About That Secondary...

By poguemahone on December 7, 2010 at 2:00p

Much of the post-bowl announcement chatter surrounding the Ohio State-Arkansas match-up has followed the usual media narratives: can Ohio State get the SEC monkey off its back? Can Bobby Petrino join Nick Saban as the second coach to win a BCS bowl at two different schools? Will Ryan Mallett solidify his status as a top-15 pick with a good performance against the Buckeyes? Ohio State fans' primary concern, aside from stopping the postseason slide vs. the SEC, is the play of the secondary. As Alex wrote a week ago when talking about the emergence of Travis Howard: 

[A]n injury and talent depleted secondary has been the weakness of the 2010 Silver Bullets. Wisconsin aside, the formula to move the ball on the OSU defense this year has been by attacking them through the air...

It's true: the secondary hasn't been anything special this year. Though Howard is developing nicely, nobody in the starting four of Jermale Hines, Chimdi Chekwa, Devon Torrence and Orhian Johnson has approached the playmaking, game-changing ability of predecessors like Kurt Coleman and Malcolm Jenkins. It's not necessarily fair to compare this group to such recent Buckeye legends, but the expectations are there. The fact remains that what little success opposing offenses have had against Ohio State has mostly come through the air (I say "mostly" because, as we all now, Wisconsin mauled the Ohio State front seven in Madison). For two quarters, Penn State was able to pick on Devon Torrence with consistent success in building a 14-3 lead, mostly on the arm of a walk-on sophomore QB. Against Wisconsin, Chimdi Chekwa was victimized on a critical third down pass to prolong Wisconsin's game-clinching drive that put the Badgers up 28-18 with under five minutes remaining. Michigan, Iowa and even Minnesota experienced at least some success moving the ball through the air for anywhere from a quarter to a half.

And yet, the kids are alright: Ohio State is fourth in the country in pass defense, as well as pass efficiency defense, tied for tenth in interceptions. They're also letting opposing QBs complete just 54 percent of their passes.  As a unit, they're marginally better in pass yards per game allowed and pass efficiency defense than the 2009 unit. Where they haven't held up is in interceptions, where they have only 18 compared to last year's 24. But that's more or less nitpicking: this is a unit 110 out of 120 FBS teams would kill to have.

So clearly, it's not all doom and gloom, and for all their mistakes, they do a lot of things right. Still, they'll have to do just about everything right if they want to limit an Arkansas offense that finished 3rd in the nation in passing. Arkansas has put up some very impressive statistics through the air: they have five receivers with 500 or more yards receiving (though one, Greg Childs, is out for the season and won't play) and 34 touchdowns on the season. Ryan Mallett is third in the nation in pass efficiency, behind only Cam Newton and Kellen Moore. From the look of things, this aerial attack is every bit as potent and explosive as Oregon's ground attack was coming into the Rose Bowl last season.

The last time Ohio State faced an aerial attack this powerful was in 2008, when Colt McCoy and the Longhorns' 7th-ranked passing offense squared off against the Ohio State defense in the Fiesta Bowl. The Longhorns boasted two 1,000 yard receivers in Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley, as well as two other capable targets who had notched 400+ on the season. It certainly seemed like a mismatch in favor of the 'Horns against an Ohio State secondary that  ranked just 25th in the country in passing defense, and 13th in pass efficiency defense. The unit had already been toasted by USC and Mark Sanchez for four touchdowns, and Buckeye fans, for the first time in a long time, were unenthused about the prospects of the Buckeye D holding up to the very same Texas offense that outgunned record-setting Oklahoma just a couple months earlier.

However, McCoy was shaky for much of the night in Glendale, finishing with 414 yards that came on a whopping 58 attempts. The Buckeyes made him work for every yard: the Longhorn QB was held to his lowest yards/attempt on the season, earning him his lowest efficiency rating on the season as well. The result was a 21-17 Buckeye lead late in a game where really no one had given them a chance against a Texas team out to prove it belonged in the national title game. The Buckeyes achieved this late lead by disrupting Texas' "horizontal offense" with form tackling short of the first down marker. It was little more than the classic "bend-but-don't-break" approach (which helps explains McCoy's final yardage total), and had Anderson Russell made that fateful tackle on Texas' game-winning touchdown, we'd have been hailing Heacock's genius. But he didn't, and Texas won, so we forgot about a relatively solid performance by a seemingly-overmatched Buckeye secondary that had underperformed for much of the year. 

