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Film Review: Ohio State’s short yardage struggles, coverage holes on defense against Penn State

Ohio State beat Penn State, but there were some glaring issues on both sides of the ball that will need to be addressed as we enter the final stretch.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Ohio State Buckeyes are once again victorious, this time in a ranked match up in primetime against the Penn State NIttany Lions. In a game that Ohio State left a lot on the table offensively they were still able to come away with a huge win in primetime in front of a who’s who of recruits and national TV audience. The overall performance was good on both sides of the ball, but there were crucial mistakes made in key situations that compounded and kept the game closer than it arguably should have been.

When we look back at this game the story is going to be missed opportunities by the Buckeyes whether it was due to Penn State making a play, missed assignments, or penalties which halted a lot of momentum on some key drives. For the Buckeyes though, the positives is they won a tough game against a very experienced Penn State football team who was playing for their season. Brett Pry, Mike Yurcich, and James Franklin deserve some credit for having sound gameplans in place, but Ohio State did not take advantage of some of the opportunities Penn State provided.

In this film review we’re going to look at how the offense failed to capitalize in multiple short yardage situations and how Penn State’s stout red zone defense earned some respect with their ability to slow down the efficient Buckeye scoring attack. The Buckeyes will need to be better in the red zone and that starts with creativity in play-calling because when a defense can line up and tee off, the offense will have trouble in those situations. With all that being said, thank you for coming and let’s get started.

Short Yardage Run Game

Ohio State’s offensive line has been a dominant force this season against lesser competition, but in two games against teams with real talent in the opposing front seven they have struggled in short yardage situations. Penn State was able to get immediate penetration and it looked like Penn State was able to key in on Ohio State’s bread and butter run plays. In obvious run situations Penn State played disciplined, gap responsibility football.

In the first play we’re going to look at how Penn State was able to foil Ohio State’s “Inside Zone” concept. As we look at the alignment, Ohio State has six blockers to block seven defenders – in short yardage situations this should not be a problem – but Penn State takes away the leverage of the play. In their Tite-front – an alignment where the defense aligns six defenders across in the six gaps – Penn State is able to stop this plau immediate penetration and from the looks of it there is some sort of miscommunication on blocking assignments. Thayer Munford (No. 75) is responsible for getting up to the linebacker, but that leaves Penn State’s 3-Tech tackle (No. 91) free in the B-Gap which blows up the play. Penn State knows there is no read component in Ohio State’s offense, so he is able to crash to the mesh point. Nicholas Petit-Frere (No. 78) and Jeremy Ruckert’s (No. 88) double team gives Penn State a two-on-one against Munford which is the final reason why Penn State was able to take advantage of this scheme defensively.

In the second scenario we get to see Ohio State try something different offensively here going with Treveyon Henderson (No. 32) in an I-formation with Mitch Rossi (No. 34) in as a traditional fullback. The Buckeyes stick to their zone run-scheme once again and Penn State is able to account for each gap in this scenario with the interior DL lined up over Ohio State’s guard, center, and guard. They are able to eat the double teams and this blows up Ohio State’s run to the play side. With Stover blocking to the inside as well this leaves Penn State’s crashing EDGE player (No. 23) in a position to slow down Henderson and allows the linebackers to get back into the play leading to the Nittany Lions making a stop.

Ohio State not winning the initial step was a huge difference maker and it really allowed Penn State to interrupt the zone scheme. The reliance on the same play regardless of formation made it easier for Penn State to key in on the concepts and slow them down.

Coverage Issues

The Buckeyes have improved in a lot of ways defensively and a large part of that is them implementing more two-high safety looks. This has played a significant role in their ability to get pressure and force turnovers, but when you play an experienced quarterback, they are able to find the holes more consistently. Sean Clifford was able to remain patient when Ohio State’s pass rush was unable to generate pressure and his receivers were able to find holes in the coverage. This is why Penn State was able to complete so many passes in the middle areas on the field.

In the first play this issue arose, Ohio State brought pressure from the Will-linebacker position with Teradja Mitchell (No. 3) blitzing, Zach Harrison (No. 9) replaces him in coverage. The issue with doing this is it vacates a large chunk of space in front of Sevyn Banks (No. 7) and the safety Ronnie Hickman (No. 14). Penn State is able to attack this coverage look because the route combination widens Banks because he has to be conscious of the TE running a flat route. Hickman is responsible for protecting the vertical seam and making sure there is nothing coming from the other side. This allows Penn State’s WR to sit in a hole and Sean Clifford has an easy third down completion. If Ohio State wants to eliminate that route in the future, Cody Simon (No. 30) will have to replace Mitchell in coverage and Zach Harrison would then need to be responsible for that shallow middle zone.

