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Film Review: Defensive mistakes, lack of offensive identity lead to Ohio loss to Oregon

Chris Renne breaks down film of some key plays that identify major issues.

Oregon v Ohio State Photo by Gaelen Morse/Getty Images

Unfortunately, this film review is going to be on the negative side, but there are a lot of issues that need to be highlighted this week. Ohio State was defeated by the Oregon Ducks 35-28 and despite it being a one score game, the contest was always in Oregon’s control.

The Buckeyes were out-coached and out-performed in many important moments of the game, and the execution on key downs was the difference in the outcome. When you look at what Mario Cristobal and his staff wanted to accomplish, it is obvious that they wanted to run the ball and stay on schedule offensively. Defensively they played a bend but don’t break style. Ohio State, on the other hand, was the complete opposite, with no real identity on either side of the ball.

Throughout the game there were a few plays and sequences that really highlighted the issues on both sides of the football. Defensively, OSU defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs was out-game planned the entire game and Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was well prepared for any and all adjustments that Coombs came up with.

This defense played poor assignment football and the amount of adjustments pre-snap led to a lot of lapses in coverage and responsibilities. The offense, despite the yardage totals, still was not at its best; they lacked identity and — outside of some timely plays — there really was no purpose behind the play calling. Ohio State pretty much abandoned the run game and was predictable when they finally did choose to run.

For the first time in Ryan Day’s era, his staff was fully outclassed in a regular season matchup and this was in a game where the opponent was missing key players. The answers for this season might not be the final answers when it’s all said and done, but there are some immediate fixes that need to be made over the next several weeks before the schedule ramps up again.

Coombs and the defensive staff have a lot of work to do, the offense needs to get back to its aggressive nature, and overall, this team has a long way to go to find its identity.

Run Defense Issues

This week we’re going to have a lot of articles surrounding the scheme of the defense and what Ohio State can do to fix the issues. In this article, I want to focus on a few plays that could have been stopped by good assignment football and simplifying the checks. On top of that, some adjustments to the scheme to get the numbers in the Buckeyes’ favor on the short side would have been nice.

Moorhead relies on simple personnel groupings, but a lot of motions and reads at the line of scrimmage. Ohio State’s biggest issues came in the run game and against play-action passes in the middle of the field. The plays we are going to focus on are the boundary side run plays on crucial downs. Coombs never adjusted and it led to quite a bit of stress on the players to the short side; combine that with blown assignments and the mistakes were compounded on key downs.

C.J. Verdell’s first touchdown is the first example of Oregon using leverage to their advantage and Ohio State makes it really easy on them. We get two camera angles on this one that really show the issues on this play.

Angle 1

Angle 2

In the clips, you can see that Oregon condenses the split receiver and this should not be an issue. But, the corner chases the crack block from the receiver, which immediately gives up the outside contain.

Issue number 2 on this play is that Zach Harrison jumps inside for no reason, that is where the help is, there’s no need to go there. If quarterback Anthony Brown keeps on this play, there are already two linebackers there.

This is poor execution by the two outside players who need to be setting the edge. When OSU safety Ronnie Hickman jumps inside, this takes the angle away from linebacker Cody Simon and the other LBs.

The pulling guard ends up not even needing to block, and the unfair point is that the backers read this correctly, but they just could never get in position due to the failures by Hickman and Harrison outside.

In a similar situation, but this time on 4th-and-1, Ohio State gets the exact same look as in the play above and there were no adjustments made to the contain issues. On this play it is technically ruled a pass, but the blocking scheme is almost identical.

The Ducks are able to block four Buckeyes with two players and this time, all the pulling players have to do is clean up the trash around the edge. Ohio State’s defenders jumped inside once again, no one established contain, and that was not the last time. As this play was used regularly to gain the yards needed on short distance plays.

The worst part about this is that it happened again, and if I’m the coaching staff, I am embarrassed at this point. Two touchdowns and multiple first downs given up in the first half on the same run scheme.

At this point everyone in the world knows what’s coming except for Hickman. Oregon runs the same play design and the safety jumps inside again. At this point, the players outside of Hickman have figured it out, but without the edge being set, the other defensive players have no chance.

This was where the coaching staff failed, regardless of if the defense runs man or zone, the adjustment needed to be made, when Oregon lined up with a condensed formation to the short side of the field, the outside defender needed to set the edge and force the player back inside.

Unfortunately, Coombs finally adjusted and then Moorhead said, Well guess what Kerry, I have an answer for you late adjustment.”

The first play on third and short is the scheme we have been seeing them run all game, the next play they use Brown as an outside run threat. The defense comes up and the tight end is able to get by OSU safety Bryson Shaw with no issue.

3rd and 6

1st and 10

This was bad responsibility football, and that is why this touchdown was so easy. Ohio State had four players commit to Brown when there was a single blocker, Shaw should have accounted for the tight end.