It'll be hard to replicate that performance in New Orleans, but not impossible. The biggest difference between that Texas team and this Arkansas team is that Arkansas has a definitive #1 tailback in Knile Davis, who has been coming on strong in these last few games. Shredding Mississippi and UTEP is nothing to write home about, but South Carolina and Mississippi State are legit top-20 rush defenses, while LSU is a relatively legit top-40. So while the focus of the defense should be limiting Mallett and the passing attack, the key to the game might actually be the play of Ohio State's front seven and their ability to make the Hogs one dimensional by taking away Knile Davis. In 2008, they were able to completely remove the Texas rushing game from the equation, forcing Texas to pass and making the 'Horns one-dimensional. If the defensive line and linebackers can wrap up Davis for short gains and consistently get to Mallett, the (unfairly?) maligned Buckeye secondary will be able to breathe much easier.


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Buckeye Black's picture

I must have missed it when Greg Childs got hurt.

DotThei's picture

We can tell ourselves the secondary kids will be alright, but the fact is we haven't faced anything close to this kind of passing acumen since that Texas game. The Big Ten has been down in terms of QB play for a few years, and Arkansas passing offense will do some damage. We have a high national ranking against the pass, in part, because we haven't played any skill passers.

I think the thing that is NOT getting media attention is how similar OSU's offense is to Auburn's in many ways. And look what they did to the Razorbacks; they freaking steamrolled them. And, I think it will largely be on the Buckeye offense to get this win in January, as Arkansas will score on us.

In our games it's usally first one to 20 wins. This one feels like first one to 30 or 35.

Go Bucks.


Poe McKnoe's picture

how similar OSU's offense is to Auburn's in many ways.


Because they have Cameron Newton and we have Terrelle Pryor and they can both run if necessary?  I'm not saying one is better than the other, but they're opposite sides of the spectrum.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I wouldn't say that the BT is down in terms of QB play. Statistically, at least, 2010 BT QBs stack up very well against 2010 SEC QBs. It's just that Ohio State's defense avoided two of the better BT QBs (Persa and Cousins) and another one (Pryor) is on their team. 

Still, if we're going to discount the Buckeyes' pass defense numbers due to them facing statistically mediocre pass offenses, we'd have to do the same with Ark's passing offense, which faced an even weaker crop of pass defenses (statistically). Certainly, Ark has a formidable passing attack, but Ohio State's pass defense is unfairly maligned, especially when you consider the lack of pressure generated by Heyward and co.  

Obviously, raw stats can be misleading, but that becomes a bigger concern if you believe that 2010 SEC is much stronger than 2010 BT - I don't, although I do give the SEC a slight edge overall. 

poguemahone's picture

It should be noted that Mallett hasn't impressed against the few top-20 passing defenses he has come across, either, with 7/5 TD/INT ratio. Of course, neither has TP against the better defenses he's played. As mediocre as Arkansas' run defense may be, it's going to stack the box with more guys than the Buckeyes can block, and if TP can't make them pay for it, Ohio State isn't going to win. They've already stifled some pretty good ground attacks in LSU and South Carolina.

btalbert25's picture

Agreed, and I really expect to see a much improved Pryor again.  I don't know that he can match the improvement from the end of last season to the bowl, but if he does, there will be no stopping this offense.

asclifton's picture

The key will be if the Hogs can stop the A-line option, which they haven't been able to do yet.  Although it is a risk, the Arkansas defense should force OSU to ride Pryor's arm.  The LB corps is solid and there are some very good DBs, but overall my beloved Hawg's D has not been very strong.  I think if we can contain Pryor and make him throw from the pocket, our chances improve.

Nappy's picture

Ask Oregon how that worked out

I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face

btalbert25's picture

I'm just going to reserve judgement on how many points it's going to take to win.  Last year it was said Ohio State wouldn't be able to score enough to beat Oregon, and well we know how that went.  This season EVERYONE said Michigan was going to put up a fair amount of points on any defense, they were just that good, again, we saw how that went.  It could be it'll take 30 points to win, but I don't think it's possible to say, we have to have this many points because they are going to score this many.  If Boom gets room to run in this game, and clock gets eaten up, it likely won't take 30 to win.   That said, I think they'll score over 30 on this Arkansas defense.

iball's picture

To me it doesn't matter where any team is ranked in the country in any category. The fact is everyone plays 4 or 5 punching bags to run the stats up on.

Our problem doesn't lie on whether our secondary can stop Mallet, hell, thats not the matchup. Do I think our DB's can cover ARK's WR's, yes. The battle will be can our d-line finally get the qb pressure we've been waitng for since the clock struck zero in Pasadena last January.

After the whole "OSU can't stop the spread" died down, it seemed as though we struggled with more traditional pro-style offenses. That's where I believe we stand today. 

Mallet has a big arm and a quick release and Petrino knows how to coach QB's. This is wher I feel we are in trouble.

