In this Ohio State football season, we have been on an absolute roller coaster of emotion, but it finally feels like this Ohio State team has found its identity. From a film breakdown perspective we have had a lot of positives to talk about over the last three weeks as Ohio State has gone through an in-season metamorphosis. On the defensive side of the ball an entirely new look defense has taken the field over the last four games and has paid major dividends. For the offense, Ryan Day has found his lead back and C.J. Stroud’s immaculate shoulder recovery has allowed the offense to flourish over three games. We have seen excellent moments from every position group and the team is going into the second half of this season with a lot of confidence.
With all that being said there are still a few small issues that need to be cleaned up if Ohio State wants to achieve everything they have set out to achieve. Against Tulsa, Akron, Rutgers, and Maryland there are small aspects that they improved upon each week, but the minor holes can become costly when an opponent can truly take advantage of them. As we saw last year against Alabama and early this season against Oregon, good teams that can execute will exploit weaknesses until you adjust or stop them. Today’s film study is looking at a few things we need to see Ohio State improve on if we want to see the Buckeyes play in the second week of January.
We’re going to look at a few clips that show the remaining issues the defense has exposed and this will be my most nit-picky study yet, so you were forewarned.
Pursuit angles have randomly plagued Ohio State for the last five years and this year the Buckeyes have given up some big plays due to this. The most recent example took away from a relatively exceptional game against Maryland.
In the play below Ohio State just got ripped for a big game the play prior for similar mistakes. Maryland lines up in a doubles formation with the two receivers to the field side split wide. The alignment for the Buckeyes is standard against field side doubles, but if the cover safety is unable to tackle in space this can lead to a lot of trouble. Now the fan base has taken issues with #17 and examples like this are why, but he’s not the only one.
Maryland in this example throws a bubble screen to Rakim Jarrett (No. 5) who is a phenomenal receiving talent. Once Cam Martinez (No. 10) whiffs on the initial tackle this play does not need to go for six. Lejond Cavazos (No. 4) does a good job at corner forcing the play back inside, the issue comes when Bryson Shaw (No. 17) takes an angle at the player not where the player is going. If Shaw takes the correct angle he would have an opportunity to limit this play to a medium gain, but it instead goes for six. This play is not a one-off example, this has been a common complaint, but this clip was an easy way to show what bad pursuit can lead to.
Run fits go hand in hand with pursuit angles, this has been one of the most improved aspects, but there have still been some glaring plays where a bad run fit turned into a big gain for the opponent. We’re going back to the Maryland game, and in a crucial moment the Buckeyes gave up a big gain to the Terps.
Looking at the play below Maryland lines up in a condensed bunch formation to the right side. The running back for Maryland lines up in a Pistol set and is directly behind the QB meaning he could take a hand off running either direction. Maryland chooses to run away from the bunch, the left tackle kicks out Javontae Jean-Baptiste (No. 8), the double team washes down the defensive tack Antwuan Jackson, and opens a huge whole for the running back. The linebackers for the Buckeyes do a great job filling their interior gaps and that means the safety is responsible for the B-gap the blocking scheme opened up. Ronnie Hickman (No. 14) gets stuck inside and by the time he reacts it is too late, the back gets through the hole for a first down, but the bad run fit turns the play into a huge gain.
Now this play was getting the first down no matter what, but a good run fit limits this play to a short gain rather than a trip to the red zone. This did not end up hurting Ohio State against Maryland, but against a better football team that could end up being more significant.
Tackling in Space
Ohio State’s defense has been much improved and they limited an explosive Maryland offense to 17 points. Teams have been able to get their athletes in space and make the initial defenders miss. Teams have used the screen game and outside run to attack Ohio State frequently, and it has had a mixed success rate.
In the next play we once again go to the Maryland game because this is the most recent identifier into who this team is. Maryland has utilized a tight end screen frequently throughout the season and they use it once again here. For a tight end screen to be successful the tight end has to sell himself as a blocker. Maryland’s tight end (No. 9) chips Zach Harrison then slips to the outside, the timing is extremely important and there is a two count on the chip. This allows the linemen to release upfield and start picking off defenders. The outside defenders get blocked and Hickman (No. 14) sees a lane and whiffs. This is once again nit-picky, but against Kenneth Walker these are the types of plays where small mistakes can turn 10 yard gains into 35 yard gains.
When I started putting this article together I did not think this would be an article almost exclusively about defense, but here we are again. The Buckeyes’ offensive starters have scored on 15 consecutive drives not including half time kneels. This has been an absurd output by them. The issues that plagued the offense at the beginning of the year were inaccuracies by Stroud on key downs, struggling to pick up short yards in the run game, and an overall lack of identity. Rewatching parts of the last three games, there were very few missed throws and very few unsuccessful runs.
Now we can look at the names on the helmets, but the Buckeyes have been efficient and have absolutely imposed their will on opposing defenses since the Tulsa game. We will find out more as the defenses they face improve most notably in two weeks against Penn State, but right now, there’s not a more efficient offense in the country.
Here’s some highlights:
The last two weeks have been a breath of fresh air for the Buckeyes (three including Akron), but the challenges start now. If Ohio State can limit the few mistakes they’re making currently, this team has the offense to go the distance. Defensively they’ve improved their pass rush, the pass defense is forcing turnovers, and they’re not giving up long drives at the rate they were. The success rate of the defense has improved immensely and I’m not sure there’s an offense they’ll see in the regular season that will be able to keep pace with the offense. If the defense can be serviceable, limit big plays, and get off the field by giving up no points or field goals.
There is not a team in the country that has improved as much as Ohio State in the last few weeks and they’re back. A lot of the issues in this article were much more prevalent weeks ago, which once again shows how far in the right direction the Buckeyes have come. As of now, the Buckeyes are playing how we expected them to at the start of the year and I am extremely excited to see this team keep improving until the end of the year.
This article was nit-picky, but the little things are what Nick Saban and every other great coach says make champions.