Last season Army:
- Won its first bowl game since 2010
- Beat Navy for the first time since 2001
- Won eight games for the first time since 1996
So far, their idea of an encore consists of continuing to run the ball straight down the throat of whoever happens to line up across from them. Army doesn’t change their style of football for anyone, and why should they? They currently lead the country in rushing yards per game (minimum two games played) and have had the 12th-, fifth-, and third-best rushing attack in the nation over the past three seasons, respectively. Feel free to bet your friends that Ohio State’s last-ranked pass defense will manage to hold at least one offense to fewer than 200 passing yards, as the Black Knights have cleared that threshold just once in their last 27 games.
This Saturday’s matchup between the Buckeyes and Black Knights will be decided in the trenches. This would seem to benefit Ohio State’s bevy of monsters on the defensive line, but as LGHL’s own Christopher Jason pointed out in his excellent preview of Army’s triple-option flexbone offense: Discipline is everything. The Buckeyes need to literally treat Army’s football team like a bunch of nameless Black Knights. Ohio State doesn’t sacrifice talent or size at any position on the field, so maintaining proper leverage and responsibility on a play-by-play basis is more important that containing any one player.
With that said, let’s take a look at which Buckeyes could have a prominent role in stopping the Black Knights’ option attack.
MLB Chris Worley/DE Sam Hubbard/DE Tyquan Lewis
Historically, Ohio State has asked its defensive ends to crash to the fullback on a triple option read. Two main reasons behind this are:
- The fullback give is the easiest way for a triple-option offense to pick up yards. Barring an incredible effort from the middle linebacker on a down-by-down basis, failing to commit to taking away the fullback is a death sentence for any defense.
- Keeping the ball forces the quarterback to make another decision on the pitch, and also forces the signal caller to expose himself to big hits. The best way to stop an option offense is to create negative plays and force them into passing options, and allowing the quarterback to make the easiest read in the book isn’t a great way to make those plays happen.
When Ohio State’s defensive ends are unblocked, expect them to crash down on Army fullback Darnell Woolfolk, a 5’9” 235 pound cannonball that has averaged 6.0 yards per carry on his 31 attempts this season. In an ideal world, the ends will be able to stifle the first piece of the triple option, allowing Worley to fly sideline-to-sideline to make plays all over the field.
In a normal week, Worley is just as responsible for taking care of the A-gaps as the defensive line. Still, if the Buckeyes play the option in a similar fashion as they did in 2014, Worley will likely line up deeper than normal to give him a chance to scrape over the mess at the line of scrimmage to make plays on the edge:
We’ve seen Worley make physical plays at the line of scrimmage, but he’s best when allowed to fly around the field and make plays with his game-changing speed. A big night from Worley will likely mean the defensive line also did their jobs.
OLBs Jerome Baker/Dante Booker
Outside linebackers probably have the best chance of any position to create turnovers against the triple option. Luckily for Ohio State, they have two of the best in the business at doing just that in Baker and Booker. Army won’t be used to facing a defense with linebackers as fast as their running backs, and there are plays to be made against the quarterback and pitchman on the edge.
Army doesn’t run the exact same version of the triple option every play, and will attempt to confuse the Buckeyes’ linebackers with motion and counters. Baker and Booker have the speed and ability to track down any player on Army’s roster, but first they need to properly decipher each given play and not run themselves out of position. Otherwise, we’ll be seeing a lot of uncontested 10-yard runs ending with Buckeye defenders pointing fingers at each other.
CBs Denzel Ward/Kendall Sheffield
The Buckeyes won’t face the spread concepts that have given their entire secondary fits over the past two weeks, but they still need to prove they’re in fact capable of slowing down the opponent’s pass offense. Both corners will also be responsible for helping handle the pitchman and not letting the Black Knights get to the edge.
Sheffield is a cornerback in a safety’s body, and his physical mentality should be perfect for this game. Ward is the Buckeyes’ No. 1 cornerback and needs to eliminate any potential passes thrown his way on third-and-long. It will take Ohio State’s full defensive attention to stop this rushing attack throughout the game, and cheap first downs through the air are something they can’t afford to give up.
The Buckeyes are 30.5-point favorites, but a 53-point total indicates Vegas doesn’t see the Silver Bullets blanking the Black Knights. Ohio State has waited a long week to take out their frustration, but it could make for an even longer week if that frustration isn’t channeled at the correct player come Saturday afternoon.