Dissecting Last September's Bombardment

By Jason Priestas on September 9, 2009 at 6:30p
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After trading punts to start the game in LA last year, the Buckeyes platooned Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor on the way to a 17-play, 69 yard drive to take a 3-0 lead. Unfotunately, things quickly got away from OSU when Trojan quarterback Mark Sanchez hooked up with fullback Stanley Havili for a 35 yard touchdown completion on their next possession. Sanchez would go on to throw three more touchdowns and when you toss in a horrific Rey Maualuga pick six, you had all of the ingredients of an ass kicking.

While Sanchez is now in the Big Apple and USC will be lining up a freshman at quarterback this weekend, the supporting cast from last year's carnage is back, largely intact. Given the concerns about the Buckeye pass defense that have come up after Ricky Dobbs did his thing, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at Sanchez's four touchdowns and discuss what the Buckeyes might do to prevent the same from happening.

Stanley Havili Gets Things Going for the Trojans

Trailing 3-0, the Trojans leaned on Joe McKnight and Mark Sanchez to quickly move the ball to the Ohio State 35. On first down, Sanchez lines up with RoJo wide to his right, McKnight as the single back behind him and fullback Stanley Havili at H-back.

Havili lines up as the H-back

As Havili releases off the line, Freeman tries to chip him.

Freeman attempts to chip Havili

Havili utilizes his speed to avoid the chip and by the time he's five yards into his route, there is separation from Freeman.

Havili separates from Freeman

Once Havili crosses the 20, there is plenty of room for which Sanchez to throw. He obliges and Havili snares the ball with his fingertips.

Havili makes a fingertip catch

Jenkins is unable to get to Havili before his momentum carries him into the endzone.

Havili's momentum carries him into the endzone

With so many weapons on offense, it might have been easy for OSU to overlook Havili last season. Though you can bet he'll be recognized anytime he's on the field this weekend, the play he scored on last year isn't an easy one to defend. The Trojans run so much out of that formation, that you have to respect that threat with your personnel. Odds are, a linebacker will be forced to play Havili unless USC is in an obvious passing down, but part of what makes Petey such a good coach is that he doesn't run this play on 3rd and long (witness the 1st and 10 scenario in which Havili scored). Perhaps Rolle can cover Havili here a little tighter than Freeman (who was battling injuries) was able to do last season. Maybe even Hines, depending on the package. Whatever happens, if Spitler finds himself on Havili one on one for this route, we're in big trouble.

Damn You, Tight End

After a Buckeye three and out, the Trojans marched down the field again before facing a 2nd and 1 from the OSU one yard line. Coming out in a two tight end set, Stafon Johnson is the deep back with Havili at fullback. Blake Ayles is the tight end to the left side of the USC formation.

Blake Ayles is lined up at left tight end

Sanchez fakes a handoff to Havili while Johnson flares out to the left. Ayles blocks temporarily before releasing.

Ayles releases

After pulling out of the fake, Sanchez looks up to find Ayles has slipped by the safety Anderson Russell who bit on the fake to Havili.

Anderson Russell bites on the fake

By the time the ball is in the air, Russell is stumbling to get turned around and Ayles has a yard cushion.

Russell stumbles

The end result.

Too easy

This is another play that scares the hell out of me. Not so much because the Trojans execute it well (they do), but more so because the Buckeyes seem to be extremely susceptible to play actions and short seams to the tight end. LSU used something similar though with a bit more trickery involved. Given USC's rushing prowess, you have to respect the run (and by proxy the fake) here, so OSU would most likely either have a linebacker or safety on the tight end. Further complicating matters is the fact that Ayles is 6-5, so a Rolle matchup might not exactly be favorable down near the goal line. I'm somewhat comforted by the fact that Barkley shouldn't have Sanchez's poise quite yet.

Williams the First

Holding on to a 21-3 lead, USC was forced to punt on their opening possession of the second half. No problem, they downed it at the OSU five. After taking a 3rd down sack, Trapasso got off his worst punt of the season, going for only 31 yards to the Buckeye 36. Facing a 3rd and 10 from the Buckeye 24, Sanchez comes out in a shotgun with four wide receivers.

Sanchez with four wide

All four receivers release up the field and the tight end runs a seam. The Buckeyes rush two down linemen plus Heyward off the edge. Gibson drops into short zone coverage.

