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).