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Film Review: Ohio State’s defense is close and the offensive line opened up the game

Breaking down the film from the Buckeyes’ season opener

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State beat Minnesota 45-31 on Thursday night, and even though the game was stressful, fans should be a lot less worried than they appeared to be. The Gophers were a team that returned 10 starters on both sides of the ball, they returned an All-American caliber running back, and their coach has an innate ability to get his players up for any game, let alone one against Ohio State.

The Buckeyes rolled out seven new starters on defense on Thursday, and C.J. Stroud was going up against an experienced defense. We can get into the rotations and all that other stuff, but that’s not what this article is here for. Breathe, Ohio State fans. It was Week 1, and although heads are being called for, the sky isn’t falling. Let’s relax, let’s look at some film, and let’s see where the Buckeyes went right.

Offense

When in doubt, Ryan Day can score whenever he wants and from wherever he wants on the field, as the last four touchdowns showed the Buckeyes have big play ability. Day’s play calling acumen was back to what has become expected of the third-year head coach. Outside of the big plays though, we need to take a look at how impressive the offensive line played. The group was without a doubt the best on the field, and has potential to be the best OL I’ve seen in my lifetime at Ohio State.

We’ll start with Miyan Williams’ big run, because why would we not. This play was absolutely legendary, and I’m not here for anyone calling Miyan “Chop” Williams slow. At the start of this play, you’ll notice all of the action goes to the left side of the screen. The OL down blocks, the receivers show a bubble concept, and Stroud shows a sprint rollout selling it well enough to keep the players keying on him honest.

Ruckert makes a great block as a puller and gives Williams a one-on-one match up in space, then the rest is Chop getting on his horse. The play starts with a great design, but the OL was creating running lanes you can drive trucks through all night.

In the next play we’re going to look at, Ohio State relies on the split-zone scheme and a variety of other zone schemes that they’ve utilized heavily under Day.

When you look at these two plays, the offensive line is able to create huge running lanes for the back to run through, and Master Teague is able to make a positive play out of it. Split zone is a heavily relied on scheme for the Buckeyes, and seeing the OL’s effectiveness should get Buckeye fans some relief against Oregon next week.

In the passing game it took a while to get started, but the success of the run game really set up two of the second half touchdowns. Stroud was able to get comfortable, and that was because Day used the run game to really create mismatches in the passing game. When the play-action was called, the fake created one-on-one matchups as the linebackers were not able to sink immediately. The pass rush of Minnesota was not able to get home, and that led to two really long touchdown passes for Ohio State.

The first big score was off play-action, the effectiveness of the run game setting it up as well. The beauty of the fake and the effectiveness of the OL give an opportunity for Stroud to get extra time to evaluate and change the pocket. The hard fake brings the defenders up and gives Garrett Wilson a one-on-one match up against an overmatched safety.

In the clip below, you can see how the run action draws in the linebackers, creating space for the receivers to get behind the first level of defenders, and the play fake gives Chris Olave time to get across the field. This was all set up through the success of the run game and the OL giving time for the long routes to develop.

Stroud finished the day completing four of his passes for touchdowns all from 35+ yards out. Ryan Day was able to create mismatches and allowed for Stroud to deliver some strikes by play design. Overall, the offense played fantastic in the second half, and that is because they were on the field for three plays at a time before they hit a home run.

In the rain against an experienced group on the defense, Ohio State did leave something to be desired in the first half, but once the execution went from gaining eight-yards and they started going for the throat, the results differed immensely. Day trusted Stroud in the second half, and he was able to overcome a rough start and go into Week 2 with some confidence. Against Oregon, expect to see a lot more Williams, Henderson, and a continuation of the deep play-action pass.

Defense:

This is where a lot of you might disagree, but in the words of many people who came before me, just give me a chance. As my co-host Jordan has said multiple times, outside of the long run by Mohamed Ibrahim on 4th-and-1, Ohio State’s defense played pretty well all things considered. The Buckeyes were breaking in seven new starters, including three defensive backs, two defensive linemen and two linebackers. On the other side, Minnesota was returning 10 starters on offense and was extremely well coached.

Minnesota’s offensive effort was anchored by Ibrahim. As we studied before the game, the run scheme for the Gophers is a heavy outside zone, but the interesting thing about how they lined up against Ohio State was their utilization of extra personnel and unbalanced formations. The Gophers did a great job of creating confusion for the Buckeyes because of how they used the alignment to mislead the keys for the defenders.

