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Film Review: Ohio State’s patchwork defense exposed against the Michigan Wolverines’ physical run game

Michigan physically dominated Ohio State’s defense, and we take a look at how they were able to attack the Buckeyes for four quarters.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

This past Saturday, Ohio State was defeated by hated rival Michigan, 42-27, in a game that exposed a lot of the same flaws we’ve seen throughout the year for the Buckeyes. Michigan showed up with a defined identity, ready to physically impose their will on an Ohio State team that never fully found who it was. The lack of physicality on both sides was alarming, and this season the two teams who have beat the Buckeyes have done it through physicality. Michigan did not over complicate anything, and that is the largest issue — an uncomplicated game plan took apart this Ohio State team.

For the Buckeyes, this will lead lots of introspection. Many questions will be asked this offseason, but in every big game the same issues showed up. The defense got imposed upon physically at times, and we’re going to take a look at how that happened on Saturday. In the words of Woody Hayes, “There’s nothing that cleanses the soul like getting the hell kicked out of you.”

Ohio State will have a lot to answer this season, but it will all start with looking at this loss like we are about to and start building towards next year. Today we are going to look at the defensive failures and how Michigan’s offense was able to expose the issues that have plagued the Buckeyes all year.

Michigan’s Power Run Game

The Wolverines have built an identity this season that has been the most philosophically sound since Jim Harbaugh took over. They were going to be a power run team on the back of a strong offensive line with a backfield that has a mix of experience and youthful talent. Utilizing gap scheme runs, Michigan was able to dominate Ohio State up front for the entirety of the game. One of the main things Ohio State will have to look at is how Michigan was able to have so much success, and that is where we’re going to start.

The first play we’re going to look at is a short yardage play early in the game that shows what Michigan did all day in short yardage situations. Michigan lines up in a standard trips set with 11-personnel — one running back, one tight end — with the tight end lined up to the short side off the ball. Taking a look at the defensive alignment to start for the Buckeyes, there is a covered up receiver to the trips side. This should show the Buckeyes can have an extra body in the box as there are limits to what that player can do as an ineligible receiver. Instead, the Buckeyes lineup with six in the box, meaning Michigan has a blocker for every player in front of them.

Michigan runs a power with the tight end motion across the formation to kick out the end. Hassan Haskins takes the hand off and shows his patience. The kick out creates the hole in the gap scheme, and Haskins has the patience to wait for the lane to open. Cody Simon was unable to stuff the block and got washed to the middle as Steele Chambers gets lost on the other side. Michigan’s down blocks moved the entire defensive line away from the run action, and the safeties made a play eight yards down the field. Michigan’s physicality was obvious here, and this was a common theme throughout the game.

Ohio State was not done getting run over, and we’re going to take a look at the run that served as the final dagger in the heart of the Buckeyes’ season.

Another inside run, this time late in the game with the same personnel against the same personnel. Michigan lines up and runs their power scheme again from the shotgun. Ohio State defends it differently, but the result is the same. The defensive line aggressively shoots up field and takes themselves out of the play. On the play side, Michigan’s left guard is able to wash the defensive tackle and the offensive tackle stuffs the defensive end. Chambers flies up field and this opens up an immediate running lane for Haskins.

The bad angles from the safeties and linebacker turn this into a huge gain that ices the football game. The Buckeyes’ defense was beat up all game, and these issues we thought might have been fixed since the Oregon loss were exposed. This game was on coaching. There were no personnel changes and rather than matching the size of Michigan, the Buckeyes remained in small personnel with a light box.

Michigan said we’re going to run until you stop us, and the Buckeyes never did.

Michigan’s Outside Run Game

After beating down Ohio State with an inside rushing attack, Michigan made attacking the outside a focus in the offensive game plan for an entire series against the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not have an answer for this either.

Michigan has utilized Blake Corum in more stretch and outside zone schemes this season, and in this play the Wolverines run an outside zone. The Wolverines are in 12-personnel again, and this play has an RPO aspect to it as well. To the two tight end side they run a tight end line route, and the other tight end blocks Denzel Burke. To the run side, Michigan’s offensive tackle runs Tyreke Smith up the field and this opens the running lane. Simon over commits play side and takes himself out of the play while creating a cut back lane for Corum.

