The Ohio State Buckeyes left no doubt in their 77-21 win over the Toledo Rockets in their final preparation for the Big Ten conference schedule. On offense, the Buckeyes had a nearly perfect performance. This was led by C.J. Stroud, who came out firing on all cylinders. In the run game, the Buckeyes faired just as well, and found an early balance offensively that has yet to be present so far.
Across the ball, the defense had moments that raised eyebrows. The corners gave up their share of big plays in the matchup, and as a unit they unfortunately left a lot of questions needing to be addressed after the non-conference slate. The performance of the corners was amplified by a shaky pass rush that allowed De’Quan Finn to escape and make plays down the field outside the pocket. As a whole, the defense settled in and limited Toledo for the most part, but the big plays that were given up will need to be addressed.
When it comes to an overall performance, there really isn’t much more that can be asked of the Buckeyes. Looking at the film, there was an offense with a purpose and defense with a few issues to clean up. We’re going to look at the final performance of the non-conference schedule and gauge where the Buckeyes are at as they head into their first conference matchup against Wisconsin.
The offense of Ohio State came out of the gate ready to make a statement. The Buckeyes were going to establish the run and attack downfield in the passing game. Once they established they were going to run the football, the defense of Toledo did not know if they needed to be on their toes or heels. This is the exact position an offense wants to keep the defense, and Ohio State did that for all four quarters. Ryan Day’s commitment to the run was evident early, and that set the offense up for the rest of the night.
Using the run to set up the pass
In the first series of the game, Ryan Day came out running the ball on six out of the first 14 plays. This was not exactly how balanced it seemed from a play count stand point, but the Buckeyes focused on making sure the run game was involved early. This opened up the play action passing game, and using the run fake opened up a lot of big plays down field.
For the Buckeyes in the first series, they mixed in both their outside zone run scheme and inside zone run schemes. The first play we’re looking at shows how the success of a run play can open up the passing game. Ohio State runs an outside zone, the offensive line gets their blocks, and this creates a nice gain to the outside for TreVeyon Henderson.
The reason the early success of a run game concept is important is because it makes the defense hesitate for a split second. This small amount of indecision creates a lot of chaos for defenses who are already reacting to the offense.
Ohio State runs a play fake using a pitch with the same outside run action on the line to the same side of the formation. Looking at Toledo’s linebackers, you can see them suck in trying to stop the run. Stroud takes a deep drop, allowing the receivers to clear out after the fake, and this gives Cade Stover time to get behind the defense. All Stroud has to do is drop the ball in a for a huge gain.
Evolving run game
This play-action pass is also helped by an evolving run game. Last year, Ohio State had one of the most simple and most predictable run games in the country. In this game, Ohio State utilized their traditional zone run schemes, but they also showed they’re going to be a much more dynamic run offense from a play-calling standpoint.
The first play in this section, the Buckeyes have Jaxon Smith-Njigba lined up as the running back and Miyan Williams is in the slot. They have a stretch blocking scheme on the line of scrimmage, and each lineman is stepping to reach and turn their defenders inside. The motion action is a jet-motion hand off. By lining up Williams in the slot, this allows Smith-Njigba to take on the role of a lead blocker. This play was a lot of work for an 8-yard gain, but this shows a commitment to creating a diverse running game.
The next play Ohio State uses another across formation motion. In this case the motioner is used as the lead blocker. Stroud hands the ball off to Dallan Hayden, who takes the ball on this outside run. Having to prepare to defend the pass that comes off this motion put Toledo in a bind. The linebacker (No. 7) playing the edge steps away from the line when the motion gets across. This creates an easy block for the motioner and Hayden is able to follow the block for another nice gain.
Downfield passing attack
After establishing the run game, this opens up the downfield passing attack. The goal of any successful play-action pass is to create bigger window throws by sucking the defense in to stop the run. In this play, the Buckeyes use the same run-action as the play that was handed off to Hayden. The run-action creates a slight hesitation from the boundary side safety (No. 1), which opens up the middle of the field. Once Stover clears the linebacker responsible for covering him, there is nothing but space across the middle to work with and Stroud delivers a down field strike for a huge gain to the tight end.
