that there hasn't been a quarterback to truly seize the Heisman spotlight from start to finish like Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston were able to do in years past.

With there not being a sure fire Heisman quarterback option (although Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and Clemson's Deshaun Watson certainly still have a shot), the general consensus seems to be that Alabama's Derrick Henry can wrap up the Heisman with a good performance this Saturday against Florida. This puts Heisman hopefuls Ezekiel Elliot, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Dalvin Cook as the deserving running backs who might be left out of a trip to New York.

You know who is beyond pissed off at this whole Heisman race? Melvin Gordon. In his 2014 season for the ages Gordon rushed for over 2,500 yards and scored 32 total touchdowns on his way to a second place Heisman finish behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

Just how good was Gordon's 2014 campaign? Both his rushing yardage and total touchdown totals went down in the books as the second most in a single season in college football history, behind only the great Barry Sanders.

Now aside from Henry or Elliot going on a Zeke-binge (defined as rushing for over 200 yards in three straight games), it's a pretty safe bet that Gordon will have a statistically superior 2014 campaign than any running back this season. So why couldn't Gordon garner more support to win the 2014 Heisman? A big reason is Ohio State's own silver bullets.

There were two key storylines going into the 2014 Big Ten Championship. Firstly, how could the Buckeyes make a statement for the College Football Playoff with some (then) unheard of quarterback named Cardale Jones? Secondly, how on earth could a defense that had been gashed by David Cobb, Jeremy Langford and Tevin Coleman (each had over 130 yards and three touchdowns on the Buckeyes) slow down the best running back of them all in Melvin Gordon?

The answer to the first question became apparent: Zeke and Devin Smith. The second question is a bit more complicated to answer, but was essentially achieved in three steps.

Step #1 to Shutting Down Melvin Gordon: Adjust Alignment

Prior to this game (not confirmed) Urban Meyer, Luke Fickell, and Chris Ash took a game program into the bathroom and locked themselves all in the same stall. Meyer flipped the pages until Wisconsin's roster finally appeared. Meyer, appearing nervous for the first time all season, slowly read the beginning of the roster, "Number two Joel Stave, number three Kenzel Doe, number five...oh my god it's true! Jared Abbredaris is actually gone!"

While he was only on the Badgers for five seasons, it might as well have been 30 for Buckeyes fans. Number four made a living killing the Buckeyes secondary. In three career games against the Buckeyes, Abbredaris compiled 19 catches for 360 yards and three touchdowns, and, maybe more importantly, consistently provided Wisconsin a dangerous passing threat for the few times that they didn't run the football.

While Wisconsin's Alex Erickson actually compiled 83 yards in the Big Ten Championship against the Buckeyes, it was obvious that he wasn't nearly the threat that Abbredaris was, and Ohio State treated him as such.


Ohio State made two key alignment adjustments for Gordon. Firstly, they rolled safety Tyvis Powell (number 23) down into the box to help support the run. With Wisconsin having eight blockers in the box, this meant that Ohio State would need to match with at least eight defenders (or face the consequences).

Typically Ohio State will line up both their safeties deep with each being responsible for a middle quarter of the field. The Buckeyes are able to do this because their defensive line and linebackers are good enough to stop most team's running games without the help of an extra man. While Powell and fellow safety Vonn Bell (number 11) are versatile enough to play either safety spot, against Wisconsin the Buckeyes for the most part relied on Bell to take away any deep pass attempts, while it was Powell's job to stay close to the line in an attempt to help bottle up Gordon.

The second key alignment adjustment Ohio State made was letting their corners follow their receiver wherever they lined up. Above, Ohio State cornerback Doran Grant (number 12) leaves his normal position as boundary corner to lineup against the the two receiver formation. As a primarily quarters coverage team, the Buckeyes do not typically play straight man across the field or shift their cornerbacks based on the offense's formation. Because of their lack of respect for the Badgers passing game, and the Buckeyes' desire to keep eight men in the box, this allowed Ohio State to play man coverage against Wisconsin's inferior wide receivers, while everyone else could focus on stopping Gordon.