The next play Ohio State brings four rushers, dropping seven defenders on third and long. This is a situation where you’d hope to be able to win rushing four, but Penn State’s line is able to protect Sean Clifford long enough for his receivers to find the middle of the zone once again. With two linebackers in the game, they vacate the middle of the field as they have seam-curl responsibility meaning they will be playing to the hash markers. With no third linebacker this leaves the middle of the zone wide open in front of the safeties. Penn State was able to to take advantage of this on many occasions and in the future Ohio State is going to need to find a way to get someone in that middle hole if they drop seven defenders.

Defensively when Ohio State was unable to get pressure these holes in the coverage were not as noticeable for obvious reasons. If the Buckeyes are able to generate pressure with four they can play more conservative in coverage like they were. When they are stopping the run game as effectively as they are, they can also continue to keep the box thin and keep the passing game in front of them. It’s just about playing and finding work in coverage better and continuing to mix in pressure looks because that is the difference for the Buckeyes.

Bonus Play

Ohio State did not have many big plays offensively, but this one showed why this Ohio State offense can be special in the long run. The Buckeyes were not able to take many shots downfield due to Penn State playing a defense that was protecting over top. Ohio State came out in 12-personnel meaning there were two tight ends on the field. Penn State lined up in a set that was bringing a run pressure meaning their backers were playing run aggressively, the safeties for Penn State were playing their closest distance to the line of the night.

The Buckeyes took advantage of this tendency, and drew up an outstanding play-action pass. Ohio State sells a trap look, Thayer Munford (No. 75) pulls from the left guard position into pass protection. C.J Stroud does a phantom fake with Henderson (No. 32 going to the left in pass pro due to the rush. The play naturally is supposed to move the pocket, but Penn State’s EDGE defender gets up field, Stroud does a great job of selling himself going outside to set up the block that is coming from Munford. Munford is able to get in his pass set which allows Stroud to climb up the pocket and deliver a dime to Olave who is running free between Penn State’s zones on the back end.

Zone Run Rant

Now there’s one thing this week that has been absolutely infuriating to me as a person, as a fan, and as a person who takes the time to learn schemes, so I can do my best to decipher the information on the field for you guys. That thing this week is the constant clamoring for C.J. Stroud to pull the football on zone run plays.

Ohio State is not a zone read team, C.J Stroud does not have a read option key, and Ryan Day rarely ever calls plays that put his quarterbacks into running situations. When Ohio State runs the ball and it is an inside zone, split-zone, or outside zone there is not an option to keep the football. That is just the way that the offense is designed.

If you want to complain about how there should be zone reads, designed QB runs, or other schematic tendencies that is a whole different story as I myself have said that the Buckeyes should run some designed read option plays. We have seen them used sparingly in the pass under Ryan Day, but only in situations where they feel they have to. Until Ryan Day doesn’t think the OL and the RBs can’t pick up one yard C.J. Stroud will not be reading to keep.

The issue is the thousands of Ohio State fans whining that Stroud did not pull the ball, he does not have that option. If you feel different and think he does, you are wrong. As the people on Twitter have confirmed for me, I have a mission in these articles to do my best to try to teach the schemes Ohio State uses and breakdown what happens in certain situations, excuse my rant.


To start wrapping up, Ohio State took on Penn State, and the Buckeyes did not win by 30 plus points and the performance was not as impressive as one might have hoped. That’s okay, Ohio State is not going to boat race every team they play, especially ones who are capable of combating the schemes that Ohio State employs on a weekly basis.

The Buckeyes’ defense completely shut down the running game, unfortunately conservative third down play calling allowed Penn State to pick up multiple third and longs. Ohio State will have to choose the battles they’re willing to lose in order to win some and throughout the night they were able to get pressures, force turnovers, and get off the field when it mattered most. The idea that the defense did not play it’s best is true, but in 2021, the great defenses will come up big when they have to.

Offensively, Ohio State struggled to find any rhythm and I think penalties are a good place to start there. The amount of drive killing false starts and snap infractions really did their damage in the long run for the Buckeyes. Ohio State also failed in the red zone this week which in games against better offenses, this can not be the case. The offensive staff needs to be more creative and less scared to take chances, the offense was predictable this week, but they were still good enough to get the job done. Next week it will be about cleaning up all their mistakes and establishing physicality in the run game.

For the Buckeyes, Nebraska hasn’t lost by double digits this year, and if the Buckeyes are making some of these mistakes that streak might not end. That being said, Nebraska provides a great opportunity to continue to improve as the final stretch approaches.