Penn State produced seven explosive plays last Saturday against Indiana - 3 runs (including one from Chrisitan Hackenberg) and 4 passes. And oh by the way, each of the 4 explosive passes were caught beyond 5-yards from the line of scrimmage. How great was that? Nice things. We had them.
Certainly, detractors can point at Indiana's "defense" and claim that they average 7 explosive plays allowed, and thus, what's the big deal? Well 'average' is a big step forward for us so BACK OFF AND LET US BE HAPPY FOR A FEW MINUTES JEEZ.
We might even get to have nice things this coming Saturday. Might. Let's emphasize that again - might. A quick glance at the Ohio State highlight tubes suggest there are some plays to be made by our offense this weekend. And we'll need to make them to have any chance at the upset (We Are...17.5 point dogs), because in the preceding 35 games, Urban Meyer's squad has scored fewer than 30 points just 4 times in regulation.
|2014||at Penn State||W||17-17 (31-24 final)|
|2015||vs. N. Illinois||W||20-13|
Kill The Lights
One of those weak spots in the Buckeye defense is...wait for it...quarterback runs. Last week, Maryland's Perry Hills rushed for 170 yards. That's net (Hills was also sacked 4 times for 25 yards, which comes off his rushing total). And two Saturdays ago, the mercurial Zander Diamont - who posted just 38 yards against PSU - laid a cool 98 yards on Ohio State with just 7 carries, in relief of Nate Sudfeld. Both Hills (75) and Diamont (79) posted huge gains. And they did it, in part, due to Ohio State's linebackers ignoring the quarterback to over-pursue the tailback.
In the gif below, Ohio State's D-line slants away from the Terps' designed run. Joey Bosa gets pushed clear of his gap pretty easily, while Josh Perry takes a couple bad steps in pursuit of the RB, who doesn't have the ball. This is strange behavior from a defense who sees read-option all year long (from their own offense). The benefit for Penn State, obviously, is that if the Buckeyes over-pursue against running QBs, there's close to zero chance that they'll respect the pocket passer Hackenberg on the read-option. And they shouldn't. In the previous 19 games, Hack's kept the ball on the read-option exactly one time (on 4th down at Illinois last year), despite running the action 10,000,000 times. But, if we're searching for "bullets" (warning - though the link is a great read, it is also upsetting), then this one might just work.
The 3-Receiver Side and "Cheese"
Ohio State plays "quarters" coverage, typically in a 2-deep look, nearly exclusively. They've done this for quite a while. For a whole bunch of words about this coverage and how the Buckeyes operate it, read this 11 Warriors piece.
Since everyone on planet Earth knows how the Buckeyes play the back end, smart people, like Indiana's Kevin Wilson, design plays to "beat" the coverage. How do you beat a scheme that's effectively a match-up man/zone hybrid, with each receiver accounted for pre-snap? One way you do it is by capitalizing on the players' tendencies and reads. You bait a trap with cheese - their favorite food - and wait for them to take it.
In the gif below, Wilson puts 3 receivers to the top of the formation, with the 3rd receiver being a big, slow tight end. Ohio State safety Tyvis Powell and OLB Josh Perry ignore the TE and "take the cheese" that Wilson used as bait - the smoke route. Powell and Perry should be working in tandem, short to deep. But since Powell reads the #2 receiver 100% of the time; and since he's not used to seeing a TE from Indiana; and since he's forgetting that IU actually has 3 receivers to his side, and that Perry takes the flat area while he needs to stay deep (should #2 or the TE go deep); and since this IU's run this smoke route a bunch right in front of him - boom roasted. Kevin Wilson mic drop dot gif.
Speaking of taking the cheese, here's a Randall Edsall variation. You can't see the (3rd) outside receiver in the gif below, but trust me - he's out there, with Eli Apple running down the field with him. Safety Von Bell is aligned over the slot (#2), and another slow tight end will release into a pattern as well. The "cheese", in this instance, is the tight end, who runs up the middle of the field and stops at about 12 yards. The backside safety, Tyvis Powell, whom Von Bell is expecting to be covering the back half of their 2-deep zone, jumps on the tight end's underneath route. That leaves Bell all alone against Maryland's DJ Moore, who, with a simple post route, clears Bell by about 5 yards.
So that it doesn't look like we're picking on Powell exclusively, here's Josh Perry (we think) playing OLB to the top of the shot below. This is, again, a 3-receiver side of Maryland's formation. Maryland's outside receiver runs in on a curl, taking the OSU corner with him. The #2 receiver runs a slant directly in front of Perry - that's the "cheese". Perry takes the bait and gives him a chuck like a good linebacker should. The receiver falls down. But while all of that is happening, the H-back / tight end leaks out to the flat, and is uncovered - again, because Perry got distracted by #2. If he's open to the flat, then just imagine how open he'd be on an out-and-up / wheel route.
Obviously, the TE being open mattered not a bit, because Joey Bosa put the Terp right tackle on roller skates before sacking Perry Hills. And that, friends, is our transition to a new Film Room segment: reader question.
Bill from State College asks "how can the offensive line keep Hack alive against OSU's front seven?"
There are many, many ways to keep Hack alive, Bill. The most straight-forward method would be to bench him. If he's not on the field, then they can't legally sack him into oblivion. Another angle - one that John Donovan tried in games 2 thru 5 this year - is to call a bunch of runs. Run the dive from the "beef" personnel package, and then run it again, and again, until you punt the ball away on 4th down. No, you're not scoring any points. But if Hack isn't throwing, they can't sack him, and thus, he's still alive.
To win the game, though, Hack has to play, and he also has to attempt passes - preferably on plays that bait a trap with cheese in order to produce a big, explosive play. This stra-tee-gery will, almost inevitably, lead to some sacks this week, and possibly, having Hack's helmet ripped off his head at the bottom of the pile by a jackwagon. But that's why he wears big boy pads.
So if you cringe with each hit to Hackenberg, my advice is to start drinking now. He's gonna get hit. Probably a bunch of times. And all of the slide-toward-Bosa, roll-out, move-the-pocket, quick-throws, chip-Bosa, back-on-backer-who-is-coming-up-the-A-gap-on-a-delayed-blitz-just-like-Temple-did-100-times - I mean, Hack's still gonna get hit. However if those schemes work enough to keep the sacks under 6, and give him 2.5 seconds maybe 10-12 times, and we hit 3 or 4 "cheese" plays...well, stranger things have happened in college football than a PSU upset, and all the bruises don't ache nearly as badly after a win.
Hit The Lights
Cheese. It's good on everything - crackers, potatoes, various types and cuts of meats, and on play designs that take advantage of over-aggressive safeties and linebackers who are more interested in making a big play than simply playing their responsibility. Here's hoping that we offer the Buckeyes some cheese on Saturday, and that the environment - at night, primetime, with lights and people and cameras and idiot bloggers judging draft stocks which correlate perfectly to INTs and TFLs, all of that crap - induces a hearty appetite.