The Ohio State Buckeyes played a complete football game for the first time in what feels like an eternity, so, for the first time this year we’re having a positive film review from start to finish.
On Saturday, the Buckeyes disposed of the Akron Zips 59-7, but the story is in how well they played start to finish. Regardless of the opponent, Ohio State was efficient on both sides of the ball and — looking back on the game — you can see an energy from both sides of the ball that you just haven’t been able to find consistently over the last two seasons.
Offensively, head coach Ryan Day put together his most complete offensive game plan of the year and attacked successfully on the ground, through the air, and — if he had wanted to — probably by sea as well. When we get into this topic, we’re going to discuss how he made it easy for true-freshman, first-time starter Kyle McCord and redshirt-freshman Jack Miller in their first extensive action for Ohio State.
Additionally, the Buckeyes continue to add more wrinkles into the run game, and are using it to set up the pass extremely successfully.
Defensively, the play calling by Matt Barnes was aggressive, and he mixed it up quite a bit, finally creating confusion. This led to nine sacks in the game, which is good for fourth all-time in OSU’s single-game history.
The defensive backs and linebackers did their part as well, picking off a pair of passes; safety Ronnie Hickman even took his back for a score. In this new defensive scheme, the Buckeyes have finally been able to play in a reactive way, rather than focusing so much on their individual assignments; often leading to confusion, which has led to the big plays.
This week, we’re going to take a look at what made the long-invisible pass rush finally so successful, as that is what the defensive success was built upon.
After only having five sacks through the first three games — which is way under the standard for a Larry Johnson unit — the Buckeyes exploded onto the scene with nine against Akron. This absurd output should not be the expectation, but this level of success on the defensive line changed the statistical outlook of the game.
The Buckeyes were led by Tyleik Williams and Haskell Garrett in that category, but it was an overall group effort that allowed the defense to flourish. The pass rush led to the coverage being better, and this was the first time that the Buckeyes’ defense had any sense of continuity.
To start off, one thing we’ve talked about is the pass rush matching the coverage, which we haven’t really gotten this year. In this game, even if the Buckeyes weren’t able to get home, they forced some incompletions or interceptions. When we look at the Cody Simon interception, the execution from the defense was perfect.
The TEX stunt has become commonplace over the last two weeks, and it worked once again. As you can see in the video below, defensive end Jacolbe Cowan takes the B-Gap, and then a delayed pressure from the three-technique tackle Jerron Cage leaves an open lane to get in the quarterback’s face. This makes the quarterback fall away when he throws, and Ohio State utilizes a zone coverage to capitalize.
But this play is more than just the pressure. The second part starts with the coverage. For Akron, the play begins when the running back motions out, this gives away the fact that Ohio State is in zone. The Buckeyes did not check out of their coverage with the motion and everyone stuck with their original responsibility.
Simon(No. 30) is responsible for the middle zone/seam. He trusts his eyes and once the throw is released, he makes a huge play on the ball.
The next thing we’re going to take a look at is the pass rush getting home, as said previously Ohio State had five sacks through the first three games, so something needed to change. There were obviously quite a few examples to show what did change, since they ended the game with nine sacks, but this one stuck with me.
In the next play, Ohio State is backed up into the red zone with two seconds left on the game clock and the team has the game in hand. We have discussed how effort makes defenses great, and in this example, this is a defense being great.
The defensive line is aided by the Mike and WIll linebackers blitzing, the pressure collapses the pocket, and the relentless effort from defensive tackle Tyliek Williams shakes his man off of him, and the QB for Akron has nowhere to go due to the pocket collapsing. While this sack is officially credited to Williams, this is a team sack.
To add context to this play, the back ups were in and Ohio State had not given up a score since Akron’s first drive of the game. When you talk about effort and execution, this play is a great example because the Buckeyes had little reason to care, but still showed everything they’ve been working on.
The defensive improvements do need to be taken with a grain of salt due to the level of the opponent, but they absolutely played a complete game, which we had not seen one time with Kerry Coombs calling the defense.
Of all the improvements, the pass rush coming alive and the effort after the first series are replicable moving forward. They will get far more resistance the rest of the season than they did from the Zips, but we now know that they are at least capable of doing these things.
This was a great game for the Buckeyes to gain confidence; they got better in their new schemes, and can now go into conference play confidently.
