Culture beats scheme.
I've seen this phrase in the news quite a bit over the last several weeks. First, it was now ex -Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly talking to practice-squad safety Jordan Kovacs before a game. "Culture will beat scheme every day." Kelly explained.
More recently, I saw this phrase repeated several times from the heralded (but not victorious) Notre Dame Football twitter account. Before the game, after the game, didn't matter. According to the official Notre Dame Football twitter, the Fighting Irish are still under the belief that not only does culture beat scheme, but also that Notre Dame's culture is apparently better than everyone else's. While many of the upsets and surprises of college football this season left me speechless, this idea that Notre Dame just inherently believes that their culture is better than everyone else's makes more sense than just about anything else I've seen or heard this year.
Notre Dame can take their culture, but as it turns out, a great scheme coupled with overwhelming talent and big-bad-ass offensive and defensive linemen will be enough to overcome culture in most football games. While allowing 28 points isn't exactly a defensive beat down, Notre Dame did walk in averaging 34.2 points per game. I'm sure many of your Notre Dame frenemies will be quick to point out how many injuries the Fighting Irish defense was dealing with, just keep in mind that by the midway point of the first quarter Ohio State was without not one, but two All-American defensive lineman.
So how did Ohio State manage to beat the cherished Notre Dame culture that produced that great national championship we all care about back in 1988? Let's take a look.
Notre Dame can't beat Bosa, but the refs can
Fellow LGHL writer Chuck McKeever did a great job explaining why Bosa's targeting foul was properly called, but the main idea is that it is dangerous for defensive players to tackle with their head down, which is what Bosa did. Typically targeting fouls are called due to egregious hits at an offensive player's head area, but targeting fouls are also called to protect defensive players from possible neck injuries, which often result from "spearing" with your helmet by keeping your head down. So while unfortunate, Bosa was properly suspended from the game due to a rule that helps keep the players safe.
However, this play actually did a great job of demonstrating several reasons why Ohio State's defense started so dominant at the beginning of this game. Up until this play Notre Dame had just one first down on three drives worth of action, and were facing a 14 point deficit.
Why was Notre Dame having so much trouble moving the football? A big reason is Joey Bosa. With four tackles in just over two drives of action, to say Bosa was making his presence felt early would be an understatement. Bosa's dominance was mostly due to the fact that Notre Dame was okay having their average right tackle (their left tackle, Ronnie Stanley will likely be a top 10 pick in this year's NFL Draft) block Bosa 1-on-1. Well, if there's one thing that's not a good idea, it's blocking Joey Bosa with one dude, but maybe Notre Dame was out of answers and figured coaxing Bosa into a targeting penalty was their only chance.
Here Ohio State is in their base cover four defense. Ohio State believes their four defensive linemen can more than handle the five Notre Dame offensive linemen, and the Irish attempt to role quarterback DeShone Kizer out of the pocket to give him more time.
It doesn't take me to tell you that Bosa's last play as a Buckeye did not start out particularly great. While Bosa is known for his great balance when engaging offensive linemen, he gets ahead of himself here and falls straight down. If I had to guess the rest of this play just from this picture, I'd argue that Bosa would likely be shoved again back to the ground...
...or not. Bosa somehow recovers, fends off the contact from the Notre Dame right tackle, and is able to keep contain against a very lethal running quarterback. On quarterback roll-outs, it is the defensive ends job to keep contain on the quarterback. By forcing the quarterback to not set his feet and throw on the run, this helps the defense's odds for an off target pass.
But defensive schemes are also realistic in that they have backup plans. In Ohio State's defense, the backup contain guy is middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan. Here McMillan is in position to make a play (he's located next to the score box on the 45 yard line), but because Bosa is able to get back on his feet and handle his contain duty all on his own, McMillan is able to remain in pass coverage and force a more difficult pass.
Thanks to Bosa's pressure, McMillan's smart play to stay in pass coverage, and good coverage by the rest of the Silver Bullets, Ohio State safety Tyvis Powell gets a gift of an interception thanks to Kizer's overthrow. What followed was a fun sequence of events that saw: Ohio State safety Vonn Bell lay out Irish wide receiver Amir Carlisle on a vicious crack block, Powell attempt to run back across the field with his interception (like he always does), and unfortunately a penalty flag that will make this whole play known for little more than being Bosa's last play as an Ohio State Buckeye.