Corum cuts back and Michigan’s offensive line does a great job of getting to the second level, taking out Chambers as well. The entire defense over committed, and that is why rather than being a 10-yard gain it turned into a 60-yard gain. Overall this issue has hurt Ohio State all season, especially against good offensive lines. Michigan was the first team since Oregon who’s had the personnel to take advantage of this weakness.

After the long Corum run, Michigan stayed with the outside run game and once again attacked the re-emerging weak edge for the Buckeyes. Schematically, the defense fooled us into thinking they improved, when in reality they were playing teams that could not match the physical level of the Buckeyes. This play shows how Michigan was able to physically dominate in the run game against Ohio State’s smaller personnel.

This play starts with Michigan in 12-personnel with two tight ends — one split out to the short side and the other motioning to a wing set. The guard and tight end pull across the formation, lead blocking to the outside. Tyreke Smith does the technique he was coached to do all season and jumps inside to set the edge. The pullers disregard Smith, because by jumping inside he takes himself out of the play. Having two tight ends and a guard leading one way put Ohio State’s smaller defense in a bind.

The first tight end to the play side was able to move Burke out of the running lane. The second tight end who pulled across the formation was able to easily block Ronnie Hickman, and this is what turned this play into a touchdown. Chambers gets forced into the mess by his blocker, and overall the Wolverines create a numbers advantage to the run action side.

Big plays in Passing Game

Similar to the Oregon game, after bullying Ohio State up front both Michigan and Oregon were able to complete timely passes. The Buckeyes did not have answers for either, and that is why the Wolverines were able to put up 42 points. Defensively there will need to be some changes this offseason, and the recruiting needs to get better up front. After years of creating a fast defense to compete with the speed in the South, the Midwest power identity finally conquered them. The run game combined with a timely passing attack put the defense in a bind and separated the two teams.

The first passing play we’re going to look at is a play that the Buckeyes should have seen coming due to the position on the field and the play before it. Michigan ran a simple four verticals concept and were able to capitalize against Ohio State’s man coverage.

Ohio State was in Cover-1, and this opened up the vertical routes for Michigan as Burke was in press coverage. With the slot receiver and tight end both attacking the one high safety with a seam, an over route held Bryson Shaw in the middle of the field long enough that he could not provide help over top for Burke. This play was a defining moment, because to this point neither team had many big plays in the passing game. Cade McNamara delivers a perfect throw, and this highlights how Michigan was ready to attack Ohio State’s defense from every angle.

The next passing play showed Michigan’s preparation and their trust in their guys to go win the game. Michigan coached to win, while the Buckeyes coaching staff coached scared, and it was apparent — especially in crunch time.

Michigan lines up in their full house pistol formation with two tight ends in the backfield and the running back directly behind the quarterback. This formation is a run-heavy formation for Michigan, but they trust J.J. McCarthy to throw out of it. This play was set up earlier in the game with McCarthy keeping a zone read to the outside. With Burke in press coverage, he should have been in position to make this play, but he gets beat immediately off the line, and rather than finding the receiver he keeps his head in the backfield. McCarthy delivered a perfect throw into the hole left by the late rotating safety and Burke who was trailing the receiver.

This play highlights the planning of Michigan’s offense and the lack of discipline of Ohio State’s defense. The Buckeyes were caught sleeping in the passing game, and that starts with coaching. They were unprepared and they did not make adjustments, which led to big plays like these two.


The Buckeyes got physically beat down by Michigan’s running game, and this opened up the entire Wolverine offense. Michigan was telling Ohio State ‘we’re going to run the ball until you can stop us.’ They were able to do that in a variety of ways. Once the Buckeyes started slowing down the inside run game, they attacked the outside. For the Buckeyes, the issues that plagued them all season showed up once again. This was a poor showing from everyone involved, and the lack of physicality was alarming.

Michigan found their formula and an identity which was able to attack the patchwork Ohio State defense. With the major issues apparent in the last three big games Ohio State has played, this will require wholesale changes come 2022. Ohio State rarely ever gets physically beat down, but this Saturday they got their asses kicked. Michigan came in with a plan and stuck to it, waiting for Ohio State to adjust with their next plan of attack ready to go.

For the Buckeyes, they will have to look at a lot of these games and make some tough decisions moving forward. This coaching staff has an obvious ceiling and Michigan showed that. Even though Ohio State was young, this game highlights some of the more overarching issues, but those are conversations for another day.

We will talk about the offense on Thursday, but it is time to start looking to 2022 and what the Buckeyes can do differently next year.