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Film Review: The Justin Frye effect, how Jim Knowles’ game plan stifled Wisconsin’s offense

Ohio State’s offensive line dominated the trenches, and Jim Knowles’ game plan was executed to near-perfection.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Doral Chenoweth / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Ohio State Buckeyes dismantled the visiting Wisconsin Badgers 52-21, and the game was truly never in doubt. Offensively, the Buckeyes came out of the gate swinging, getting out to a 28-0 lead before the Badgers could even blink. Ryan Day completely committed to balance as a play-caller, and the players made explosive plays when the opportunities were presented.

Day’s commitment to balance offensively seems to come from a place of him fully trusting his offensive line and defense. The offensive line is continually leaning on opponents, and at one point during the broadcast, the announcers mentioned that the Ohio State running backs ran for over 100 yards before contact. That stat lives in absurdity, and shows that the offensive line is opening up wide running lanes with the talented backs taking advantage of the well-blocked schemes.

Defensively, Jim Knowles and the defensive back hires in Perry Eliano and Tim Walton deserve a lot of credit for the job they did heading into the Wisconsin game. They were without three scholarship corners, relying on a redshirt freshman in JK Johnson and a true freshman in Jyaire Brown. The front seven added much needed support and never let Wisconsin get comfortable offensively.

The early returns on the hires of Justin Frye, Jim Knowles, and the defensive back coaches has been apparent through four games, but none more than the matchup against Wisconsin. Today, we’re going to look at how the offensive line took over the game, and how the defense neutralized the run game while also making sure Graham Mertz was never able to get comfortable.


When it comes to Ohio State’s offense under Ryan Day, the first thing that comes to mind is an aggressive downfield passing attack. Last year, the Buckeyes’ offense was over reliant on the big play and was truly boom-or-bust at times. Since J.K. Dobbins left for the league, Day has been quick to rely on his quarterbacks and receivers to make the offense happen. To me, this starts with trusting the offensive line and the guy coaching the group.

In comes Justin Frye, who replaced Greg Studrawa and brought over the willingness to teach more complex run game schemes. This is the run game Ohio State has been looking for, and outside of some ridiculous individual efforts in recent years, was the run game that was missing. The Buckeyes run-blocked at an incredibly high level, which really put pressure on Wisconsin to make a choice on what they wanted to stop. This allowed Ryan Day to have the flexibility to call anything he wanted at any given time.

High-level blocking

One of the statements Justin Frye made when he got to Columbus was about his daughter knowing the play and the Buckeyes still being able to pick up one yard. That comes from confidence in your scheme, your coaching, and your players. Ohio State uses the zone run game and rarely ever gets away from it.

In the first play of this section, Ohio State is running their “Wide Zone” to the boundary. This play is a variation of the outside zone that gets the offensive line out in space. It lets the running back create lanes by going horizontal, and once a lane opens up he gets vertical up the field.

Stover clears out the EDGE defender who is responsible for contain, and the offensive linemen all get on the players in their zones turning them away from the run action. If you stop the play at (0:04), you can see a wall of Ohio State linemen and nothing but green grass for Miyan Williams to run towards. That is high level blocking, and Williams goes for 20 untouched.

Building on that, another common run game look for the Buckeyes is their inside zone split action concept. In this play, the offensive line zone steps and the tight end who lines up in a wing look blocks back across the formation, knocking out the end.

This is a well-blocked play. The right guard Matt Jones makes this play by finishing his block. In this concept, if you can’t turn the defender, you wash him down creating a cut back. In this case, he just pancakes the defender. The second point of this play that creates a nice gain is Luke Wypler coming off his double team and getting to the second level. His block opens up the cut back, which allows Henderson to get the first down and shows another high level blocking performance from the offensive line.

Scheme opening up huge holes

In this last example, the clip was cut short, but just look at the screen shot before you watch the play. You can see Rossi kicking out, the hole opening between Dawand Jones and Wypler, the guards getting to the second level, and Fleming getting his defender inside where the run is going. This shows the responsibilities on this look incredibly well.

Watch the video and see the result. The blocks spring a 30-yard run untouched for Williams.