Once the Buckeyes settled in they were able to decode the window dressing of the unbalanced line, but the size of the line still created problems. Ibrahim would get lost in the back field and have no issues finding anywhere from a sliver to a lot of space to work with.

Continuing with the run game, Minnesota relied on more inside zone concepts than I believed they would, and a lot of that had to do with their reliance on the RPO to artificially create a passing game. Ohio State had to commit defensive backs to stopping the pass, and that set up the run well. This is why the Buckeyes used a lot of man-to-man coverage to eliminate confusion.

Ohio State was able to make some plays, and the interception that Josh Proctor had taken away by a penalty shows this very well. The Buckeyes are man-to-man across the board in a one-high safety look. Kerry Coombs relied on man coverage more than he has any game since he’s been at Ohio State, which is going to be something we see moving forward. Looking at the players he’s recruited at the position recently, this should be no surprise.

The coverage here was perfect. The play-action did draw the defenders, and you can tell by the way the linebackers stopped their blitzes. Dallas Gant was able to get some pressure as he was able to identify the fake. Tanner Morgan sends a pass in to double coverage and the Buckeyes are able to capitalize on the mistake until Ohio State’s best friends don’t let the kids play with an egregious roughing the passer call.

Unfortunately, schematically the one issue Ohio State had wasn’t defensive play-calling. It wasn’t relying too much on man coverage either. It was a matter of missing tackles or taking bad angles in key moments early. In the second half that was cleaned up a lot following the last Ibrahim touchdown, which is what we’re looking at here.

The defense on the play gets sucked into the OL, leaving an open lane for Ibrahim to knife through. Proctor and Tommy Eichenberg took poor angles after overcommitting, missed a tackle, and Ibrahim scored.

Overall, the Buckeyes played a B- defensive performance against Minnesota. The inexperience showed early, but as we saw in the second half, the offense for the Gophers struggled to get anything real going in the passing game. As we get deeper in the season, I’m hoping to be able to find more specific examples, but Week 1 was a learning experience for all of us watching Coombs’ scheme.

From the rest of my rewatch, the defensive backs played really well given their responsibilities, and the linebackers were in the right places a lot of the time. Once the tackling gets fixed, this defense has the potential to be scary. Ohio State was barely scratching the surface on both sides of the ball in this one, and they were able to cover (push in my case) the spread.

There were more positives than negatives, and that is a warm sign after last year, especially playing against an offense as talented as Minnesota’s.

Bonus because they’re awesome

This week we have two bonus plays that really weren’t schematically driven, but we love them because they were awesome, and three plays total.

The first on the list is the big man touchdown by Haskell Garrett, making his presence felt early after an unbelievable play by Zach Harrison.

The second clip is one of the best defensive plays of the game. Cody Simon gets home on a blitz where he wasn’t accounted for in protection.

The final clip is Treyveon Henderson’s touchdown catch. The speed shown here was from another planet. When people say “he makes fast people look slow” they were specifically talking about Henderson.

Conclusion:

Overall, it was nice seeing Coombs starting to put his finger prints on the defensive side of the ball, and the OL play on the offensive side really opened up the offense.

Defensively, Coombs is going to trust his guys and run a lot of press man and off man coverages because it will allow the front seven to remain in the box and sellout to stop the run. The issues that arose this week were not due to the scheme, but common early season errors like missing tackles that will be cleaned up throughout the year. They were also playing an All-American caliber running back with a new starter at the Mike linebacker position in Eichenberg, and the freshmen DBs had some early growing pains.

Offensively, Day settled in as a play-caller once he was done rotating the whole roster into the game in the backfield. Minnesota had no answer for the two All-American candidates at receiver, and once they completed a few passes downfield the run game was able to really get going, finding the balance Day wants every time out. Not every game will have the explosive results that this one did, and I’m hoping to get a look at Stroud in the red zone this week, but getting a baseline understanding of the talent and schemes was the priority.

The Buckeyes will add nuances throughout the season, and we will be looking at the games from different perspectives each week. Ohio State’s defense is close to being great whether you believe it or not, and with the strength of the offensive line, this offense has the stars to reach for. Week 1 is in the books and Ohio State won the game, looking great in the second half, and now we are on to Oregon.