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Film Review: Ohio State’s offensive line problems resurfaced against a tough Michigan defense

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The Buckeyes were manhandled up front by the Wolverines, and we look at some of the reasons why

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

Now that we have had some time away from the loss, I hope you’ve done some healing, because it’s time to rehash those wounds. Last film review, we talked about Ohio State’s defense being pushed around by the Michigan offensive line. It’s time to turn around and discuss the offensive failures that were covered up by C.J. Stroud and the receivers. Ohio State once again put up a lot of yards, but came away with two field goals which proved to be crucial when it came down to the final result.

Throughout the season, the offense’s explosiveness helped mask some of its more fundamental problems. Too many times this season the Ohio State offense was unable to get a push in short yardage, create running lanes, and overall just did not meet expectations. When it comes to play calling, the lack of creativity in the run game is evident. Many film experts charted the Ohio State offense, and there were some dead giveaways in formational alignment that allowed Michigan to key in on the Buckeyes’ run game.

Today, we’re going to look at a few issues that have hurt Ohio State all season, including physicality at the point of attack, questionable play-calling, overall toughness, and predictability. Ryan Day has been able to create explosiveness, but in doing so he has lost the physical identity that Ohio State has prided itself on for decades. The Buckeyes showed this year they were a finesse team, and when the opposing teams showed up with toughness, the Buckeyes had no answer.


First Series in the Red Zone

We’re going to look at the first trip Ohio State made to the red zone, which has been a problem area all year for the Buckeyes. If you can’t be physical in this area of the field, teams can make it more difficult to score. With the offensive line talent Ohio State has, getting five yards should be automatic, but that just has not been the case with this all-tackle outfit playing.

The first play of this sequence is one of the three plays Ohio State runs regularly in “Mid-Zone” which Michigan was well prepared for. The blocking responsibilities for Ohio State are as follows: Nicholas Petit-Frere blocking the DE, Luke Wypler and Thayer Munford doubling the one-technique defensive tackle with Munford moving up to the linebacker, and Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones doubling the three-technique with Johnson Jr. getting to the second level.

Knowing the responsibilities is important here, because we can see where the issue starts. Michigan’s nose tackle eats the double, creating the congestion needed to stop the play side run game. This leads to Williams cutting back into the three-technique, who is able to cross Dawand Jones’ face and take away the second angle for Williams. The linebacker fights off the weak block of Johnson Jr. and is able to make the play in the hole after Williams is forced into him.

Ohio State has lacked creativity in the run game, and this is why Michigan was able to defend this play so well.

The next play was only bad because it did not work, but if it did this would not be a complaint. After Miyan Williams only gained two yards with the first rush attempt, the Buckeyes decided to throw from the three yard line. Given the hype around the offensive line and the running backs, this should not be the case.

Ohio State brings in Mitch Rossi for additional heavy bodies, and this brings Michigan’s defense almost entirely in the box. They have two receivers set to the field side – Chris Olave in the slot, Garrett Wilson split out – and both get man coverage across from them. The route combinations have Olave running an out route and Wilson running in route. Michigan does a good job of having their corners on different levels, which helps them avoid the rub this is trying to create. Olave creates separation, Stroud throws it behind him and Olave can’t come up with it.

This play was well designed, but when the previous few plays you’re running it down their throat, you don’t need to stop to throw a pass. This has been an issue in a lot of situations, and at times the run has felt disregarded.

The next play Ohio State false starts, then C.J. Stroud gets sacked, leading to a field goal. This drive was a microcosm of the issues Ohio State has faced for extended stretches of the season, and if Ryan Day continues to play a finesse brand of football, the formula to beat Ohio State has been found. If you hit Ohio State hard enough, they try to beat you with finesse and explosiveness. Ohio State has the personnel to return to their physical ways, but it all starts with trusting the offensive line.


