Defensive Plays to Know for the 2013 Buckeyes

By Ross Fulton on August 22, 2013 at 2:00p
Ross Fulton breaks down the offensive plays to know this season for Ohio State.Eleven Warriors 2013 Ohio State Football Preview

As with the offense, Luke Fickell and Everett Withers' defensive coaching staff must fit their defensive schemes with their personnel. Several schemes will be particularly important for the 2013 Buckeyes, as the staff will look to implement coverages to take advantage of Bradley Roby and the veteran safeties, along with mixing it up to create confusion for offensive lines facing a young, but talented Buckeye front.

I don't need a gun I've got a Donk

Facing primarily spread offenses, the Buckeye defense will rarely play their "base" 4-3 under, instead preferring nickel. But when Ohio State does face pro-style 21 personnel (2 WR, 2 RB, 1 TE) expect to see ample amounts of quarter-quarter-half coverage.

As the name indicates, one half of the defensive backfield will play quarters or cover 4 coverage, while the other half plays cover 2

The Buckeyes do this for one reason, namely Bradley Roby. The Ohio State coaching staff prefers to align their defensive strength to the wide side of the field. Doing so allows the defense to have greater numbers to cover open grass and easily adjust to motions and shifts.

Offenses sought to exploit that last fall, however, by running to the boundary. Enter quarter-quarter-half. Cover 2 is played to the boundary, while the boundary cornerback (Roby) is put in press coverage on the line of scrimmage. From this position, Roby is the defense's force player.

He is such a physical corner that he can maintain outside leverage and attack downhill, limiting an offense's ability to run boundary-side. The coverage provides the added bonus of letting Roby take away the underneath half of an opposing team's boundary passing game, allowing the Buckeye defense to roll its coverage to the field. 

Expect the Ohio State defense to often feature quarter-quarter-half against 21 personnel in first or second down. The other look the Buckeyes will feature in those circumstances is cover 1 man-coverage robber.

Match it up

In first and second down against spread offenses, meanwhile, the Buckeyes will often play cover 4. In cover 4, every defensive back is responsible for one quarter of the field. 

What looks like soft zone coverage is actually an aggressive scheme. Cover 4 utilizes zone pattern matching. This is the equivalent of matchup zone in basketball. Each pass defender will play man-to-man against a receiver within their zone. The difference with man coverage is that when a receiver leaves a defender's zone the defensive back or linebacker passes the receiver to their teammate, anticipating that another receiver is coming to their area. The key to this scheme is thus research and recognition. Defenders are taught pass patterns combinations to anticipate how the patterns will distribute throughout the coverage.

Cover 4 allows a defense to aggressively attack the run game. A limitation of true man coverage is that pass defenders must turn their back and follow receivers. Cover 4's pattern matching avoids this shortcoming. Cover 4 safeties watch the inside or number 2 receivers. If these receivers block, the safeties will come downhill to play run.

This is why the Buckeye defensive coaches like using cover 4 versus spread teams. The defense has sufficient defensive backs to defend deep in case an offense runs four vertical pass routes.  At the same time a defense can quickly apply nine defenders against the run game.


Cover 4's benefit is therefore its versatility to combat the variety offered by modern offenses. 

Bring It

The Ohio State defense's goal is put the offense in third and long. In that situation the offense is one-dimensional and the defense has options. 

To exploit those options the Buckeye defense often operates from an odd 30 front look. The coaching staff goes small, moving a defensive end to nose guard and bringing in two pass rushers at end. The defense has a stand-up viper, two linebackers and a star. 

This front's purpose is confusion. The defense can drop in an eight man zone coverage. But the defense can also employ a variety of zone blitzes. One Buckeye coaching staff favorite is the X zone blitz. The two inside linebackers cross and blitz the opposite A gap. The viper drops into coverage. This provides the defense five rushers and six pass defenders. The defense can therefore play a relatively safe cover 3 while simultaneously seeking to overload an offense's pass protection.

The Buckeye defense struggled last year while the coaching staff gained their play calling rhythm. The unit turned the corner once the staff embraced a single philosophy. Seek to use coverage schemes to support stopping the run in first and second down and then provide variety of looks in third and long to confuse opposing quarterbacks. This is the strategy the Buckeyes will likely double down on in 2013. 


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jdagrava.1's picture

OSU's defense has been labeled "bend-but-not-break" and it's hard to argue that moniker after all the points they gave up to Indiana and Nebraska and even to some of the non-conference opponents.
I feel like the current system can dominate only when there are superior athletes on the defensive side of the ball. (speed-related, in particular)  And even still, a quick toss, WR screen can beat it all day long (see Purdue, 2012).
Pay attention to the involvement of Heacock now that he's back on the Buckeye sidelines.  I feel like his influence in the schemes and play-calling can really push this team to another echelon of defensive supremacy.  He did it in the past, why not now?

