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Film Preview: Indiana’s pass heavy attack and aggressive, blitz heavy defense

We take a look at how Indiana uses the screen game to replace the run and how their defense uses blitz looks to create chaos for opposing offenses.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana Hoosiers host the Ohio State Buckeyes this week in Bloomington, Ind. and they will have revenge on their minds. After being snubbed for last season’s Big Ten Title Game due to a last-minute rule change and now not getting off to the start that they envisioned in 2021, they will be looking to pull the unlikely upset on their big brother to the east.

When you look at Indiana over the last few years, they’ve gained respectability thanks to a high volume passing attack and a defense that plays an aggressive, high volume blitzing style.

As we get into the film today, this Indiana team has played four of its six games so far this season against ranked teams and — unfortunately for the team and their fans — their record does notably reflect how talented this football team is. However, on the OSU side, the Buckeyes have a history of getting caught up in weird games against Indiana, and this game will be the first real test for Ryan Day’s squad since wholesale changes were made following the loss to Oregon.

Coming off of an off week and getting a ton of players back from injury bodes well for the Buckeyes, but we all know how much Indiana wants this game. IU will be without quarterback Michael Penix Jr., meaning that the offense won’t be nearly as wide open, but with how he was playing prior to his shoulder injury, that might not be a bad thing for the Hoosiers.


Offense

One of the biggest losses to the 2020 coaching carousel was Indiana losing Kalen Deboer, who unlocked Penix’s potential, and had one of the best yards per play offenses in the country in 2020. The high level passing attack led by Penix Jr. with Ty Fryfogle and Peyton Hendershot came into 2021 with extremely high expectations, but they have failed to match that level of efficiency this season. With the internal promotion of Nick Sheridan to offensive coordinator, IU was hoping to maintain that level of production.

One of the concepts that IU runs effectively is tunnel screens and they do this quite a bit to replace the traditional run game. In the clip below, we’re going to see how Sheridan uses formational versatility to get his playmakers the ball through alignment.

Indiana starts in trips to the field side and motions across Peyton Hendershot (No. 86) to the short side as the split out receiver. Hendershot stems vertically two steps to get the defender moving backwards, retreats, and catches the screen from QB Jack Tuttle.

The offensive line gets out in space; the offensive tackle kicks out the safety and Hendershot is able to find some open grass for a nice gain.

This play is set up by the initial formation alignment; by motioning Hendershot out, that puts a cornerback on a TE. It also challenges the defense’s personnel to the short side after being set to play against trips, which plays a big part in why this play was successful.

For Ohio State to combat this, a Cover 2 corner will be responsible for the screen and will need to play the receiver physically.


Another example of how Indiana uses passing to simulate the run game is by using motion to get the running back into space. They really don’t do much running the football outside of the occasional outside zone, RPO, and draw plays we’ve seen before. The reason we’re focusing on the screen game is because they’d prefer to do that over the traditional run game.

In this next play, they run a bubble screen to the running back — lined up in the slot. IU does a quick orbit motion, which is where the running back takes a deep angle to run behind the quarterback which gives him a natural running start to catch a bubble screen.

This play gets the running back the ball quickly and gives them immediate numbers to the outside. The play is blocked well enough to get the first down yardage and allows the Hoosiers to get a four-on-four matchup outside where they aren’t as overmatched physically.

Ohio State will just need to set the edge, keep contain, and the safety will have to be a hard fill player on the outside. Fortunately, the Buckeyes have been defending this area well as of late.


The last offensive play I wanted to look at was a play from last year. Now we don’t have the same personnel on either team, but this is a concept that Indiana likes to run against Cover 3 or Cover 1 looks. The formation IU lines up in is an empty bunch left, bubs stack right formation, condensing all of the pass catchers near the offensive line.

Bunch formations have given Ohio State trouble this season; though they have improved as the season has gone on, this still presents some worry for me against an offense that has the talent that Indiana does at receiver and tight end.

In this play, the Hoosiers run an empty mesh concept and Ohio State covers almost everyone perfectly. Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning (No. 5) gets trapped by the mesh and this opens up an easy reception for a touchdown.

Now OSU has figured out how to guard and align against a standard bunch, but against an empty set that adds one more pass catcher on the outside changing the responsibilities, it gets more complicated. In this case, a linebacker was responsible for covering a receiver and Hendershot, the tight end for Indiana, is able to set a pick.

To beat this play zone coverage will be the answer, but it will be up to Ohio State to not lose receivers in the mix of all the criss-crossing routes.