The Toledo offense came prepared and the quarterback of the Rockets’ De’Quan Finn came ready to make plays. Ohio State was unable to contain Finn, leading to quite a few big plays being given up both on the ground and through the air. For Ohio State, their pass rush and corners were exposed quite a few times. With these errors it was made clear that the Buckeyes will need to get better at containing athletic quarterbacks. The dynamic test Finn brought to the table will at least allow Jim Knowles to take a long final look at the defense heading into conference play.
Mistakes in Secondary
Throughout the game Ohio State gave up some big plays in the passing game. Part of this was poor fundamentals by the secondary, and the other part of this issues arose from an inconsistent pass rush.
In the play below, the Buckeyes bring five pass rushers. Jack Sawyer rushes to far up the field, J.T. Tuimoloau gets swallowed up by the tackle, and Tyler Friday’s stunt brings him inside. This allows Finn to climb the pocket and find a receiver downfield. On the back end, Toledo’s receiver runs the scramble drill perfectly, taking his route deep once Finn breaks the pocket. Cam Brown loses him, and this results in a huge play for a touchdown.
This was not the only occurrence, and the offseason mentions by Jim Knowles about pass rush-pass coverage synergy were highlighted here. No pass rush made the back end weaker, and the back end was unable to make up for it, resulting in a touchdown.
The corners will need to work out their issues which have been talked about in all three film reviews so far, but the newer issue was the ineffectiveness of the pass rush in regards to containing Toledo’s mobile quarterback. The lack of discipline in the pass rush led to a lot of big plays for Toledo. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, there are few quarterbacks with the true dual threat ability to make Ohio State work hard in both aspects, but Finn did his best to show that he belonged on the field with Ohio State.
In this play, Ohio State is in coverage in a third-and-long situation. Toledo opts to pass and the get off of Ohio State’s pass rush has Finn feeling the pressure immediately. Sawyer gets through and doesn’t breakdown when he gets in range of the quarterback, allowing Finn to climb the pocket. Javontae Jean-Baptiste overcommits to the side Finn initially breaks towards, giving Finn a running lane. Eichenberg misses a tackle after not breaking down, and Finn gets up the field for a first down.
This lack of rush lane discipline created a big play for Toledo, and they got the first down because of it.
The pass rush discipline was put on display again, but in this case Knowles got a lot to creative for the sake of the defense. Knowing Finn is a dynamic runner, this is an obvious QB Draw down-and-distance. This play has a real passing aspect to it, which takes the secondary out of the equation until after the first down marker. By doing this, Toledo puts a lot of pressure on the defensive line to maintain integrity and to make a play in stopping Finn as a running threat.
Knowles lines up Eichenberg as an outside edge rusher and leaves Steele Chambers in the middle. Chambers drifts to the side of the running back, and the pressure on the outside from Eichenberg and the defensive end opens up a huge run lane up the middle. By vacating the middle, the Rockets are able to create a big play out of this QB draw, and the bad position of the defense amplified the pass rush discipline issue.
Ohio State has little to complain about as they head into conference play after this performance against Toledo. The offense found their stride and played an incredibly balanced game, going for over 700 yards of total offense and scoring 11 touchdowns. Stroud made incredible throws, the receivers caught almost everything thrown their way, and the running backs kept the offense on schedule from start to finish while making some big plays of their own.
Defensively, there are still questions that need to be answered. The cornerback play has plain and simply not been good enough. This group not having great health has added insult to the issues at hand. This matchup against a dynamic dual threat quarterback was the first one that neutralized Ohio State’s pass rush, and this led to an exposure of the issues outside at corner. The defensive issues still have time to be addressed, but the clock is beginning to tick to see how good this unit can be.
If the defense cleans up the mistakes and the offense builds even further off of Saturday’s performance, the ceiling on this team is incredibly high. Next week, a physical match up awaits to open conference play, and then we can really see what this Ohio State team is made of.