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Film Review: Ohio State’s passing attack stole the show, tackling from the corners raises concerns

The Buckeyes showed up, took care of business, and got into the win column. That story looks a little different on each side of the ball.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Joseph Scheller/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

On Saturday, Ohio State took care of business in its 45-12 win over Arkansas State. The game was an example of the emotional challenges that come for heavily favored teams after playing in a primetime environment the week before.

Throughout the game, Ohio State’s offense was in cruise control. The receivers had an excellent performance, and Stroud made throws that showed his NFL ceiling. When needed, the running backs were reliable and made a few big plays themselves. In a game like this, not hearing much about the offensive line is a good thing.

Defensively, the Buckeyes had some trouble in the secondary at times. There were some issues that can be easily resolved, but fundamental shortcomings like tackling in space should at least raise eye brows. The front seven picked up where they left off, and Arkansas State’s quarterbacks were never really able to get comfortable. Outside of penalties, there really aren’t any areas to complain about with the linebackers or the defensive linemen.

The game itself was simple and straight forward — a pay game the Buckeyes never really fully woke up in and still ended up winning comfortably. In this review, we’re going to see how the Ohio State receivers took another step this week, as well as take a look at what the defense will be trying to clean up when the Buckeyes take on Toledo in Week 3 before the start of conference play.

Receiver Play

College football is fun to watch, and players like Marvin Harrison Jr. are why Saturday’s against Arkansas State can be special. After a solid performance against Notre Dame, Harrison Jr. took this opportunity to show the world the tools that make him such a special talent. The speed, strength, and catch radius was on full display, with Harrison Jr. scoring three touchdowns – should have been four – and hauling in seven catches for 184 receiving yards.

The effectiveness by Harrison Jr. started early in the game. The Buckeyes were on their first offensive series. Harrison Jr. lines up as the lone single receiver to the top of the screen, and he gets one-on-one coverage. His route starts when his stem takes him onto the screen. His inside route stem takes the leverage away from the cornerback. Coming out of his break on a “Dig” route – a rounded 15-yard in-breaking route – Harrison Jr. explodes to create separation, and Stroud hits him in stride. The rest is Harrison Jr. showing off his speed and getting to the end zone for six points.

In the next play, we see just how easy this game came to Harrison Jr. The Buckeyes had a 2nd-and-2 on the Arkansas State 42-yard line. This is “take a shot” territory, and that has air quotes around it because announcers love to point that out every time a team is in this exact situation.

The Buckeyes oblige. Stroud sells a hard run fake and then takes a drop back to give the receivers time to get down the field. Harrison Jr. is running a Go-route, and he once again has one-on-one coverage. Harrison Jr. runs by the cornerback and Stroud drops the ball into the basket. The ease of this throw-and-catch shows the chemistry being built by the quarterback and his receiver. This will go a long way for the Buckeyes down the road, especially once they get Smith-Njigba back into the fold.

In the next play, we see the throw and catch of the day for the Buckeyes. Arkansas State is running “Cover-2 man under” meaning they have two-high safeties and the rest of the defenders have man responsibilities. This coverage is one of the few that make it hard to push vertically, and the windows to complete vertical throws are much smaller to the outside receivers.

This is where the term “hole-shot” comes into play. The space behind the corner and before the safety in coverage over top is the hole. In Cover-2 Man, this is an even tighter window with the corner in a trail technique. Harrison Jr. runs a vertical route, and Stroud throws the ball into the only spot this pass would be completed. The timing by Stroud is undermined by the incredible athleticism and concentration Harrison Jr, needed to make the tough catch down the sideline for a touchdown.

Overall, this is just that high level execution that Ohio State quarterbacks and receivers have made look effortless over the last few seasons.

Harrison Jr. wasn’t alone on Saturday, and Emeka Egbuka had a big game in his own right. Egbuka had four catches for 118 yards and a touchdown catch. The play below shows high level receiving and quarterback play.

If the route Egbuka ran here was a designed play, it was drawn up perfectly. That being said, I do not think that was play that was designed. Egbuka was running a drag route across the formation, and once the defender cut off his path, he turned up field vertically. Stroud saw this and delivered a perfect touch pass over top to Egbuka, who ran the rest of the way for six. This play is not made without Miyan Williams’ elite blitz pick up, which gave Stroud time to adjust to Egbuka turning up field. Without that block, the Buckeyes probably don’t score on this play.

The results of this game were an expectation, but with limited experience the receivers showed growth with how they were able to dominate. Jaxon Smith-Njigba has shown this ability, and now Harrison Jr. and Egbuka showed their reliability as well as their explosiveness this week. As they continue to build their relationship with Stroud, their level of play should keep rising.

Fundamental Issues in Secondary

Defensively the Buckeyes were far from perfect, the secondary having the most issues. There was an early intensity, but the Buckeyes had a propensity for undisciplined penalties on Saturday which took that early edge away. The Buckeyes definitely settled in, and to make up for their mistakes they tightened up in the red zone, forcing Arkansas State into settling for field goals.

The penalties started with a pass interference on corner Denzel Burke. This was exasperated by a second penalty, which started the day off on the wrong foot. In the play below, we see Burke get lost in his coverage with the technique he was playing. Once he lost position and feel of the receiver, rather than trusting his rules of getting back to the defenders hips and turning when the receiver shows his hands, he panicked. This led to a poor close out and another 15-yard penalty.

Burke had a rough day, and this film article could have singled out quite a few of his errors. That being said, there were more fundamental issues to look at from the defense than just the few plays by Burke. In the play below, we see Arkansas State in a 3rd-and-1 situation.

The Buckeyes are lined up straight up in their base defense against 12-personnel. Arkansas State motions a receiver across the formation, and the goal is to get their athlete the ball quick in space to gain the one yard. Ohio State’s defenders read the play immediately and have the receiver caught in the backfield if they use proper technique. Cam Martinez (No. 13) and Jakailin Johnson (No. 4) over-pursue the player, who cuts back and picks up just enough for the first.

This is a small thing, but the difference in a tackle for a loss and giving up a first down is the angles taken by the defensive backs when they were trying to make a play in space.

The last play builds on what we just looked at. The defensive backs really struggled on Saturday with their tackling in space – most notably the corners and young safeties. In the next play, we see Cam Brown playing off man coverage in a 2nd-and-19 situation.

Arkansas State runs a quick hitch to the outside receiver Brown has in coverage. Brown takes a bad angle to close out on the receiver and gives up a move inside after the catch. By taking a bad angle, what should have been a short gain forcing a third-and-long, the Buckeyes ended up allowing a first down. This was a common theme throughout the game for the corners, and this will be on position coach Tim Walton to get this issue fixed as the Buckeyes prepare for Toledo.

The emotional aspect of the game of football can not go underrepresented, and going from a huge non-conference home opener against an AP Top-5 team to playing Arkansas State at noon is significant difference. For the Buckeyes to go in and never relinquish control of this game at any point shows some maturity for a young team at a lot of key positions.

On offense, Stroud and the receivers stole the show, and Marvin Harrison Jr. officially announced to the country that he has arrived in 2022. The growth of Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka can not go under appreciated. The amount of game reps they are getting will only make them more dangerous as Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming return to the fold. Add that to a running game that’s finding their identity, the Ohio State offense got a lot of this pay game against Arkansas State.

The same can not be said for the secondary, more specifically the corners who had lapses in coverage and tackling techniques. This poor play took away from a relatively strong defensive performance from the rest of the groups on that side of the ball. If the corners can learn from their mistakes and grow from them against Toledo next week, Ohio State should head into their match up against Wisconsin with a lot of confidence.