Our only chance to win lies on the legs of the chosen one.

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I'm still hailing the genius of Heacock (and Fickell). I might hold Checkwa and Torrence in higher regard than some Buckeye fans and, in general, I believe that this defense has a lot of talent. Nevertheless, I'm still amazed at the job the coaches have done this year - with all the injuries, growing pains, and despite the DL being solid, but not as dominant as expected/hoped. What if I had told you before the year started that the Bucks would get only 19 sacks in 338 pass attempts? 

It's frustrating to watch the defensive scheme sometimes, but it works. Others have pointed out: How many long passes have been completed against this defense? The few exceptions always seem to be 6'4 guys like Marqueis Gray, when size trumps scheme. How many long runs?

In the Wisconsin game, they simply got manhandled by a great OL. The only way to avoid something like that is either A). to be absolutely stacked with veteran studs on the DL, which are a rare, precious commodity; B). create an old school, burly defense that can shut down Wisconsin, but gives up 40+ points to Denard Robinson, etc.     

Heacock/Fickell realize that they cannot take the same approaches with Ark/Mallett, expecting them to make the same mistakes as other offenses. They will need to hit Mallett in the mouth early and often. The coaches will have them ready to do that, but the DLmen need to beat the guys in front of them, blitzers need to take good angles to the QB, etc.     

btalbert25's picture

I wasn't sure why everyone thought the D line was going to be better this year than last.  The quality of the players who left last year was very good.  Gibson, Worthington, Rose, Wilson, Denlinger, those guys were all really good players.  To be sure, Cam, Williams, and Simon are great D linemen and while maybe they haven't piled up the sacks, this is still a very good D-Line, but I for the life of me coudln't understand at the beginning of the year how anyone thought the team would lose that much talent and especially experience, and actually be a better line.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

That's a good point. I thought (or hoped) the DL would make up for the loss of experience & depth by getting huge years out of the starters, especially Heyward, and/or that a few of the young pups would really step forward this year. We saw that somewhat with Hankins.

Still, it's not like the DL is chopped liver. They've been very solid against the run, except against Wisc, and they've made some plays at crucial times (esp. against Miami, Iowa, 2nd half of the PSU game).   

The DL will need to be downright vicious against Ark, though.

btalbert25's picture

I think Cam has not met the expectations that some thought he would this year, but Williams looked Great, Simon and Hankins were very good as well.  I think the future is very bright at D-line, especially if Williams stays, but it's really hard to lose that much experience and be as successful or more successful.  I also think that perhaps Thad was much more important than everyone realized.  If he stayed for another season, the D-Line may have been better than last year.  Losing the seniors wouldn't have hurt as much then. 

Hankins, Simon, and Williams will be nasty next year though.  There will be some quality depth that has a little experience too.  Not to mention a couple big recruits coming in that could make a splash. 

SilverBullet33's picture

How can someone pick on Torrence in that PSU game, when the obvious flaw was not Devon's play, but the coverage we were in.  Come out the second half playing Cover 2 instead of Cover 3 (which requires DBs to defend a deep 3rd) and suddenly he gets a pick 6.  So maybe before just saying this guy got picked apart or that guy, try to understand WHY those things happen.  As someone stated....you know what helps DBs "look" good?  A DL that gets pressure.  Ours has been underwhelming to say the least, at least relative to our expectations.  All thses things combined with CRITICAL injuries make things not so black and white.  Come on man...

Another Jason's picture

How have teams had more success against us through the air than on the ground exactly?

Aside from the obvious fact that you tend to gain more yards passing than running, nothing else points to this being the way to attack us.  We have given up more rushing TDs (9) than passing (7) and have more games where opponents were held to no passing TDs (7) than no rushing TDs (5).

As you pointed out, Wisconsin was the team that was the most run-heavy.  They also happen to be the only team to beat us.  They also had the best yards-per-pass but the least attempts, suggesting that the more a team throws against us, the less success they have doing it.

poguemahone's picture

Because, outside of Wisconsin and to a lesser extent Michigan, opposing rushing attacks have gotten squashed by Ohio State: half the teams on the schedule were held to less than three yards per carry, and only Miami averaged more than four YPC (and if you take away one 54 yard carry, they too barely averaged over two yards).

Meanwhile, Tolzien averaged a whopping 9.5 yards per attempt, Minnesota threw for 162 yards on just 9 completions, and Penn State's walk-on sophomore QB had his way with the Buckeye secondary for two full quarters.  Ricky Stanzi went 20/31 and didn't even come close to throwing a pick.

