“Justin Fields has a very strong arm, as well, but also he can really run, as the film has shown consistently. That really does create a lot of problems for the defense, and so we’ve got to do a great job of being able to contain that, and not giving up those explosive plays.”
- Indiana head coach Tom Allen via Patrick Murphy, 247sports
After two blowout wins against non-Power 5 opponents, the competition stiffens up a bit for Ohio State as they open up Big Ten play on the road against the Indiana Hoosiers this Saturday. There is a ton of familiarity between the two schools, especially on the sidelines. Kevin Wilson, the Buckeyes offensive coordinator, was the head coach at Indiana from 2011-16. Tom Allen, the current Hoosiers head coach, served under Wilson as the defensive coordinator in Bloomington before assuming the head coaching job upon Wilson’s departure.
Indiana has always seemed to play Ohio State close in recent years, especially in the first half of games, and that will likely be no different this season. The Buckeyes racked up an average of 488.5 yards through the first two games of the year, one of which coming against a very highly touted defensive unit in Cincinnati. The Hoosier defense, however, has shined in their own right, allowing only 257 yards per game. If Indiana has any shot of an upset at home, Allen and defensive coordinator Kane Wommack will have to find a way to slow down Justin Fields and the potent OSU offense.
Speaking on Monday, Allen and Wommack spoke highly of Ohio State. Allen, who expressed tremendous respect for Ryan Day and the job he’s done, said the Buckeyes are what they have been for so long: big, physical, explosive and dominant. The biggest issue for Allen and his staff is trying to stop Fields from beating them with his legs. The sophomore quarterback has already rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns thus far, and the Hoosiers want to take that aspect of his game away.
“From our perspective, we feel like there are some things we are probably going to be able to take advantage of. Frankly, every time that guy has his hands on the ball, we’re going to try to get some pretty good shots on him,” Wommack said. While Fields is clearly talented in the ground game, it is interesting that this is how Indiana plans to stop him. Fields has ran the ball 21 times through two games, but forcing him into being a pure passer doesn't seem all too effective — he has completed 76 percent of his passes for 458 yards, six TDs and no interceptions.
“The problem isn’t always the pain Chase Young can inflict on his own for Ohio State. Sometimes the mere threat of what the superstar junior can do to opponents is enough to create major issues.”
- Zach Boren, Lettermen Row
There was a lot of hype surrounding defensive end Chase Young heading into the season. Fully healthy after battling ankle injuries for the majority of 2018, the expectation was that he would have a big year, potentially ending up as a top pick in the next NFL Draft. Well, just two games into the 2019 season, Chase Young has looked like one of the best defensive players in all of college football.
Statistically alone, Young has been fantastic. Already, the junior has totaled eight solo tackles, with three for a loss, three sacks, a pass deflection and a blocked field goal. Seemingly every time he touches the field, he is tossing opposing lineman aside and getting into opposing backfields with ease. His unreal athleticism for a guy his size makes him an absolute matchup nightmare. However, it has what Young’s presence on the field and what it creates for the rest of the defense that has been even more impressive.
One-on-one, there likely isn't an offensive lineman in college football who can hold a block against Young for any significant amount of time. As a result, and as expected, teams have been throwing double and even triple-teams his way. While Young is able to weave his way past even multiple blockers, the added attention to the 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end opens the door for the rest of the Buckeyes’ defensive line.
On more than one occasion, an excessive focus on blocking Young has led to an unblocked blitz getting to the quarterback, something Ohio State is purposely game planning for. The biggest example of this can be seen on Shaun Wade’s strip-sack against Cincinnati, wherein the right guard, right tackle and even the running back was set up to block Young. Young, instead, was dropped back into coverage, and with three blockers in no-man’s land, Wade easily came from around the other side for the sack.
“After a practice three days before Ohio State faced Cincinnati, Olave noted that the receivers were mindful of staying with Fields when he scrambled. Olave said they had done their own scrambling drills in practice, leaving a similar emphasis.”
- Joey Kaufman, Columbus Dispatch
It is no secret that Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is a completely different player than his predecessor Dwayne Haskins. While both are excellent players in their own way, the style of play requires separate game plans, especially for the wide receivers. Haskins was a deadly-accurate, downfield-bombing pocket passer. Fields, on the other hand is a hard-throwing, meticulous scrambler. The transition from one to the other has required the Buckeye wide receivers to add a new skill set to their repertoire.
Despite Fields’ ability to duck and run when the situation necessitates, he has also shown a quickly improving ability to keep plays alive. Against Cincinnati, the young QB was able to keep his eyes downfield, even when scrambling out of the pocket, and picked up some nice gains through the air on plays that looked destined for a keeper. A big key to being able to do this kind of thing is the wideouts’ ability to keep their routes going, even after a play appears to be dead.
As Fields’ high school coach Matt Dickmann explained, he made his team do scrambling drills in order to help out his quarterback. He employed a pattern that he wanted his receivers to follow. When Fields rolled one way, the receivers on that side of the field were taught to run downfield, while those on the opposite side of the field were to run toward the middle. This increased the chances of Fields finding an open receiver, even late in a play.
Ohio State has already began implementing some of this ideology, and it could best be seen on a passing play to Chris Olave in the second quarter. Having evaded the pocket, Fields rolled out to the far right side of the field. Olave, after finishing what looked like a simple out route, saw his QB rolling out, and instead turned upfield. Olave was able to get open quickly, and the play resulted in a 39-yard completion. The so-called “second part” of the route as Ryan Day has described it, will be a point of emphasis for wide receivers as the season progresses.
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