All receivers release vertically

Damian Williams runs a post, splitting Laurinaitis and Chekwa in the zone. Sanchez delivers another perfect ball.

Splitting the zone 101

It looks as if Russell has an angle on the play.

Russell's bad angle

But that was just an optical illusion.

Another six

Heading into Saturday's matchup, you'd obviously like to see a little bit more man out of the Buckeyes when backed up in their own end. USC has several talented receivers, but it's not like any of them are burners of the like the Buckeyes haven't seen over the past two or three years. Further, Williams is only listed as 6-1, so he shouldn't pose too many matchup problems outside of his crisp routes. It was a great pass and catch, but the play should have been stopped around the five.

Williams the Second

USC's final touchdown of the night came off a 1st and 10 from the Ohio State 17 yard line. They're out in a single back with Stafon Johnson in the backfield, Havili at H, Patrick Turner at X and Damian Williams at the Z spot. The Buckeyes are in their base 4-3 with Freeman package with Freeman lining up on the left edge.

Base 4-3 with Freeman lining up on the left edge

Homan, Laurinaitis and Freeman all blitz and the Buckeyes get good pressure on Sanchez.

Bringing seven, the Buckeyes get pressure

Sanchez gets the ball off and his pass is to a wide open Williams in the left corner of the endzone. Chekwa, the nearest defender, is seven yards away. But how?

Williams is wide open

The play called for outside receiver Turner to come in and pick Williams' defender.

The routes, diagramed

As you can see, it worked. While technically it's an illegal play, if done in a way so as to make it appear more pattern than pick, it's easy to get away with it. This is where the combination of talented and smart comes into play.

The pick

Chekwa should have recognized what was going on and switched on the play. It's not that much different than basketball, really. It appears as if he was maybe paying a little too much attention to what was going on in the backfield instead of scanning the receivers. If nothing else, you can bet the staff has the scout team executing picks all week and having seen this play quite a few times already, I'm guessing the players read it better Saturday evening.

Conclusion

The Buckeye secondary was torched in the Coliseum last season. Whether it be from a missed switch or assignment, a beautifully drawn-up h-back wheel route or a well-timed pick, it wasn't pretty. The bad news is all three of the Trojans that caught Sanchez touchdowns are still on the team and while they're extremely talented athletes, none of them pose a sever matchup problem on the face of it. The Trojan offensive line is probably the best unit on an obscenely talented squad and getting pressure won't be easy, but if Barkley is given time to throw, we could very well be in for a similar result.

If the Buckeyes can get pressure on Sanchez Barkley and if they learned from last September's game, then things could break Ohio State's way. Unfortunate Vick quotes or not, OSU has one of the more talented players in the nation touching the ball on every snap. Some combination of solid pressure, coverage and an offense that eats clock could be enough to keep the potent USC offense away from the endzone -- or at least as away from the endzone as can be reasonably expected.

Bonus: USC's Opening Possession

On the first play of the game, USC comes out in a single back formation with two wideouts split to the wide side of the field, while Ohio State is in their base 4-3. CJ Gable is the tailback and goes in motion to the left side emptying the backfield. Feeling the defensive pressure out a bit, Sanchez takes a three step drop and makes a bad throw to Damian Williams (the Z) on a slant against the Buckeye zone for an incompletion.

The opening offensive play of the game for USC

On 2nd and 10 from their own 39, USC comes out in another single back formation with receivers split to either side of the ball. This time McKnight is the back and Ronald Johnson goes in motion left to right, pre-snap. The handoff goes to McKnight with a fake carried out to Johnson on the reverse. Jenkins fills and makes an excellent open field tackle on McKnight limiting him to a one yard gain. Helluva play, really.

The second offensive play of the game for USC

On 3rd and 9, the Trojans come out with three bunched to the right and one wide left with McKnight in the backfield next to Sanchez in the shotgun. Ohio State is in their nickel package with Hines in at STAR. McKnight goes in motion to the right to join the bunch. When the ball is snapped, McKnight and two other receivers clear out while RoJo runs up the line setting up a screen. Sanchez's throw hits guard Zack Heberer in the head and falls incomplete.

The third offensive play of the game for USC
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