The talk throughout the week from Ohio State head football coach Ryan Day was that he was about improving the defense, but if you look at the stats, you may think that nothing really changed. This week’s film review is going to be looking at some wrinkles that were added to the defense, and although Tulsa put up a lot of yards, the Buckeyes were able to make some huge plays late.
On the offensive side of the ball, there were also some new wrinkles in the run game, and they were very much needed with how C.J. Stroud struggled as a passer. Day had to rely mainly on TreVeyon Henderson with a dash of Master Teague to get anything going offensively. The receivers weren’t able to have their usual impact and we’re going to take a look at why.
Throughout the week, Day was coy about the coaching assignments on the defensive, but come Saturday, secondary coach Matt Barnes was responsible for calling the plays and Kerry Coombs had moved upstairs. Despite still giving up a ton of yards, the defense looked a lot different schematically, and moving forward, it appears that a new foundation has been laid. With the coaching shift, Ohio State used multiple two-high safety looks and brought a lot more pressure via blitzes than we are used to. Moving forward, this is what the defense needs to be, because even the slightest pre-snap confusion makes a significant difference.
Now let’s get started on this week’s film review with the defensive side of the ball.
Day did not get into specifics throughout the week, but the Buckeyes did change philosophically a lot following the Oregon game and it showed early on against Tulsa. Unfortunately, Tulsa was still able to gain yards on chunk plays starting on the first drive.
The one encouraging aspect though is that Barnes was willing to blitz early, and that really set the tone for the day. In the clip below linebackers Tommy Eichenberg and Cody Simon blitz on the play; this is was a monumental moment, because the defense under Coombs just did not do that often.
Simon gets cut by the running back and defensive end Tyreke Smith gets too far up field, but this would be considered a quarterback hurry. Rushing six defenders leaves five to cover four here which is valuable numbers on defense.
Next, the rest of the team just needs to get better at executing behind the blitz and that will help out the players in man coverage.
As the game went on, the blitzes and stunts kept coming. Pressure was starting to become quite a regular occurrence on the afternoon, and never more important than on the next play.
The defensive line had struggled to create pressure during the first two games, as they were mostly rushing four against five or six. That can work when you have a generational end on the line, but can be fruitless when you don’t. The play below has end J.T. Tuimoloau and tackle Tyleik Williams running a TEX Stunt.
The end gets up the field and then uses the 3-technique DT pushing up the field to create confusion. When Tuimoloau cuts under Williams, leaving the OT in no-man’s land, the guard comes off to take JT..T. leaving Williams with leverage to get directly to the QB.
This was the creativity in the defensive play calling that has been missing under Coombs. At the time of the game when a big play was needed on defensive, the play-calling came through, which we haven’t seen enough of in the last season+.
The next change was in coverage schemes. Ohio State threw in some wrinkles in the back end of their defense, even though they still mostly ran Cover-1. On Saturday, the Buckeyes ran a few different zone coverages and a variety of two-high looks.
Barnes was creative in his timing of concepts and that showed in some key moments of the game. In the play below, Ohio State runs a Cover-2 Man Under concept and this leads to a pivotal play in the game.
This puts safeties Ronnie Hickman and Bryson Shaw in better positions to be able to support the man defenders.
By going with the occasional 2-High Safety look, this creates confusion and allows the defense to get creative with disguising not only coverage, but blitzes. Opponents would previously see safety Lathan Ransom motion across the formation and assume that the coverage is Cover-1, but not this time. The coverage leads to a huge play at the end of the half.
When we talk about the changes in coverage, the addition of more regular zone coverage played a significant role in creating confusion for the offense. It’s not a coincidence that there were zero interceptions in the first two weeks, and Ohio State had two monumental ones against Tulsa.
In the next play we look at safety Cameron Martinez’s pick six, it’s more than just a great individual play, it shows exactly what zone coverage should look like when done correctly.
The coverage is a traditional Cover 3 and Ohio State brings no additional pressure, leaving the zone to do the work. If you look at the top side of the video, Martinez is responsible for the seam-curl-flat zone, and when no one appears he sinks back to find work.
The pressure from the rush forces Tulsa’s QB to throw late and to the outside. Martinez’s sinking puts him in the perfect position and the confusion that this creates — leading to the INT — is why you run multiple coverages.
