There’s a strong chance that what you’re about to read in this week’s Film Room turns into complete garbage in about 48 hours. Read the cover graphic’s byline, because we mean it: we don’t know what we don’t know. In other words, we’re probably full of crap, but too stupid to realize it.
Now then, therewith, and therefore, having dutifully warned readers, and expressly disclaimed the following as unfit for any useful purpose, we’re going to answer the question that’s eating every Penn State fan (and probably a few Ohio State fans): just how good are these Buckeyes? Have they become the 2014 Death Squad reincarnate that embarrassed Nick Saban? Or, are they an over-hyped version of the squad Oklahoma beat at the Shoe just five weeks ago, which was a lot like the squad Clemson set on fire, 31-0, in last year’s playoff?
Kill The Lights
Lest any visiting Bucks be confused, the short answer is Ohio State’s plenty good. Urban Meyer collects 5-star talent like Imelda Marcos stacked black shoes. Their athleticism leaps off the film at practically every position. They run hip, modern schemes on both sides of the ball, coordinated by successful former head coaches. And the old man running the show has a fist full of rings. They’re good. So, if you found our little corner of the interwebs from your Lancaster, Ohio abode, using your NetZero dial up account - don’t get confused or angry. We’re not claiming the Buckeyes stink. We’re splitting hairs, here, trying to decipher between “death machine” and “not quite death machine”.
Our hunch, in case you couldn’t tell already, is “not quite death machine”. Against Indiana and Oklahoma, weeks 1 and 2, the Buckeye secondary got torched. Burnt to a crisp, the back end ranked dead last in Division 1A at pass defense. Now, of course, they’re top half, sitting at #38. But that’s despite showing similar tendencies.
Greg Schiano plays “quarters” coverage which, on most passing downs against spread ‘em out teams, simply means “man”. It’s man coverage on the back end, with safeties needing to run step for step with the #2 - inside - receivers. Below is a gif of Nebraska QB Tanner Lee, owner of a million dollar arm (and 10-cent head), playing pitch and catch with JD Spielman, nephew of Chris, who was not worthy of an Ohio State offer.
Spielman, Nebraska’s slot receiving counterpart to DaeSean Hamilton, caught 11 balls for 200 yards against Ohio State’s secondary. That should interest Penn State fans.
But take a second look at that gif above, and watch the bottom of the screen for OLB #17 Jerome Baker, who momentarily forgets that he’s in man coverage.
Baker probably won’t forget he’s covering Saquon Barkley. But playing linebacker in today’s defenses is stupid hard, if not impossible. Often, you’re in man coverage against Mike Gesicki - unless it’s a run, in which case you’re covering 2 gaps against Saquon Barkley. In any event, here’s a gif of #35 Chris Worley, getting fooled by a pretty crafty play design from Oklahoma, a similar version of which we’ve seen numerous times from Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.
Enough of the Buckeye defense. The crux is on the offensive side of the ball. Ol’ Urban had a run in the 2013 - 2014 seasons in which his Buckeye’s scored 30+ in 27 of 29 games. They were just about unstoppable. And it’s for that reason, mostly, that the 16 points against Oklahoma’s craptastic defense (and the big fat 0 vs Clemson) caused so much heartburn in Columbus. The offensive standard is pretty high.
Sadly, they’re still really, really good. JT Barrett remains a brilliant running QB. JK Dobbins is electric. Mike Weber’s no slouch, either. And unfortunately, they’re taking far more deep shots now, than they had last year, or early this season, which keeps a defensive secondary on its toes, and out of the run box. Film Room counted 4 deep shots in the opening 4 possessions against Nebraska.
And yet, there remain mental scars, in Film Room’s humble opinion.
Rewind your memory all the way back to week 2 of the 2012 season. Ohio State hosted a talented, but young, UCF squad (that would make the Fiesta Bowl the next year. #Bortles). Not much worked for Ohio State on offense that Saturday - except for 1 thing: Braxton Miller on the QB draw. Urban would empty the backfield, spread the defense wide, and then have Miller run the draw behind simple inside zone. Over. And Over. No matter the yards to go. It was Urban’s security blanket - aka, woobie.
With that picture in mind, we present the woobie, circa week 7 of 2017:
You have Dobbins and Weber, a pair of pretty good blocking tight ends, a bunch of 5-stars on your offensive line, led by a senior pivot man Billy Price, and you’re playing one of the worst Big Ten rushing defenses of the last decade. What do you call on 3rd and 2, opening drive? Woobie. You call woobie, because you’re puckered tighter than a drum.
(Granted - you also call woobie because woobie’s worked all the time, every time, for 6 consecutive years. But hey, we’re looking for ultra fine differences. Cut us some slack).
Finally, here’s one more gif for your viewing pleasure. It doesn’t fit within the general slant of this post, but we made it before we decided on the taek, so you’re getting it now anyhow. It’s Kevin Wilson’s flavor of “mesh” - two receivers crossing in the middle of the field, in anticipation of picking off one or the other’s trailing man cover. TE Marcus Baugh runs a hook in the middle, because Marcus Baugh runs hooks in the middle. By design, he’ll get the ball if it’s zone.
Except, as shown below, it’s man on the outside bottom (field), but zone everywhere else (particularly underneath). Barrett throws late to a shallow crosser anyhow. And that, friends, is yet another difference between Trace McSorley and JT Barrett. McSorley will read and pull the YOLO trigger. Barrett tends to be more conservative, and prefers to see his man open before pulling the trigger. There are pros and cons to both, of course.
Hit The Lights
Ohio State beat Nebraska so badly two weeks ago that many of the greatest fans in the world left by halftime. It was a slaughter. The Huskers released their red balloons for a first down, since they didn’t expect to score actual points.
That, plus the bye week, plus the Horeshoe, plus Urban Meyer’s 21-1 record following byes, plus a senior quarterback with tons ‘o records, and 5-stars two deep on the defensive line, plus PSU coming off a physical game with Michigan (well - for 2.5 quarters at least)...yada yada yada, I’ll probably look really stupid in 48 hours. But I don’t believe this is a peak Urban Death Machine squad. PSU can win this game, despite the 7-point road dog status.