Defense

Tom Allen is one of the better defensive coaches in football and once you get past all of his rah-rah positivity, he has one of the more aggressive defenses in football. With 3-3-5 personnel, Indiana will be relying on a lot of zone blitzes, stunts, and combo coverages. The Hoosiers will try to create some chaos to try to win on early downs and put the Buckeye offense in difficult down-and-distance situations.

This will be a challenge for the offensive line and C.J. Stroud as IU will bring the most complicated front that the Buckeyes have played up to this point. If OSU can look past the window dressing, establish the run, and get the ball out of Stroud’s hand quickly, the offense will be able to mitigate some of the things that Indiana does well.

The first play we’re going to look at is from the Penn State game because they run a lot of 11-personnel like Ohio State does. This will allow us to get a clear look at alignment, blitz disguising, and coverages that Indiana likes to play behind the blitz against the personnel package that Ohio State uses most frequently.

The first thing that we want to look at is the linebackers; where they are and what gaps they have lined up in pre-snap. The Mike (No. 47) and Will (No. 4) linebackers line up over both A-Gaps respectively and Micah McFadden (No. 47) shows blitz before he takes a step back.

The defensive end (no. 10) takes a hard slant to the A-Gap and the linebackers take the C- and B-Gaps, creating confusion. The DE makes Penn State’s guard and tackle follow him to the A-Gap, resulting in the tackle reacting late to the Will and leaving the B-Gap wide open for McFadden to come on a delayed blitz with a clean lane to the quarterback.

Coverage on the back end is standard Cover 1, Indiana shows a Cover 2 shell meaning the two safeties are lined up splitting the field. The safety on the running back side takes the RB and the other safety takes the deep zone leaving everyone else in man.


As we continue with the defense, Indiana does rely a lot on its linebackers to play at a high level against the run, blitzing, and in the passing game. If Ohio State is able to alleviate their effectiveness in one of those three aspects, the offense will find success. This next play is a zone blitz in which Indiana is able to force an errant throw from PSU QB Sean Clifford.

Indiana starts this play by showing that they intend to bring extra pressure off of the edge. The Will linebacker (No. 46) shows blitz the entire time, but he is still lined up off of he football, making this a harder count for the offensive linemen for Penn State.

As he brings extra pressure off the edge, the defensive end falls back once he sees that it’s a pass, and Indiana ends up bringing a four-man rush. On the backend, they’re in Cover 3, the short side safety (No. 0) drops to the flat and no one is in his zone.

The saftey continues to drop back and Clifford’s eyes have moved to the middle crosser, who the safety jumps under and gets the interception. Indiana plays disciplined in their zones and this gave Justin Fields a lot of trouble last year. Stroud will have to be patient and not force anything that isn’t there, or Indiana will win with the confusion they create.


Conclusion

Indiana brings a defense that will provide challenges to Ohio State and they will look to force a lot of turnovers. If Ohio State can keep Stroud clean, the offense should be able to move pretty comfortably. When Indiana’s blitz is not getting home, they have been prone to giving up big plays.

By establishing the ground game and challenging the safeties/linebackers responsible for covering the running back out of the backfield, Ohio State should be able to get creative and take advantage of some of the weak spots in Indiana’s defense. The offense will have its first real test since Oregon, which should get fans excited.

Offensively, the Hoosiers pass a lot. Ohio State will have to remain disciplined in coverage, but most importantly, they will need to consistently get pressure on whomever plays quarterback for Indiana. This is still a huge test, all things considered, and we will learn a lot about the OSU defense by how they defend this attack.

With Penix Jr. out, the run threat from that position will be much more limited, meaning that Ohio State can play more responsible football without having to worry about the quarterback being able to hurt them on the scramble.

The biggest challenge will be how the OSU linebackers and safeties are able to guard the screen game. Indiana runs a lot of screen variations and that will take a lot of discipline from those two positions to slow it down.

To close this out, this will be a great challenge for the Buckeyes. Indiana is 2-4, but all four of their losses came in close games to ranked opponents, so their record doesn’t truly reflect the talent on this team. They will be looking to right the ship and get revenge after last year’s decision by the B1G. The Buckeyes will need to be prepared for the kitchen sink on both sides of the ball as they take on the upset minded Hoosiers.

As long as Ohio State plays a disciplined football game and doesn’t compound on mistakes they should win this game comfortably. In Bloomington, IN we will learn a lot about how far Ohio state has come