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Akron Film Preview: They’re not great, but they can help Ohio State get better

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Ohio State will look to gain confidence on both sides of the ball and the defense will look to continue to learn their new schemes.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Ohio State added a ton of new wrinkles to their defense last week, and while the returns were not immediate on paper, there were a lot of positives. This week Ohio State takes on — I’m not sure how to put this nicely — a very bad football team in the Akron Zips. For a little context Teamrankings.com has them as the 126th rated team in the country out of 130.

As the Buckeyes look to add more to their new scheme, find their pass rush, and continue to find this team’s identity, the game against Akron could not have come at a more perfect time. The Zips are led by Head Coach Tom Arth, who has been successful at all three levels and as a former QB, he takes responsibility for the offensive identity of the football team. The Zips rely on pro-style schemes, which Arth picked up in his pro career. In this film preview, we will be looking at the formation nuances and the type of run plays associated with their scheme, which heavily relies on their QB’s legs.

Defensively, they lineup in a 3-4 and always bring down a stand up OLB to be an edge defender. Matt Feeney is the defensive coordinator and spent some time at the FCS level where his defense was well respected and ranked No. 1 in the Southern Conference in many major categories including yards and points per game.

They’re well coached, but this rebuilding roster has been prone to give up big plays and has struggled to get off the field. The defense does not have the personnel to slow down Ohio State on its worst day, but a lot of the schemes that gave OSU’s offense trouble last week will be in play this week as well.


Offense

Akron relies on 11 personnel for the majority of their snaps, with some occasional 10 personnel. They rely on their tight end regularly in the passing game and their running backs as receivers out of the backfield. Formation wise, they are very traditional with spread formations and can condense their receivers to try to create confusion at the line of scrimmage, which has gotten the Buckeyes in trouble against their first three opponents. Overall, Akron has multiple looks that they can throw the Buckeyes’ way, and they most definitely will try to get creative to get their players in favorable positions.

In the passing game, as mentioned earlier, they love to utilize the RB with routes out of the backfield. In the play below they run a condensed bunch formation on the field side hash to spread out the defense. To the single receiver side, the play concept is a slant and RB wheel. The goal of this play is to take away the corner from the flats and get the RB the ball in space. Oran Singleton Jr. (No. 13) is a receiver who lines up in the backfield in this example.

The creativity to get a playmaker the ball in space has to be commended, they do everything they can to try to create matchup problems with their scheme. In this case, Auburn does a pretty sound job of making sure that every receiver is accounted for, including the player in the backfield. Ohio State has struggled with RBs being pass catchers out of the backfield, so look for Akron to attack that part with schemes like this one.


Last week, Tulsa was able to break down the Buckeyes’ secondary with trips bunch formations as both of their passing touchdowns came from that alignment. As a team that relies heavily on man coverage, bunch formations create a lot of chaos at the line of scrimmage for defensive backs. There are three ways to combat this: getting hands on the point player to throw off his timing, checking into zone coverage, or playing a banjo technique.

In the next play, we’ll go back to the Auburn game again to get a good look at what they did in this formation. Auburn chooses to press the point man, which delays the timing of the other two routes. The outside receiver gets upfield to run a corner route which sets a pick on the interior defender, which then opens up the receiver running the out route.

For the Buckeyes to be successful consistently against this they will have to be extremely physical or disciplined in the scheme they choose to play. Auburn gets tangled up and Akron is able to turn it into a short gain.


The offense for the Zips has not been able to sustain success in any of their two games against Power 5 opponents, but the last play that could present challenges is the designed QB run. Ohio State was put in a mental blender with Anthony Brown of Oregon, who didn’t actually do all that much running. Akron will rely significantly more on their QB to get involved in that aspect.

In the play below we see a triple option type of play, Kato Nelson (No. 1) has a traditional zone read, the H-Back coming across the field is also an option that he can dump the ball off to if no one chases.

Nelson is their best playmaker, and, in this case, chooses to keep the ball himself. With all of the pre-snap movement, Ohio State will need to remain disciplined or they can get burned by the window dressing, which we have seen plenty of from them this season.


Defense

Defensively, Akron has not stopped anyone, they have struggled to cover downfield for extended periods of time, and the Zips will have their most challenging task yet. With their base 3-4 defense, it often turns into a 3-3-5 with one of the LBs walking down and then playing with five DBs on the field. This game will provide a match up for either Kyle McCord or Jack Miller — depending on who starts in place of C.J. Stroud — where he will see seven or eight guys in coverage. This will be a great test for his patience, and it will also be a good opportunity for the offense to get comfortable attacking again. If all else fails, Ohio State should be able to rely on a dominant performance in the run game again.

Looking at Akron against Auburn again, the Tigers lined up in doubles with 11 personnel. Akron runs a traditional Cover 3 and brings a nickel blitz on the play Auburn does a great job of attacking the vertical seams on this play. The safety and corner are late to getting to the receiver up the seam who scores an easy touchdown.

This is the type of play that can help OSU rebuild some offensive confidence and heading back in the right direction, whomever is playing QB.


Akron does like to present multiple cover looks and will also utilize multiple two-high safety looks. In the next play, they run what seems to be quarters, the coverage is busted immediately, but once again safety manipulation was key to the play’s success.

Auburn applies pressure to both safeties and that leaves the middle wide open. The receiver has another easy touchdown and these are the types of mistakes that Ohio State should be able to take advantage of and regain some of their swagger from earlier in the year.


Lastly for the defensive side, the Zips give up a ton of yards per carry in the run game. If Ohio State wants to run for 500 yards Saturday, I’d be confident that they could, and the next clip will show you why. Auburn runs a few different run schemes, but to be honest this play was won immediately by the offensive line.

Bo Nix hands the ball off to Tank Bigsby, Auburn’s OL is able to match up man-on-man in blocking, and then the rest is up to Tank Bigsby who hits the huge hole for a touchdown.

Akron is not a physical football team and it showed early and often in all three games this season. The linebackers are late to their assignments and every player on Akron is moved out of the way.

This touchdown shows everything you need to see about their run defense.


Conclusion

If Ohio State is not able to win this game by 50 points my eyebrows will be raised. Offensively, Akron’s OL limits a lot of what they can do on that side of the ball. They have to be creative in all aspects of the run game to gain any advantage. When it comes to passing, Nelson either has to run for his life or get the ball out quickly. The bunch formations will provide some challenges and we will get to see if Ohio State is able to adjust to the problems it created against Tulsa. This will also be a great opportunity for the pass rush to find its footing.

On the defensive side of the ball, Akron has yet to stop any of the teams they’ve played, and Auburn took advantage of every mistake the Zips made. Ohio State will not have much trouble scoring, so this is a time for the offense to come out firing and get those first drive struggles out of the way. Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming, and the whole receiving crew should get run and I honestly feel bad for the Akron DBs. After TreVeyon Henderson showed how dominant he could be last week, the run game should have zero issues as long as the OL shows up ready to perform.

Ohio State should dispose of the Zips early and really get to focus on developing within the scheme. Akron is a well-coached team who just doesn’t have the players to cash in on what the staff wants to do, but the errors they’ve made have not been fixed. Both sides of the ball should look excellent this week for the Buckeyes or else we’ll have another week of an irritated fanbase expecting more.