It's been 11 long years since Penn State upended Ohio State at Beaver Stadium on October 8, 2005. That was a game where the prevailing feeling among Nittany Lion fans was that there was more to be gained from winning that game than any game in awhile, probably since the 1999 season. That feeling seems to be back, as a win Saturday from Penn State would do more for the perception of the program than any win dating back to that night in 2005.
Standing in PSU's way is a Buckeye team led by one of the all-time great college coaches in Urban Meyer, a man who has yet to lose a true road game as the Ohio State head coach, a position he has held now for 4 1/2 years. This is a very, very good Ohio State team. It is not, however, the best team Meyer has had, and in fact it may be the worst in his time at Ohio State. That's not saying much, as they haven't lost more than twice in a season since he's been there, but this is a beatable football team. The Miami Hurricanes of 2001 aren't walking through that tunnel Saturday.
Let's look at a few things Ohio State is known for offensively, because if Penn State wants to stay in this game at all they will need to get at least a few stops. JT Barrett is by no means a polished passer, but he is one of the best quarterbacks to ever run a run-based spread offense. His deception in his ball fakes coupled with his patience and vision as a runner make stopping him on the ground the most important priority for any defense that plays Penn State. Ohio State will run a ton of generic read option, and since Penn State is running those plays frequently this year and they've been discussed in this column frequently, we will stay away from those for now. However, they'll show some run looks with Barrett that PSU not only does not run themselves but has not really seen this year either.
Here is one such look. Ohio State lines up in what appears to be a generic 11 personnel. However, this year they have been getting their three main playmakers in Dontre Wilson, Curtis Samuel and Mike Weber involved in the offense in a variety of ways through different alignments and motion patterns. Dontre Wilson's role could be best described as a wing-back in an old wing t triple option offense. He's line up in the short slot on the near side. Wisconsin comes out in a 3-4 alignment, and due to the relatively balanced look Ohio State is giving them, is playing it pretty much straight up.
The sideline view is important for us in this play in seeing Ohio State's pre-snap alignment, but the best angle on this play will be the end zone view.
Here we are right after snap. Wilson came in motion on a jet sweep action. It's important to note that one thing Ohio State likes to employ, especially this year, is bringing that man in motion on something like a jet sweep action, only to have them stop and line up as a running back next to the quarterback. The reason for this is teams will try to time the snap count based on the jet sweep action. By adding this wrinkle, Ohio State can still maintain an advantage in having a good snap count while still getting to run some stuff of off jet sweeps. Here you see the right tackle down blocks, seemingly leaving the outside linebacker unblocked and in position to make a play on that side of the field if Barrett keep it and goes that way.
Here is a shot right after the fake between Barrett and the motion man, Dontre Wilson. True Freshman LG Michael Jordan has a perfect pull to knock out the previously unblocked linebacker. However, there's still an unblocked play-side linebacker for Wisconsin. Looking at it now, this should be a modest gain of 3-4 yards.
By this point, it's evident the play was always to the right, as the play is completely blocked to that side. Mike Weber Jr. gets enough of that previously unblocked linebacker to give Barrett a lane and now Ohio State is business.
It's a well-designed play, but it's also perfectly executed. Penn State's linebackers will have to do a great job of shedding blocks in the run game if they want to keep the Ohio State run game, especially Barrett, contained.
If you think back to Ohio State's 2014 national title run, you'll remember that in those three wins at the end of the year against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, Ohio State ran the ball very well, but they successfully established a downfield passing game off of their run game. The downfield passing game has been inconsistent this year, but there's a clear downfield threat in the form of Noah Brown. Brown is a 6'2, 220 lb block of athleticism, and Ohio State is not afraid whatsoever of throwing him jump balls in one-on-one coverage and hoping he makes a play. When Ohio State is running the ball well, which is pretty much all the time, you're going to see a lot of 1v1 coverage on the outside, and Penn State will be forced to play it some this weekend.
Let's take a look at one such downfield shot, this time at Oklahoma back in September. Ohio State comes out lining up in what appears to be 11 personnel, but that's actually tailback Curtis Samuel in the slot at the top of the screen, with eventual target Noah Brown to his outside. Ohio State gives a lot of different looks in not only personnel groupings but also in their width of their formations. As you can see, this formation is pretty narrow as all eleven players are to the left of the right hash. Oklahoma technically only has seven in the box, but their deepest player is only ten yards off the ball, suggesting they're leaning run here.
Here we are right after the snap. Barrett gives a token fake to Mike Weber Jr., but it isn't a very convincing fake.
To know what exact coverage Oklahoma came out in on the back end here is a little unclear (though I'm pretty sure it's a cover 3 shell) due to the alignment of Ohio State's formation pre-snap, but all that matters for Ohio State is that it's not a man look with help over the top, which, as soon as #13 for Oklahoma (circled) lets Curtis Samuel go, they know that there's no man coverage and they are going to get one on one coverage down the field.
Back in the week four edition of Film Room, we showed the dangers of a post/wheel combination on the outside. This isn't exactly that route combination for Ohio State, but since the outside man, Brown, is going to run a go route, while the inside man in Samuel works a deep post, you get the same general concept. This ensures that Brown is going to get a one on one shot at a jump ball, as the middle guy in the cover three will have to be occupied with Samuel on the deep post. Ohio State is perfectly content to throw it up to Noah Brown and hope he makes a play, which he does.
Yes, this column is a gross simplification of all the concepts Ohio State will throw at a defense. However, if Penn State wants to pull off the upset on Saturday, they will need to contain Barrett in the run game and hope their defensive backs make some plays in one-on-one coverage down the field--which the Oklahoma defensive back failed to do.
I'll be back with another Black Shoe Diaries Facebook Live Chat at 1PM ET on Friday October 21. Come armed with questions as we've been having some great discussion.