Perhaps it's closer than I framed it, but I just feel that any offense that moves the ball on Ohio State will have to do it consistently through the air.

Another Jason's picture

Then why didn't Wisconsin have to do it that way?  162 yards is 162 yards, regardless of how few completions it took to get there.  The performance against all other teams (including some more pass-oriented) suggests that average would have gone down if they had continued to pass.  But they didn't have to.  

They beat us on the ground, and no one else beat us.  How could the blueprint for success be anything other than what actually worked?

poguemahone's picture

Because I'm not convinced Wisconsin isn't an isolated instance. Some teams have bad nights. The 2009 defense got ripped by a terrible Purdue offense for 26 points, then promptly held Oregon to 17 in the bowl game. The same year, Navy had its way with the Buckeye front, but no other offense could replicate that success on the ground the rest of that year, and that was with a significant talent deficit.

If Arkansas is going to beat Ohio State, I don't think it's going to do it by rolling them over the way Wisconsin did. Their offense doesn't quite have the personnel on the line or in the backfield to replicate that success.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I agree.

Ark seems to have a nice OL, and their LT is a first rounder, but Wisc.'s OL might be the best in the country. Moreover, the respective depth charts probably under values the size differential between Wisc's and Ark's OLs. Ark has good size up front, but Wisc has some freakin' monsters. It's one thing to have big fat guys with poor technique (Ohio State handles those just fine, including Wisc's less advanced 2009 version), but Wisc has big fat very powerful (mostly) veterans with excellent technique.

I expect Ark's OL has very good technique in executing their spread offense, but I don't see them manhandling the Buckeye front-7 like the Badgers did. Ark is fully capable of beating the Buckeye defense in other ways, just not that way.  

Another Jason's picture

Of course Wisconsin is an isolated instance, it's our only loss.

You're mischaracterizing the Purdue loss last year.  Of those 26 points, 12 came from field goals, 2 of which were from around 50 yards out.  One TD immediately followed a pick.  We actually had a better yards-per-pass average and the rushing statistics were nearly identical.  I also don't consider 77 days "prompt."

Navy runs a unique offense that the Buckeyes were ill-prepared for.  I don't see how that's relevant to Purdue or Oregon.

I will agree that they are a better passing team than we have faced this year (by pure statistics, Indiana is the closest; we won, worst passer rating of the year for Hoosiers).  Of course, we are also a better pass defense than they have faced (Alabama is closest; Arkansas lost, had 3 picks and their second-worst passer rating of the year).

I think the problem is that you are trying to find a way to explain how Arkansas WILL beat us, not "how can we be beaten?" followed by "can Arkansas do that?"  Statistics suggest that Arkansas will not be successful running the ball against us.  They also show that teams who don't run well against us don't pass well against us either (unless they are behind by 30 points).

I think the desire to force objectivity and squelch over-confidence has blinded people to the fact that Arkansas doesn't really match up that well against us.

rider1's picture

How do you make a passing team one dimensional? Deploy 6 DB's? And is Arkansas' offense that pass heavy?

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Force them into obvious passing situations, by shutting down their run game cold (say 2 yds per carry), getting some tackles for losses, forcing them into penalties. Ohio State also has linebackers and DBs who are really fast and tackle well in space, which should help against the draw plays and screens. That's what they'll need to do to make Ark "one dimensional." 

asclifton's picture

Arkansas is not a pound-it-out running team, but they are by no means one dimensional.  The running attack is almost as explosive as the passing attack.  I kind of hope OSU worries about the passing game so much they play a dime as their base defense.  A steady diet of Davis, Green and Wingo would play well.  Our motto should be, "if we can't pound you with a Mallett, we'll cut you with a Knile."  :)>  WPS!

blazers34's picture

ruh roh.  sound like Darrell Johnson Koulianas is in deep shit

poguemahone's picture

I find it funny that one of the charges is "keeping a drug house." If you go and read the actual statute, it's simply "keeping a 'premises'" where people can come over and use drugs

Not to excuse DJK's misdeeds, but that describes like 75% of the houses on our own campus. Or any college campus, really.

ERIC OSU's picture

I know 75% of college houses are not packing coke and prescipts though... Those are the things that are going to completely kill him.. what was he thinking so close to reaching the NFL???

poguemahone's picture

Definitely not. As for what he was thinking, I don't think he was. A thinking person cannot possibly make a mistake of this magnitude.

TLB's picture

Key to the game will be touchdowns instead of field goals.  Defense will be fine.

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

I don't think it really matters. We just cannot beat an SEC team in the post-season. Its just one of those unexplainable things. Not being a douche or a doom and gloomer, just saying...they are our cryptonite. Just like Texas is Nebraska's.

"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