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Film Review: Ohio State opens up downfield passing game, slows down Maryland’s offense

Ohio state lit up the scoreboard with balance through the air and the defense was successful at the little things.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ohio State is heading into the bye week with two dominant performances and this team should be proud of the improvements that they’ve made on both sides of the ball after their loss to Oregon. The defense has had three strong showings over the last three weeks —granted the games were against Maryland, Rutgers, and Akron — which is a lot considering how poorly the first three games played out for the Buckeyes. Offensively they’ve found their footing and now the statistical output is turning into real, efficient production. Ohio State was attacking downfield on Saturday and Maryland had no idea what was coming next.

For the offense, Ryan Day was in his play-calling bag and the team opened up the downfield passing game in a way that we had not yet seen with C.J. Stroud at quarterback. With touchdown passes of 36, 26, 26, and 30 yards, Ohio State was finishing drives from outside of the red-zone, which is a testament to the explosive nature of this offense. When Maryland would try to stop one thing, the Buckeyes would hit them with something completely different. That’s what great offense’s do, and with Stroud’s miraculously healing shoulder, this offense looks to be the most explosive in the country.

On defense, OSU just can’t stop finding ways to score touchdowns. Four straight weeks with a pick-six, plus a scoop and score the previous week, is not something that they can count on for the duration, but it certainly has helped.

A lot of people were concerned by the schemes that the Buckeyes were running early on, but the addition of Cover 2 and Cover 2 Man Under has absolutely changed the outlook of this season. The Buckeyes are forcing turnovers, getting more pressure, and limiting big plays. In terms of personnel, they’re not rotating as much, and the players who are getting onto the field are excelling in this new scheme.

In this week’s film review, I want to highlight the types of plays on both sides of the ball that were not being made early in the season, but now — either because of scheme or personnel changes — are being made.


Offense

Stroud has unlocked new levels to this offense in the past two games. After utilizing a lot of shallow crossers and mesh concepts last week, Ohio State was ready to test Stroud’s limits. This week, we saw him continue to improve and that’s good, because the offense needed more from him this week than last. Maryland decided to sell out early to stop the run-game and TreVeyon Henderson was Maryland’s focus. In comes the need for a prolific passing attack and the offense answered in a multitude of ways.

The first play that we’re going to look at has been set up over the last few weeks as Ohio State has begun to utilize jet sweeps in a high volume over the last two games. The play starts with Garrett Wilson (No. 5) motioning across the screen, Wilson sells the fake, which draws the attention of the defense.

The down and distance here would be considered a running down and the condensed formation would signal that as well. The fake handoff on the off-tackle run for Henderson is the next selling point which gets the attention of the safety. By the time that he realizes that this is not a run play, Olave has broken the cushion and gets wide open in the middle of the field.

In the first video we can see the linebackers creep up with the jet sweep fake, in the second view we get a look at the safety and shout out to Brock Huard for the circle to show what we are looking at with the safety.


The next play that we’re going to look at in the downfield passing game is arguably Stroud’s best throw so far this season. When you hear announcers or coaches talk about internal clocks for quarterbacks, this is a prime example. This is a “Trips Bunch Switch Verticals” concept and the confusion that it creates at the line allows Jaxon Smith-Njigba (No. 11) to get separation.

Maryland creates confusion for the offensive line by lining up their field-side defensive end over the guard. OSU’s Nicolas Petit-Frere (No. 78) loses the DE and Stroud needs to trust his internal clock, he releases the ball with great anticipation and the ball is thrown with near perfect touch.

This throw, and the fact that the pressure didn’t phase him, shows the growth that Stroud has gone through and the level of confidence that he’s playing with.


The last offensive play that we’re going to look at shows how Day is able to get playmakers involved in a variety of ways. We’ve seen him use the receivers in the run game before, but against Maryland, he emphasized getting the running back Henderson the ball through the air.

The short motion by tight end Jeremy Ruckert gives away that Maryland is in man coverage. This means that Henderson is matched up on a linebacker — the wheel route is a linebacker’s worst nightmare.

Henderson is wide open and, once again, we talk about a QB’s internal clock as Stroud goes through his progressions and knows where his checkdown is. He delivers a quick strike to Henderson and the Buckeyes score.


Defense

On defense, the Buckeyes continued their touchdown streak, but there were two extremely important developments in the game: A pass rush and no major mistakes. The improvement for the defense started with doing the little things well, and they have.

We’re going to look at some plays that aren’t the most flashy, but absolutely show why the defense was able to hold Maryland to 17 points. The last two weeks — outside of two plays — the defense has made teams earn every score, and they have not given up big plays. With how the offense is playing, what the defense is providing is plenty enough to win big this season, even as the competition improves.

The first play shows how far the defense has come, and Maryland still ended up scoring on this drive, but that’s not the point. If we take a look back to my film review after the Oregon game, Oregon took advantage of a weak edge and scored 3 touchdowns on outside runs.

When we take a look below, the way that Ohio State plays this read option is perfect. Zach Harrison (No. 9) replaces in the gap, Sevyn Banks (No. 7) is responsible for the QB and Ronnie Hickman (No. 14) takes the TE on the line route.

If you freeze the clip at the 0:01 mark, you can see the edge being set by three players. This is the improvement that serves as a great barometer for how far the OSU defense has come.


Throughout the game, the defense was creating pressure, but this play set the tone for the pass rush for the rest of the way. There are great sacks that come from great individual effort, and then there are team sacks. Ohio State started finding the pass rush against Rutgers and it really benefited the guys in coverage; against Maryland, the coverage really benefited the pass rushers.

Looking at that coverage, Ohio State is once again in Cover 2 Man Under in the red zone. Linebacker Teradja Mitchell (No. 3) does an exceptional job of covering the check down from Maryland’s running. The Buckeyes bring a four-man pass rush and DE Javontae Jean-Baptiste (No. 8) gets the initial pressure, Harrison follows up. The team contains QB Taulia Tagovailoa and forces him back to the rush and they come up with a team sack to end a promising Maryland drive.


Bonus Play

Before we conclude, let’s take a moment to just appreciate Garrett Wilson cooking this poor Maryland defensive back. The confidence that Day showed to call this play is impressive, and Stroud delivers a great ball too, but we really must just marvel at the footwork by Wilson here.


Conclusion

Heading into the off week, Ohio State has dominated in three consecutive games, they’ve continually improved each week on both sides of the ball, and the they get a struggling Indiana team next before a huge matchup against Penn State. The offense has unlocked some new levels, in no small part due to the confidence that Day apparently now has in this team’s ability to execute the more creative plays that he’s calling. Defensively, the Buckeyes have shown up three weeks in a row, against three different levels of offense.

Ohio State has played three consecutive clean games and rather than harping on the few mistakes, we’ve looked at what they’ve done well. If the defense can keep improving and the pass rush continues to show up, this Buckeye team will be dangerous. The offense and defense have answered the call since the Oregon game and the team is finally in a place that should leave the Buckeye faithful confident the rest of the way.

Next week, we’re going to review some of the few holes remaining on both sides as the Buckeyes head into their home stretch.