There are tons of examples of failed assignment football in the run game, and Verdell’s long touchdown run shows the final issue that I want to discuss in this section.

On this play, all the flaws of the scheme are shown. Harrison is responsible for the mesh point; if he attacks it, Brown will keep the ball and there is an option to pass to the tight end who runs across the formation.

Unfortunately, Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eiechenberg is taken out of the middle due to coverage responsibility, and LB Teradja Mitchell fills the wrong gap and opens up a huge hole in the middle.

Shaw’s eyes go to the tight end, due to his poor read and Mitchell’s mistake in his fill. This puts Shaw in a one-on-one situation with a player running full speed. A lot of these mistakes are on scheme and the lack of adjustments, setting the players up to fail, since most of these mistakes should have been fixed in-game.

Pass Defense Issues

The pass defense for Ohio State was awful on Saturday, outside of some great man-to-man coverage by the corners. Brown is not a great quarterback, but he is good and experienced and that was enough to take advantage of a very confused Ohio State defense.

The Buckeyes had trouble with motions and unfortunately this led to a lot of players doing the same thing or completely missing a receiver. The first play that we’ll get into is a standard play-action pass. The coverage is man-to-man all the way and Ohio State has seven players to cover five.

In the play, Hickman is responsible for the tight end; he bails immediately despite being more athletic, having help inside, and having enough space between him and the TE to react.

Simon does not take his drop as the PA-Fake draws him up; this leads to an easy 10-yard toss. The other issues on the play are that the pass rush doesn’t even have time to get any pressure and safety Lathan Ransom gets beat immediately off of the line. If it wasn’t complete to the TE, Oregon had plenty of other options.

In the next clip, the Buckeyes are in man coverage again. They bring pressure on the blitz and this gives Oregon a numbers advantage to the play side, which puts Hickman into a bad position as he has to cover two players.

LB K’Vaughn Pope is responsible for the running back, but is lined up on the opposite side of the field, so in this case, his responsibility should be to sprint to catch up, and Hickman should take the intermediate out in the flood concept.

Instead Pope and Hickman are in no man’s land and there’s an easy completion for Brown on the play. This play is lost before the snap as they should have checked out of the pressure to be able to account for all the players on the play side.

The next clip is a similar levels concept and Ohio State once again is unable to account for all three players. Mitchell ends up being responsible for two players and he takes the short flat.

The issues are compounded when Ohio State is losing plays with alignment, there’s no reason a player should be responsible for covering two receivers.

This is a major scheme issue and it needs to be fixed. Former OSU defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley’s defense utilized a lot of passing off responsibility and the checks were simple. Even if there has to be checks to more simple zone coverages, Ohio State has the players to make up for that. The issues in the passing defense were all scheme based, and players were put into bad positions with simple pre-snap movement.

Man coverage is great, but every player needs to understand their responsibilities and their checks, when to pass or switch, and finally what their alignment means in the coverage. The plays that burnt Ohio State were not complex, and these mistakes in man only amplified the issues in the run game as well.

Offense Abandoning the Run

Moving forward as the pain doesn’t end yet, but if I’m seeing this stuff, I’m really hoping the coaching staff that gets paid millions of dollars is as well. Unfortunately, the offense put up a ton of yards, but was only able to score on four out of 13 series, which is a major red flag from an execution standpoint.

Relying on a first-year starter (or any quarterback really) to win throwing the ball 54 times without supplying any pressure from the running game is not a winning formula.

Breaking this down from a film standpoint is not easy because this is more philosophical, but the largest issues are when Ohio State chose to run, there was no identity behind it. They ran on common run downs with predictable inside or split zone schemes. The first play which falls under the predictable run category is the Miyan Williams 4th-and-2 run in the 2nd quarter.

Williams aligns to the left of quarterback C.J. Stroud and this means that more than likely, he is going to run to the right. With Stroud being a non-factor in the run game (either by choice or design), Oregon is able to read their run keys and immediately flow to the play side.

Oregon’s Noah Sewell begins to flow immediately due to that and Ohio State guard Thayer Munford is not able to reach him, leading to Sewell meeting Williams in the hole. If Munford is able to reach Sewell first, this play may be different, but Ohio State gave this play away from the start. Not having Stroud as a running threat also allows Oregon to get an easy stop.

This is where the distrust starts for Day and the run game, and rather than getting creative or utilizing Stroud as a runner, he remains predictable. On the drive that Ohio State was most successful; they trusted the run and it allowed them to pass the ball better. Remember last week how we discussed the run game setting up the pass? Well that was not the case this week and it wasn’t like Ohio State wasn’t running successfully when they tried.

In the next set of plays, we are going to look at two big runs that Ohio State had. The Buckeyes were able to move Oregon’s defensive line when they wanted to and were able to get a necessary push. That is why outside of trailing most of the game, it was confusing for them to abandon the run so easily.