The Buckeyes could have done whatever they wanted offensively for four quarters against Akron, and they mostly did. My biggest takeaway from this game was that Day finally utilized some quarterback friendly play-calls.
In the first series, you can tell that McCord was riding a wave of emotion and needed to settle in, as is often the case with young quarterbacks. The difference between this game and the previous three was that Day finally called a game that any QB could get settled into. By relying on the bell cow running back TreVeyon Henderson early (or at least after the first series), McCord was able to get comfortable suing some RPOs, quick game, and shovel passes, and once he got under control, he was able to let it fly.
McCord’s first touchdown was a tap down jet sweep, which counts on the stat sheet as a pass, but we’re going to look at his real first touchdown pass; wide receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba (No. 11) and Garrett Wilson (No. 5) run a smash slot-fade concept.
Once Smith-Njigba is even with the defensive back, McCord releases the ball on time. The ball is a little under thrown, but well placed enough that the defensive back doesn’t have a chance.
This play was set up throughout the game and getting a one-on-one matchup with a much more talented player is what every offense wants.
McCord did a great job of making the throws that he was supposed to, and a huge part of that was the game plan. Akron tried a lot of different cover looks, and Ohio State was well prepared for all of them.
The next play we’re going to look at is Emeka Egbuka’s big gain and first career catch. This play was set up by the run game and its effectiveness. In the video below we see a hard play-action sell job by McCord. It is hard to identify what coverage Akron is playing from this angle though, because the cornerback falls for the play-action fake.
McCord then sees a safety who has to come all the way from the middle of the field, so it really was about just getting the ball out to Egbuka and letting him go. This is a play design that works when the run game is hammering away, as it was on Saturday.
The corner makes a big mistake, but even if he plays this correctly, the shot is there for McCord. These are the types of throws that you expect all the QBs at Ohio State to make.
I’d be doing a disservice if we didn’t take a look at Jack Miller as well, who came in and delivered some darts. Day knew that with the game in hand, Miller was going to get limited opportunities to throw, but he gave him some chances to show off his arm early in his throwing debut.
The next play was a great look for Miller; Ohio State runs a classic 4-Verts look against a two-high defensive scheme. Tight End Cade Stover does a great job of splitting the safeties and finding the grass in the middle. Miller was the most relaxed QB in his debut series of the three three this season, and that says something about who he is.
His first four or five throws were well-timed and on target, and this one was especially great because of how well executed the play was.
Miller was not done yet as we got to see him flash some arm strength a few plays later as well. In this next clip, Ohio State sticks with keeping the passing scheme simple; the play is a stick-fade concept. Due to a defensive penalty, the Buckeyes had a free play on this one, and Miller was able to take advantage of the cornerback’s leverage.
He throws a nice back-shoulder ball to wide receiver turned TE Gee Scott Jr. who made a nice catch on the play. This play was drawn up to win one-on-one matchups, and Miller was able to take advantage of one of them.
The four examples of quarterback play that we looked at showed how Day was finally able to trust his QBs and allowed them to make easy reads and get the ball out of their hands. Whether it is McCord, Miller, or the regular starter C.J. Stroud under center, we should all want to see the offense called like it was against Akron.
Establish the run game and make great situational passing calls. Again, it was only Akron, but the QBs did everything that they were supposed to do, and that was a huge step forward offensively.
Offensively, the Buckeyes have their formula — or at least they should — which is running Henderson to open up the passing game, and then make it as easy as possible on the QB. Day called a great game in that regard, and we could have done a whole article on the success in the run game, but we know what you guys want to see!
The QBs both played exceptionally and Day really was able to call a great game for two inexperienced signal callers.
Defensively, they’re playing hard and the Buckeyes should look to build on the good from the last two games. If they can continue to create pressure, while the defense might not be able to get to an elite level, they very much might be able to reach pretty good status. The ramped up pressure from blitzes and stunts made it significantly easier for the Buckeyes’ defensive backs to do their job, which is good for everybody.
In this game, Ohio State could have played their whole 85 man roster and still won, but this was still a complete performance from both sides. The Buckeyes should have gained a lot of confidence in the systems on both sides of the ball, and hopefully this will translate moving forward.
This coming Saturday, Ohio State opens up full conference play against Rutgers who will throw a lot more challenges at the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball than Akron did. So, after two games of setting up the building blocks following the Oregon loss, it’s starting to feel like we might finally be seeing a confident Ohio State team that is ready to execute at all levels.