"It takes a little something special to be a great player.  What you got in you, we're going to find out.  And if there's a touch of greatness in there, how cool would that be?"

-Urban F. Meyer

81Alum's picture

I'm really looking forward to seeing Heacock help out ... anticipating a lockdown defense with all the athletes on the roster.

NorthernOhioBuckeye's picture

I believe that there were 2 fundamental problems with the defense early in the season last year.

1.) The middle linebacker play was severely lacking. Grant and Klien were out of position for the most part. Grant from not understanding the role and Klien due to his lack of speed. Therefore, the rest of the defense was harmed trying to cover this up. This was finally solved with Z. Boren moving to the Defense. He was still learning early, but played with reckless abandon that made up for some of his lack of understanding. Grant could have done well to learn from this.

2.) The newly introduced coverage took a while to catch on in the back end. The cover 4 with the zone pattern matching took a while to learn. You could see it early with DB's constantly out of position once a zone became flooded with receivers. As the season progressed, you see the DB's catching on and reacting quicker as they didn't have to think as much. 

I believe that most of those issues will not be as prevalent this season as they now have a year of this under their belt. HOPEFULLY Grant has picked up on the defensive scheme to the extent that he can play faster not having to think so much. I believe the DB's reached that point later in the season last year.

yrro's picture

I think Ross had a good point with the coverage difficulties being the result of changing the force player. The coverage matters much less than one's general responsibilities within that coverage.

BigKat45's picture

Always like the technical stuff. Sometimes it's fun just to watch and enjoy, but when you have some of the innovators that the coaching staff does, it's great to be able to understand the X's and O's.

"Well-prepared players make plays. I have yet to be in a game where the most prepared team didn't win.” - Urban

Buckeye414's picture

I really enjoy these articles, and wish that there was a "hot" button I could access to get a list of all of them for reference.  I suppose we could link each as favorites, but what about new members of the site?  These types of articles set this site apart.  It might be pretty labor intensive for the team though.  

-Go Bucks!

Earle's picture

Just click on Ross' name under the title and it will take you to a page that lists everything he's written on the site.

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

Buckeye414's picture

BOOYAH.  excellent.

-Go Bucks!

hetuck's picture

Another advantage of Roby playing press coverage on the boundary is it is a good blitz disguise and a short distance to the QB. Couple that with his speed and you have a turnover maker. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

Maestro's picture

Was the Cam Heyward INT against Miami back in '10 on an X Zone blitz?  A great play regardless.

vacuuming sucks

Ross Fulton's picture

No I believe it was a play that is often referred to as "Raider."  Basic zone blitz where you bring an overload from one side and roll the backside DE into coverage. 

Maestro's picture

Whatever it was, it was glorious.  Thanks Ross.

vacuuming sucks

NYC Buckeye's picture

Ross help me understand something... in this quarter-quarter-half zone, this basically leaves the flat on the wide or "field" side open for the offense?  
Understand the zone will rolll that way, but it seems we struggled to make open field tackles against short screen passes (Cal/Purdue games)... isn't this formation begging for the offense to throw a quick screen pass to that side?  
You mention that this is primarily against 21 personnel, so is that just a risk the defense is willing to take against non spread offenses, which may not excel at throwing quick screens?  

Ross Fulton's picture

Good catch. Every coverage has strengths and weaknesses.  Flood routes to the strong side flat are a potential weakness for QQH.  The strong-side backer (or star) is responsible for the strong-side flat. The defensive theory is that any initial weakness is minimized by the number of bodies you have to that side--both your corner and safety can come up and make the tackle.

But it is a weakness. As you say, though, OSU tends to use QQH against pro-style teams in 1st down. So it somewhat reduces the concern.

Orlando Pancakes's picture

This is excellent info. I learn so much from these articles. Thank you very much Ross.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Great article Ross.  The defense will come together, just need some time for them to start gellin'. 

pjtobin's picture

Thank you Ross. Once again you have broke it down for us in such a way a child could understand. I am trying my best each time I read your work to retain it. I want to know what I'm seeing. I want to know what the coaches are doing.  Thank you so much for doing this for us. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

yrro's picture

Has 11W ever thought about doing a live stream of the crew watching the game? We could play it as an alternative to the horrible announcers of the week. Would love hearing Ross call out coverages before the snap on every play :)

vtbuckeye's picture

^This.  What a great idea if possible.  If the live stream wouldn't work maybe even a second live commenting window that would be strictly breaking down the coverage/play (the nitty gritty not the wow that was cool).  It could be run by Ross or anybody who has experience with coaching/breaking down film.