Step #2 to Shutting Down Melvin Gordon: Have an Unbelievable Defensive Line

While Joey Bosa was the crown jewel of the 2014-2015 Buckeyes' defensive line, there was talent everywhere, especially in fellow All-American defensive tackle Michael Bennett. Wearing number 53 to honor the passing of teammate Kosta Karageorge, Bennett erupted against Wisconsin to the tune of four TFLs and two sacks.

Gordon 1

One way Wisconsin attempted to adjust their game plan to Ohio State's defensive alignment was by faking a fly sweep. The goal of this was to have the corner follow the motion, creating room on the outside, as well as creating a diversion to hopefully slow down the Buckeyes by a step or two.

The second part of that plan failed miserably, as you can already see in the image above that every Ohio State defensive lineman is out of their stance before the Wisconsin offensive linemen are.

Gordon 2

Schematically Wisconsin dialed up the perfect play. They had two blockers for both Bosa and Bennett with the idea that one of the blockers on each guy could slide off and block Powell and linebacker Joshua Perry respectively. It was this little thing called execution that doomed the Badgers on this play.

Double teaming some defensive lineman might result in that defensive lineman conceding that they won't be able to make a big play. Joey Bosa is not one of those lineman. A Badgers left tackle and tight end prove no match for number 97, but what's laughable is that the Wisconsin tight end actually thought they had Bosa handled, as evidenced by him having already moved on to Powell.

While it ends up being Bosa who gets the TFL on Gordon, this play was a total team effort from the Buckeyes defensive line. Backup nose guard Tommy Schutt was able to alter Gordon's initial path into the waiting arms of Bosa, and Bennett holding his ground against a double team allowed both no cut back lane for Gordon and no blocker to take on Perry. Ohio State came into this game with a great game plan, but also a great defensive line, which combined to cause a hell of a lot of problems for the Wisconsin offensive front.

Step #3 to Shutting Down Melvin Gordon: Be Relentless for 60 Minutes

59-0 wins against good football teams don't happen by accident. From the first whistle to the last, Ohio State played with their asses on fire against Wisconsin with a playoff birth in mind.

Raekwon 1

Up 52 at this point, Ohio State is back to their base quarters defense, now more concerned with stopping a big play than they are with a run up the middle. Their defense is also littered with backups, but in hindsight we know that most of these Buckeyes backups are still All-Big Ten caliber players.

Wisconsin finds themselves with five blockers for five Buckeyes in the box, but even this wasn't enough for them. Determined to get their best player going (or at least to up his yards per carry average), Wisconsin takes their play calling a step forward and actually adds a read into this run play.

Raekwon 2

By reading Ohio State defense end Tyquan Lewis, Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy essentially serves as a sixth blocker for the Wisconsin offense. The play itself is specifically an "inverted veer". This play's scheme allows the Wisconsin right tackle to have a free path (and angle) to block Ohio State middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan.

Again, schematically Wisconsin is fine here. Every single Buckeye that has a chance to make a play is accounted for by at least one Badgers blocker. Unfortunately, the Wisconsin scout team must not have quite have the same ability as "The Chosen One".

Raekwon 3

McMillan blows right past the Wisconsin tackle on his way to putting the best running back in college football on his back for a loss. Gordon tried to make a move, but when the guy trying to tackle you is named Raekwon, you're going to be out of luck more times than not.

Going into the Big Ten Championship, Gordon had averaged 25 touches for 200 total yards and over two touchdowns a game. This includes a puzzling 17 carry performance against Western Illinois that netted Gordon just 38 yards, but excluding facing the stifling Leathernecks defense, Gordon's "worst" performance consisted of 140 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against LSU from the big bad SEC.

Against Ohio State Melvin Gordon rushed the ball 26 times for 76 yards. This resulted in 2.9 yards per carry, or a whole five yards less than what he had been averaging prior to playing the Buckeyes. Gordon's long run of just 13 yards was the first time all season he had not busted a run for at least 20 yards.

Did the Buckeyes have a super special game plan that did the trick? Not really. What the 2014-2015 Silver Bullets had were coaches who put them in the right position to unleash their ungodly amount of talent on a team with hardly any passing threats. When you combine solid coaching with a pack of crazed Buckeyes with nothing else on their minds but roasting Badgers up and down the field for 60 minutes, that's how you shut down Melvin Gordon.