While it's not ideal, I'm okay with Bosa's last play being a massive quarterback hit that led to an interception. Yes, the hit was illegal and did not count, but when it leads to Buckeyes getting the chance to RUN OFF ON THE PLUG, it's pretty hard to complain too much (I love that celebration so much).
Water covers two-thirds of the Earth -- Eli Apple covers the rest
20.4 yards per catch, 13 touchdowns, the ultimate deep threat: Fighting Irish wide receiver Will Fuller. Well, Fuller got the best of Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley for a 81 yard catch and run touchdown, but it was Ohio State defensive MVP, cornerback Eli Apple who made Fuller virtually disappear for much of the afternoon.
While Apple only has one interception this year, he has been Ohio State's undisputed top cornerback, and teams have largely either thrown the ball elsewhere, or just failed in throwing the ball at all (as evidenced by the Buckeyes 9th ranked defense nationally in passing efficiency allowed) with Apple on the field.
Apple compiled five total tackles, but oddly enough none against Fuller. Now this was not 100 percent Apple absolutely shutting down Fuller (the Buckeyes pass rush seldom gave Kiser enough time to truly take a shot downfield), but Apple was named defensive MVP of the game for a reason.
To say that Fuller completely roasted Conley is a bit unfair as the Buckeyes didn't start shadowing Fuller with just Apple until late in the game. Here, Apple is lined up over Notre Dame wide receiver Chris Brown (no relation, unlike fellow Irish wide receiver's Torii Hunter Jr. and Corey Robinson). The Fighting Irish likely were hoping they could get Brown matched up against a safety or linebacker in the slot (think how Ohio State used Devin Smith last year against Wisconsin), but this was not the case as Apple followed Brown into the slot.
Playing slot corner is very difficult, sometimes more so than outside corner. The reason is simple: in the slot the corner has an entire field to cover. When a receiver is lined up outside they naturally have a limited amount of field to work with due to the sideline being so close. In the slot? The receiver has much more room and field to attempt to gain separation.
This is what makes this particular play so impressive for Apple. Using Ohio State's typical cover four press coverage principles, Apple forces Brown outside and towards the sideline.
Kizer throws a great pass to a tightly covered Brown, but Apple is right there to make the play. While at first glance this pass break up looks like face guarding, the idea that face guarding is always a foul is a myth. Apple does not make body contact with Brown for the duration of the route, and only upon the ball arriving to Brown does Apple shoot his left hand up through Brown's hands, forcing the ball out in the process.
Apple may have played his final game in a Buckeyes' uniform yesterday, and it was a great one. With the size and press coverage ability (not to mention those long arms) of a potentially elite NFL cornerback, Apple could hear his name called on the second day of the 2016 NFL draft for good reason.
Never fear, Darron Lee is here
While defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard continued their excellent seasons with a sack apiece in Bosa's absence, it was Ohio State beast Darron Lee's seven tackles and two sacks that really ended any chance at an Irish comeback.
With under two minutes to go in the 4th quarter, there really wasn't any reason for Ohio State to be blitzing, but when you're down three starting defensive linemen, sometimes using your linebacker turned nickelback turned pass rusher is the right move.
While Ohio State loves using Lee creatively in their blitz game, this time Lee's instructions were simple: beat the right guard to the quarterback.
And beat the right guard Lee does, with the help of the "rip" move. One way that defensive linemen (or Darron Lee) take on bigger offensive lineman is by getting low to the ground and "ripping" one arm up through the offensive lineman's arm. The idea is that by completing the rip through the sky, you will have pulled the offensive lineman's arm up high enough for you to be able to clear his hips and then rush right past him.
Lee executes this rip move to perfection, as he is able to clear the offensive guard's hips with ease. All that is left for Lee to do is use his speed to get to the quarterback, which he does with ease thanks to Notre Dame's extra protection being nowhere to be found.
Lee's drive ending strip sack was recovered by Sophomore Ohio State defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle and effectively ended any small hope the Fighting Irish may have had for a comeback.
But let's face it: this game was over shortly after it began thanks to a dominating Ohio State offense, and an aggressive, play-making Ohio State defense. Maybe a Fiesta Bowl championship wasn't exactly what most Buckeyes fans had in mind going into the season, but I don't want to live in a world where beating Notre Dame by 16 is viewed as anything less than awesome.