Soft in Pass Protection

Ohio State was unable to protect Stroud to the standard they have set for themselves. Aidan Hutchinson was a wrecking crew in his own right, but Ohio State never changed anything about their protection plan. Hutchinson was single blocked all game, and was able to showcase his technical and physical prowess all afternoon against every tackle Ohio State played. Generating 14 quarterback pressures per Pro Football Focus, Hutchinson set the tone for the Wolverines.

The Buckeyes are in a 4th-and-7 situation with the game on the line. In an obvious passing situation, Ohio State is in 11-personnel with the tight end lined up as the middle receiver to the top side. Ohio State has six players in pass protection and Michigan brings extra pressure with two blitzers. If you look to the top of the screen at Thayer Munford, you’ll see how Stroud was protected most of the game. Munford gets pancaked by Hutchinson, but lucky enough for him Stroud has a quick throw and they get the first.

The next play we’re going to look at is one of the other fews sacks the Buckeyes gave up, with this being on the final drive. The Buckeyes are no longer able to run the football, so Michigan’s pass rushers are able to pin their ears back and come after Stroud. When you are in these situations, your tackles have to be on their A-game. The tackles weren’t on Saturday.

Michigan brings four, but they do a delayed stunt with their three-technique tackle and Hutchinson. The stunt is actually blocked well by the right side of the line, but the issue comes from the top side. Munford is once again at left tackle, this time tasked with taking on David Ojabo. Ojabo lines up in a “9-tech” meaning he’s two gaps wider than the traditional 7-tech an edge player usually aligns. Ojabo uses a straight speed rush and rips through Munford. Stroud barely has any time to react, and the Buckeyes give up another sack, this time doing them in for good.

The Buckeyes were not great in pass protection, and the lack of physicality was apparent. They let the opponent dictate the physicality, which led to an elite performance from the other team.


Offensive Predictability and Lack of Physicality

The last play we’re going to look at highlights two of the main issues for this Ohio State offense this season. In short yardage run situations, Ohio State has been predictable, which is not a problem if you know you can win still with physicality. That being said, the issue with this Buckeye team is they are both predictable and soft at the point of attack.

When it comes to predictability, I’m sharing a tweet with you all that shows how the Buckeyes show their hand with their formations:

The data shows what Ohio State’s quarterback/running back alignment is, and the total run plays out of that formation. The Buckeyes were in the pistol look nine times, and all nine times they ran the ball. If you’re wondering how it felt like Michigan always knew it was a run or pass, this tell has given it away. They lined up in the “dot” – which means the running back is directly behind the QB – alignment one time. In the play below we’re going to take a look at, we’re going to see Ohio State lineup in the “dot.”

Ohio State runs a “mid-zone” concept and is looking to create a running lane in the middle. The Buckeyes are unable to get any push, which creates hesitation for Treveyon Henderson. The Wolverines’ defensive line is able to eat the blocks, which allows for Ross of Michigan to fly up and make a play. In 3rd-and-2 situations, with an offensive line with this much talent, the Buckeyes should not be letting this happen. Michigan was physical up front and that was the main difference in the game. The formational predictability allowed the Wolverines to play aggressively with a lot of confidence.


Conclusion

The Buckeyes got beat up badly by Michigan’s front seven in every facet. The biggest problem is this has been the case all year against tough opponents. Ryan Day has called four stinkers this season, and this week has to be the worst one given the circumstances. The Buckeyes were stopped in many third and short situations, which we learned was from formational tells in the run game. These problems were amplified by an extremely weak performance from the offensive line, which showed no life or physicality.

For the Buckeyes to improve moving forward, creating a more diverse run game from a more diverse group of formations is a good place to start. The Buckeyes of yesteryear were balanced and physical run teams, which allowed them to also employ an aggressive passing attack. Ryan Day was not at his best, and the offensive line has been an underperforming group all year. Combine that with Michigan putting together a complete team effort defensively, and the result is on the scoreboard.

With the two film reviews we have seen quite a bit of what went wrong for the Buckeyes and where they need to focus their immediate improvements. Ohio State was the hunted, now it’s time to get back to hunting.