Cover-2 Perfection

By Keith on November 17, 2010 at 10:11p

In the midst of Devon Torrence’s forgetful first half against Penn State, I wondered if he was one of those guys wtih a short memory. To that point in the game, he was the target off choice for the Nittany Lions as they zeroed in our Cover-3 weakness and exploited it repeatedly with outs, slants and comebacks. The near breaking point is when they got Torrence over top to Graham Zug just as Torrence was beginning to lean on the underneath stuff. The result was a mugging at the 4 yardline that drew a pass interference and eventually led to Penn State’s second touchdown.

If Ohio State was to have any chance, they had to change up their defense and hope Devon could think no more of the first two quarters. It’s not that Cover-3 is bad but it certainly wasn’t working for Ohio State. It forced Torrence to turn and bail quickly on each route because his requirement was for that entire third of the field, deep to short. It’s a tough assignment because the corner can’t get too aggressive for fear of letting a defender behind him.

As Chris mentioned in his Five Things piece, the staff 86'd the Cover-3 at halftime in favor of its relative, Cover-2. This tweak in the defense allowed Torrence to be more aggressive and challenge shorter patterns, while still providing necessary run support. In the simplest terms, the corner has short to outside responsibility while the safety has hash to sideline coverage. It can be a great scheme against teams who try to beat you with a thousand papercuts and there was one play in particular that stood out from the rest, executed by none other than Mr. Torrence.

To the screenshots we go.

Facing a 2nd and 9 at OSU's 37 yardline, Penn State lined up in three receiver, offset I formation look. One can easily see below typical Cover 2 alignment with the standard two deep safeties and the corners pressing up a bit on the outside receivers. 

At the snap, Torrence gets a good bump on the wide receiver as Ohrian Johnson in the background begins to set into his hash to sideline zone. The Penn State wide receiver gains inside leverage and then moves upfield at which time Torrence hands him off the Johnson. Torrence sunk enough with the receiver to cover his keys then properly let him go because Penn State threatened the short corner with the fullback out of the backfield. You can see the fullback just coming into view on the right side.  

Just as Torrence peels off the wide receiver, Penn State QB with excessive moxie has just unloaded his throw to a fullback who is turning to look for the ball. In theory, this is a decent play design against Cover-2. Flood the zone two receivers and play the odds the corner doesn't handle the threat perfectly. Perhaps the design calls for 4-6 yard pick up and maybe more if the fullback can bounce off a tackle and head up field. 


Instead, Torrence played his keys perfectly, handed off the wide receiver expeditiously and broke on the fullback so well he almost over ran the pass causing the initial hot potato act. You really cannot play it any better. The resulting touchdown put Ohio State back on top and continued the avalanche of points - all thanks to a guy Penn State wanted to exploit for four quarters. Thankfully we have a staff competent with adjustments and a corner quick to forget past failures.

Interestingly enough, the story about Cover-2 doesn't end here. While we see it almost every week, we'll get a heavy dose ourselves as we head to Iowa. The Hawkeyes love to play 'two-high' safety Cover-2. They'll junk up the defense and show other various looks as well but against the Cover-2, we'll now be in a position to take advantage of it's weakness, something that Penn State couldn't do.   How we do this remains to be seen but today Terrelle Pryor called the Iowa offensive plan his favorite of the year.  Hopefully that means production in the way of touchdowns and not waiting for perfect plays and points from your defense (although we'll take that, too).


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Roger's picture

Our cover 3 looks work much better with a guy like moeller playing strong side since the outside backer and star are usually tasked with 90 to sideline coverage responsibilities depending on the call/down/distance. 

Switching more frequently between cover 3/cover 2/ rolled coverages with a corner playing up flat and a safety switching to cover his third is a good way to confuse QB's and force turnovers. 