The addition of blitzes, stunts, and different coverage looks didn’t always pay dividends, but as the game progressed you could see the players get more confident with the new schemes. While Tulsa is no where near the best competition that the Buckeyes will face this season, and they were still able to pick up tons of yards, seeing OSU defensive players making timely plays was a welcomed sight, and, despite not playing perfectly, that does bring a little hope.
Now on this side of the ball, there’s not too much to be nice about outside of Henderson, so we’re going to keep this relatively short. Stroud struggled mightily throughout the game. If discussions are true that he is battling nagging injuries, then it is in nobody’s best interest to keep trotting him out there.
Regardless of ego and quarterback room dynamics, the type of QB play that we saw on Saturday is not how Ohio State is going to win this season. The positives were in the run game, where there were finally other designs than bland split-zone and inside zone. Despite the running success, OSU wasn’t able to make use of their best position group, but that says a lot about Stroud’s performance.
Stroud’s struggles have been well documented, by me, and by everyone else in the Ohio State fan base. When you look at the stats, there is promise, but there was major regression from Week 2 to Week 3. In the first clip, we are going to look at a play that absolutely needed to be made.
Stroud diagnosed the coverage correctly, made the correct read, and this is a pass that any quarterback at Ohio State has to be able to complete. We all know that Stroud is young, but misses like these are inexcusable.
Regularly missing high and not finding his confidence until the second half have made far too many offensive drives stall in the early season. Unless he can Stroud can get right quickly, there needs to be changes.
Not sure how much more of these errant CJ Stroud throws I can take. pic.twitter.com/9BX4KILq7F— Dylan Lowe (@DylanLoweNFL) September 18, 2021
The next play from Stroud is on the same level of bad. Tulsa drops into zone coverage and has the entire top side of the field covered. Stroud has his check down wide open and if he dumps it off, it should result in an easy first down for Henderson. Instead, he throws it late into heavy coverage and it gets intercepted.
The difference from Week 2 to 3 was significant, and he was already making less than ideal decisions the first two weeks. If the performance can’t improve against Akron, it may be time to see someone else whether that be Kyle McCord or Jack Miller III.
The offense was not all bad though and the run game should put a smile on everyone’s face. Hendersons set the freshman single game rushing record, and some of the different play designs surely helped that cause.
In the first clip, Ohio State brings in fullback Mitch Rossi, which allows for some creative blocking schemes. Rossi leads the way in a Spread Power scheme. The guard Matthew Jones pulls across the formation to kick out the end and Rossi clears the way at the second level.
Then it is just up to Henderson to make the most out of the blocking (which he does), leading to a huge gain.
Henderson gashed Tulsa all afternoon and the best team run came at the end of the third quarter off of a trap run look. Rossi and tight end Cade Stover shift across the formation, this allows Ohio State’s OL to get a look at how the defense is aligned, solidifying their assignments. The trap is set up to get the FB to kick out the end, but the down blocks move Tulsa’s whole front, leading to an immediate running lane for Henderson.
Ohio State’s OL clears the way for the Buckeyes’ future all-time best running back and Henderson’s special combination of size and speed is on full display. Throughout the game the offensive line, Rossi, and Henderson all worked in tandem to deliver numerous chunk plays.
If Ohio State can get a consistent running game like this, and the passing game finds itself over the next couple of weeks, everything about the future of this season changes.
The Buckeyes didn’t play a perfect football game, and we know the opponent wasn’t great, but with the negativity being thrown around, I wanted to take a positive look at the new wrinkles that Ohio State integrated this week on both sides.
The Buckeyes still gave up a lot of yards, but as the defense gets more comfortable in the new schemes, they will continue to make big plays and will hopefully tighten up in other areas. The increased mix of zone coverage and the additions of blitzes and stunts will pay dividends in the long run.
Offensively, the Buckeyes have found their running game, unfortunately there is another major issue remaining on the table. Stroud has struggled in key moments and when the pressure is ramped up, the quarterback needs to be at his best. Can he improve? Absolutely, but if he’s injured, there’s no chance that he gets better while battling that.
The game against Tulsa was by no means perfect, but with the foundation laid, the Buckeyes can really focus on improving over the next few weeks. The next three games against Akron, Rutgers, and Maryland, will allow Ohio State to implement more changes on both sides of the ball, and to get better at whatever new stuff they throw into the game plan. It wasn’t the best start against the Golden Hurricane, but it was a start, and that’s all we can ask for at this point.