The overall takeaway here is that a little diversity in play type and a well-coached offensive line group can wreak havoc on even the best defense’s plans. Donovan Jackson talked about how great it feels to move a person from point-A to point-B, and the offensive line was moving the Wisconsin front wherever they wanted to almost all night. This gave the running backs a ton of room.

This is why bringing in Justin Frye was vital. The offensive line might be the most consistent and reliable unit on the field, which is exactly what you want it to be.


Jim Knowles had his work cut out for him against Wisconsin, having to stop one of the most talented running backs in the country in Braelon Allen and being down three scholarship cornerbacks. The Buckeye defense needed to rely on sound assignment football from the front seven to limit the run and also help out the secondary.

The Buckeyes used a ton of variations in how they pressured Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz. By mixing in blitzes, the level the linebackers were playing at, and the situations in which they were bringing pressure, Ohio State was able to keep Mertz uncomfortable most of the game. The play of the front six made the play of the back five that much easier, which is exactly what the defense needed with the young corners in the game.


In this play, Wisconsin is in one of their max protection looks where the tight end and running back stay in to block. Ohio State was well aware of this look and how Wisconsin showed they were going to block the Buckeyes if they brought pressure. If you watch Ohio State, Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Jack Sawyer show pressure from the outside then drop.

By showing the rush look, they make the offensive line have to account for them. This opens up the middle by making the linemen step out to take the ends. The tight end has a long way to go to get to the middle, and the running back for Wisconsin has two guys to take on immediately. This forces Mertz off his spot, and the pressure forces a throw towards the feet of the Wisconsin receiver.

To get this one started, pause the play at 0:03 second mark on the screen. Ohio State has five rushers from the defense’s left A-Gap (between right guard and center) to outside the right tackle. This alignment makes it incredibly hard for the linemen to get a count with their slide protection. Jean-Baptiste is the wide player to the left and takes away Mertz’s check down after simulating pressure.

The over load rush to the right side of the defensive formation puts the center, guard, and tackle into a bind. The Buckeyes get immediate pressure because the guard ends up with two rushers coming at him, and this forces another incompletion with no chance for the receiver.


There were not a lot of great plays in coverage, but the Buckeyes tackled well, limiting yards after the catch, and the pressure from the front led to a lot of hopeless throws. This play was one of the best plays from a safety this season, and one of the types of plays the defense needed badly with the young corners in the game.

The Buckeyes are supposed to be in a prevent Cover-4 type of look here. With a young corner, this is a point where communication has to be vital. JK Johnson doesn’t get the memo here. Wisconsin runs four verticals up the field, and McAlister takes the one that comes to his zone. Johnson lets the outside receiver run up the field freely. Mertz throws the ball, and McAlister uses the wrong turn technique, which is a turn away from the receiver towards the direction a player is running to keep the momentum.

He closes the gap and has his young corners back with a great play on the ball and saves a cheap touchdown before half that could have changed the attitude of both teams heading into the locker room. That’s technique and experience coming to save the day for you here.

This offseason was tumultuous to say the least. Ryan Day brought in four new coaches, and this week was a chance for all four of those hires to prove the decision to bring them onto the staff was the correct one.

Jim Knowles had a plan and the Buckeyes stuck to that plan, never allowing Mertz to have a clean throw for the majority of his drop backs, and not letting Braelon Allen win early downs by gaining consistent yardage. By bringing pressure and mixing up how the pressure was brought, they took the weight off the secondary’s shoulders. This strategy was high-level coaching, and this level of game planning is why Knowles was brought in.

On the offensive side of the ball, one new coach was brought in, and Justin Frye’s unit made a statement for the new coach. We only looked at three plays, but that was how most of the night looked. The Buckeyes dominated the trenches against a really well-coached group. They showed discipline, physicality, and consistency which all starts with the coach setting expectations high in the room.

Ohio State’s win against Wisconsin is just the start. There is a long way to go, and the Buckeyes will look to keep improving. That being said, compared to last year, Ohio State has laid an incredible foundation to build on moving forward, which is really all you can ask for at this point.