Johnny Ginter's picture

i think when they moved chekwa to safety and howard to CB in the second half, that was probably the better group (that was available) to be out there in a cover 3 from a speed perspective. but yeah, stuff like this is why the loss of moeller and bryant was so huge. if you're going to have a star you have to have a guy who is good in coverage and sometimes our safeties just get straight up fooled

Roger's picture

True, true. I'm really annoyed that I missed this game. I was playing a concert in Vancouver and had friends texting me updates during sound check, needless to say when we were losing I was NOT having a good day. Fortunately I was informed of the comeback before the curtains opened, made the whole evening much better!

gravey's picture

wow...the lead singer of Pink Floyd is also a Buckeye fan!  And to think you weren't even with the band when I saw you in the 'shoe!  I've got tix for your show in LA.  Gilmour must have told you how great the crowd was in Ohio..and...instant fan.  Welcome aboard mate!

Colin's picture this a joke?

gravey's picture

if it's not, the jokes on me.

Roger's picture

I am nowhere near as famous as Roger Waters. I am a musician who loves me some Buckeye football though!

Run_Fido_Run's picture

The switch to cover 2 was an excellent adjustment, but the DL also played much better in the 2H, too. In the first half, against the cover 3, which is designed to be tough against the run, PSU ran for 72 yards - nothing special, but productive. In the 2H, against the ostensibly less run-oriented cover 2, they ran for only 41 more yards (113 total rush yards in the game) and for only 5 more yards after the 6:33 point of the 3Q, when the game was still 17-14 (can you say JT HT azz chewing?). Also, a couple of times in the 2H, McGloin tried to hit the soft spot of the cover 2, medium-to-deep middle, and misfired against good coverage, but I also think the DL was starting to generate enough pressure to make those plays unworkable.

Obviously, the DL will need to be big against Iowa. As Roger suggested (above), maybe they Buckeyes switch up between cover 2 & 3, but if they telegraph the cover 2 and fail to get pressure . . . well, Stanzi throws a great deep ball, they have receivers who gave the Buckeyes fits last year, and a pretty good TE down the seam. Then, it would be imperative that the DL gets lots of pressure. Or, they could start out emphasizing the safer cover 3, but there's the risk that Iowa will follow the 1H PSU blueprint. If the DL is dominating, though, they'll be getting in lanes, batting down balls, etc., and Iowa won't be able to do that effectively.  

Thing is, Iowa's OL and run game are not that good this year. If the Buckeyes DL really steps up like we've been waiting for, they could be really disruptive against Iowa's passing game, regardless of coverages. Also, you could argue that McNutt and DJK are not dink & dunk receivers, that Stanzi is still prone to making boneheaded plays on the same type of stuff that McGloin ate alive in the 1H but butchered in the 2H, and that Iowa's offense has not been consistent/patient enough lately to follow through on 10 play drives a la 1H PSU. But we sure can count on that. The DL better bring it, just in case.             

Keith's picture

Excellent points and agree.  Having some kind of pressure from the defensive line is important otherwise any decent QB and set of WRs will find openings. 

I also agree about floating around from Cover-2 to Cover-3.  We'll likely do that just do give Stanzi different looks while other times coverage will be dictated by the offense.  We may see Cover-1 and Cover-0 if we are forced into it.

Should be a fun game to watch. 

Kasino Royale's picture

Those pictures also point to a weakness at our safety spot as well. Look at OJ in the third picture. He is flatfooted (with bad alignment to boot) at the 48 yard line, completely unaware of the ball it appears, while all the other bucks are reacting to the pass. The other safety (Gant?) is already breaking to the ball but OJ has no ball awereness and is locked onto his wr. Hopefully he'll be a little more comfortable reading offenses the more reps he gets.

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

That was by far, the best and most electrifying play of the season. Surpassing Heyward's interception of Ja-Foury Harris in the redzone. I watched the game again last night and I still got chills seeing the play. Hearing the crowd ERRUPT as he was bobbling the ball in his break was AWESOMEST. And I will never forget Mustyturdbergler yelling "OOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHH...That's gonna be a pick-6!!" Also. The play would have been a bazillion times better if Nate Willaims would have laid Holdin' McGroin the eff out blocking for Torrence. But it wasn't needed.

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama