When thinking back to the Miami run that began in the mid-1980s and flourished through the early part of this decade, defense was the foundation of success. Drill down even further and one would find the defensive line as the engine of the machine that demoralized teams and wrecked the gameplans of opposing offenses, no matter how well conceived.
In recent years, pressure and production from the line been a critical missing element. Last season saw the Hurricanes notch only 24 sacks with a meager nine of those coming in the last six games. To rectify the problem, coach Randy Shannon hired Rick Petri from Kentucky where he had spent the last five years. It was a homecoming of sorts as Petri guided the Canes defensive line during some of the most prolific years and was responsible for the development of great players like Warren Sapp and Kenard Lang. And, so far, it seems like old times for the coach. In their first game against Florida A&M, Miami racked up 8 sacks with a shade under four of them coming from defensive end, Olivier Vernon.
The reason, according to Vernon:
Perhaps more than anything this praise magnifies a shift in thinking from the players. They seem to believe in a new philosophy and message from a trusted source who has produced before and, quite frankly, the early returns are impressive no matter the competition. Naturally, they'll be looking to carry on the production in Ohio Stadium. It’s for this reason, I think how our offensive line handles their front four will be one of the two keys to our success.
When watching video of Miami both this year and last, I see a team who will use speed and power to get pressure but also confusion. The confusion part comes by way of running twists, where a lineman will rotate behind and around one of this teammates and work through a different gap than the one he lined over. The technique isn’t new but it sometimes can be particularly difficult for the offensive line to handle because, even if the line cognitively recongnizes what’s happening, they may get caught up in the wash of players, allowing a defender to rush free.
There are four clips that illustrate this technique all with varying degrees of success. Two of the clips come from Miami’s game against Wake Forest last year while the other two are from this past weekend’s games. Miami will run their twists using both defensive tackles and ends and each is pretty evident on these short videos (these videos are all different despite the placeholder image being the same on some):
You’ll notice the first involves a twist from the left DT which results in a throw away.
The second clip shows DE Allen Bailey running as short twist inside and he manages to flush the QB despite two of his colleagues finding themselves on their back in short order.
We see the left DT, #92 Josh Holmes run a twist and the nearside DE Vernon stunt in to allow for it. Both players get penetration and a sack results.
On this final clip, we see Holmes again run another twist but the offensive line picks it up pretty well. A sack is still the net result as the left tackle gets walked back five yards by #97 DT Adewale Ojomo
The quickest thing to disrupt the best of offensive gameplans is an aggressive and sound defensive line. How the offensive line prepares and reacts will determine how well our offensive gameplan can be carried out. In fact, it may be the most important factor as Pryor has shown some nerves in the early parts of games. One only needs to look back to his USC game where he threw the early interception and in the opening drive of the Rose Bowl where a routine interception was dropped by the Duck linebacker. The Ohio State line must be in command of the line calls, sound in their assignments and fully aware of the twist and blitz pickups.
Totally switching gears, my other key to watch this week is how the defense handles Miami’s short passing game. The Hurricanes have a varied attacked led by a quarterback who has a beautiful throwing motion and deceptively strong arm despite his wiry frame. Miami uses, with some degree of frequency, plays which involve underneath routes to either a running back or shallow crossing receiver - the kind of plays that gave Ohio State some fits against Marshall.
Although I was not able to watch the entire Miami/FAMU game, the online clips quickly show how Miami likes to use these underneath routes to move the chains and thensome. The first clip I start with comes early in the game on a 1st and 10.
WR Aldarius Johnson runs a shallow crossing pattern while the defensive backs bail in zone. The result is a pitch and catch that could not be more routine as Miami picks up an easy first down.
One this play, the running back feigns as if he’s going to chip but rather slips out of the backfield, makes a quick cut and gets going diagonally against the defense. The linebacker trails the play the entire time as Damien Berry outraces everyone to the endzone.
It’s not unreasonable to think they’ll be trying the very same things against us. This makes linebacker play paramount. The typically sure tackling of Homan and Rolle should be on display. It also fits well into what Tyler Moeller can bring to the table as an x-factor in our defense at the Star spot. But, discipline will be key and our defenders will need to mindful of players cutting off routes to run underneath.
Like any game, fans can come up with a plethora of things that are important to victory. Ideas like getting the tight end involved, running power like Wisconsin or using Pryor’s feet are all good thoughts but the ones above are the main ones I feel will be most important. On both keys, Ohio State is well eqipped to handle each one as neither should come as surprises. Executing will be the determining factor. What are your keys?