In the play below, true freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson gashes Oregon for a decent gain on a 3rd and 2 with a similar alignment to the 4th and 2 play with Williams.

This is a classic inside zone run and Ohio State is able to get a hat on a hat in the box. Henderson is able to utilize his acceleration and the Buckeyes get a first down. Day called a game that wasn’t on par with his normal effort, and a lot of the time it felt like he was forcing the issue. Rather than trusting the players and trusting the scheme, he tried doing too much as a play caller.

Ohio State utilizes the same scheme in another short yardage situation and gets a touchdown on this play.

Day as a play caller has done an incredible job in his two years as head coach, but two things felt like they were missing this week. The first was trust, overall the only players he seemed to trust were his three main receivers, all of whom went over 100 yards, Chris Olave, Jaxson Smith-Njigba, and Garrett Wilson.

The second issue was that the edge that has made him feared across the country was simply not there. There was not the will to establish physicality and OSU relied too heavily on a downfield passing game that Oregon was able to sit on.

For the Buckeyes to get back to their dominant ways, they need to get back to establishing physicality on both sides of the ball ,and that starts with Day coaching with an edge. The invincibility is gone, Ohio State is beatable and it’s up to Day to earn that respect back. That starts with establishing a physical running presence and not giving up on it.

4th Down Failures

Unfortunately we’re not done yet, these plays ended some promising drives, and although I appreciate the aggressiveness of going for it, if you don’t capitalize in places where three points are possible, it is a waste.

Ohio State went for it on fourth down five times and converted only two of them. If you get all five, you get a hero’s welcome because the Buckeyes probably end up scoring in the 40s. However, that was not the case.

On the first fourth down of the game, Ohio State is just outside the 30, which is too close to punt, but too far out to kick — especially if you don’t have that trust in a new placekicker.

Ohio State relies on mesh concepts on fourth down regularly and Oregon was prepared. Oregon drops seven, so all of OSU’s receivers are accounted for; Olave tries to find a hole to sit in, but it’s just not there.

Stroud sails the throw high and if you look at the time of the release, there is a wide open running lane. This was easily achievable, but Stroud needed to be confident in his fifth option, and in this case, he was unable to deliver a pass.

We already discussed the Williams run which was predictable and in the same area of the field. The issue with those two plays is rather than coming in with something creative Day relied on old faithful, but Oregon is a good, well-coached football team who was prepared for what they had seen on film many times before from the Buckeyes.

The last fourth down play was inside the ten yard line and this is where giving up on the run game conversation comes back. The play called is a pass and, unfortunately, the play is blown up by immediate pressure.

Ohio State runs a variation of a Scissors concept on the top side and Olave gets a one-on-one match up. All four receivers are accounted for and, due to the pressure, Stroud rushes his decision and is unable to find Henderson sitting by himself in the middle.

The Buckeyes converted their next two fourth downs, but it was too little too late. Getting a fourth down is a huge momentum boost, but not converting gives a ton of confidence to the opposing defense.

Ohio State was unable to execute on key downs on both sides of the ball and that was a monumental difference in the game. Moving forward, more creativity will be needed, because the old tricks won’t work against a well-coached football team.


The Buckeyes were out-schemed and out-coached for four quarters on Saturday and that is the worst part about this film review. This could have been a 50,000 word dissertation on what not to do in a major out-of-conference football game, but I focused on key and memorable points.

Ohio State came out flat and significantly underestimated the Ducks, who came to Columbus extremely well prepared. This loss makes Ohio State 2-2 in the last four games that they’ve played, giving up 35 points per game and over 400 yards per game — which is not good. The offense was not perfect, which is why the defensive errors were so noticeable this week.

Last week, we gave the staff the benefit of the doubt, but this week we saw a lot of the same issues on both sides of the ball. If these aren’t fixed soon, this year could be a long one. Coombs has shown the ability to slow down good offenses — i.e. last year’s Clemson game — but too many times in his short tenure as coordinator has he been out schemed.

Day needs to find himself again as a play-caller and a head coach and, as the season progresses, we need to see some huge improvements from Stroud and more complex play calling tendencies. T

his game was a blueprint for how to slow Ohio State down and, if adjustments aren’t made, the good teams on OSU’s schedule will be able to take advantage. Good thing for the Buckeyes, their next four weeks will be a huge opportunity for them to grow and fix these mistakes.

For the Buckeyes, the next huge test is a ways away, so let’s hope the staff sees these mistakes and is able to coach them out of the players. Is a full-scheme overhaul needed, not in my eyes, but the execution will improve with simplifying what the players are asked to do.

Ohio State needs to remember who they are; if they play fast, physical, and with high intensity they can be unstoppable. They saw success late in the game on the defensive side of the ball, so that should be the starting point. But, it all begins with coaching and we now get to see what this staff is made of.