Ohio State v. Florida A&M: Defensive Breakdown (and a bit of a Wisconsin preview)

By Ross Fulton on September 26, 2013 at 1:00p

As with the offense, the Ohio State defense used the Florida A & M game as an extended practice session. For the defense, the goal was clear – work its man coverage looks.

The Buckeyes succeeded in their mission, shutting out the Rattlers. Even though the competition was poor it was still a good building block for a young defense that withered some criticism following the Cal game.   

The man coverage work likely had a bigger purpose, however. The Buckeyes' ability to use man coverage looks will be critical against Wisconsin's pro-style, run heavy attack, allowing Ohio State to bring strong safety CJ Barnett down against the run. 

Below I look at the Buckeye game plan and how the defensive coaching staff may prepare for Wisconsin.

Puttin' in some work

The Ohio State defense came out with one mission against Florida A & M, and that was to play extensive amounts of man coverage. The Buckeyes based from a 4-2-5 cover 1 nickel look, with Free Safety Christian Bryant playing in the deep middle.

The Ohio State Cover 1

In so doing, the Ohio State coaching staff provided their linebackers an automatic blitz check if the back they were responsible for stayed in to block.

On third downs the Buckeyes at times deployed a coverage they are using in increasing amounts – cover 2, man under, also known as cover 5. Cover 5 permits a defense to aggressively play underneath routes while still having deep help.

Luke Fickell and Everett Withers have likely turned to cover 5 as a change-up. On third down the Buckeyes are apt to play cover 2 or cover 3. While both coverages often take away deep throws, they can be vulnerable to quick hitting screens. For instance, Cal's 41 yard tunnel screen for a touchdown came on third and seven. Cover 5 allows the Buckeyes to mix in a look that aggressively attacks such plays while still having the deep safety help. Cover 5 is weak against the running game, including a quarterback scrambling, but that is less of an issue on third and long when the opponent lacks a running quarterback. 

practice with a purpose

The Buckeyes did not run man coverage variations merely to demonstrate they were up to the challenge. Rather, it helped prepare the Buckeyes for their upcoming matchup with Wisconsin. 

Under new Head Coach Gary Andersen, the Badgers may have altered their defensive scheme but the offense largely resembles previous Badger squads. The Wisconsin offensive coaches still want to line up and run the football downhill with power, inside zone and outside zone. The Badgers top offensive play makers are their two tailbacks Melvin Gordon and James White. Both are smaller, athletic types who are most dangerous when they break contain.   

Wisconsin looks for creative ways to get Gordon the football. For instance, they will line up unbalanced with Gordon as the weak side flanker. The Badgers fake inside zone towards White, giving to Gordon running jet sweep towards the unbalanced side.

The Badger coaching staff would prefer to not rely exclusively upon their passing offense. Jared Abbrederis is a dangerous wide receiver but quarterback Joel Stave is relatively inexperienced. The Badgers ideally seek to throw the football off play action in favorable down and distance.

Look for Wisconsin to try and play their preferred style against Ohio State. Last season the Badger had some success against the Buckeyes using unbalanced formations to run the football and throw play action.

Enter cover 1. Arizona State slowed down the Badgers' base run game by bringing an eight defender in the box and then using corner and nickel blitzes to hem Gordon inside the tackle box.  Look for the Buckeyes to employ a similar game plan. There is less concern using man coverage against Wisconsin because Stave is not a significant run threat. It should also allow the Buckeyes to adjust to unbalanced formations.  

Moreover, the use of cover 1 allows the Buckeyes to disguise their coverage. As Andersen noted this week, the Buckeyes have shifted towards employing cover 3 this season. Both cover 1 and cover 3 utilize free safety Bryant in the middle of the field with strong safety Barnett coming up in strong side force support. Both coverages bring an eighth defender in the box and look similar pre-snap.

This in large part was the Buckeyes' defensive game plan last season. The Buckeyes utilized quarter-quarter-half coverage when they wanted boundary force support from Roby, and cover 1 when they wanted force support from Barnett. The Buckeyes also employed automatic blitz checks for the linebackers, just as they did against Florida A & M.

The critical battle for the Buckeye defense, however, is controlling the line of scrimmage with their interior defenders. Ohio State will benefit from Adolphus Washington's return, but Wisconsin will surely test the Buckeyes' rebuilt defensive front. If the Badgers can run the football they can take the air out of the ball and keep the Buckeye offense off the field. Conversely, if the Buckeyes win enough battles up front they can force Wisconsin out of their comfort zone and force them to find creative ways to get Gordon the football.  


Comments Show All Comments

ejoceans's picture


Lets do this Brutus

cajunbuckeye's picture

I O !

An angry fan...rooting for an angry team...led by angry coaches

45buckshot's picture

Great stuff. Thanks Ross :)
why was Roby underneath on that play? Was it just an under thrown ball? Or did he release his man and come over? I can't see the whole field... It looks like he let his man run by him expecting the safety help to pick him up, and was just there to catch the under thrown ball. Do you think it was the pressure that caused the QB to throw off his back foot resulting in a short throw?

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
—G.K. Chesterton

Ross Fulton's picture

It's a good question. It's a hard coverage to diagnose given the tight frame, but Powell is certainly playing man from the slot. In my opinion Roby was playing tight man knowing that he had help over the top and jumped the route.

Space Coyote's picture

Looks to me - and you may be referencing this when you say "jumped the route" - but it looks to me that the WR was running either a slugo or a post-corner type route. Knowing that he had safety help over the top, he probably jumped that, fell into a trail position, and then looked back when the receiver looked back.
FWIW, the QB is also extremely late on his throw, so my guess is the WR looked back early, giving Roby time to read and see the throw develop.
Sure would be nice if the B1G did was the SEC does and allowed fans to see all-22 footage though. Coverage is hard enough to read even when you can see it, let alone when you have to make assumptions based on a snippet of it.

breakdownsports.blogspot.com - A B1G Football X's and O's site. @SpaceCoyoteBDS

Space Coyote's picture

I think I watched the first couple drives with OSU's defense and they may have left cover 1 once, maybe. In my opinion, it was more in line of just keeping things vanilla rather than prepping for Wisconsin, as the offenses are very different. However, I do very much agree that OSU will be in cover 1 the majority of the time against Wisconsin. OSU's athletes can match up well enough with Wisconsin on the outside that they shouldn't need the help of zones. Meanwhile, you want LB's eyes in the backfield to help support the run as much as you can.
Don't want to get in trouble, but that "creative way" that Wisconsin is using two RBs is something I described in a post on another OSU blog. Again, don't want to get in trouble as I don't know the feelings between blogs and if that's something that's allowed, but they ran quite a few looks with White doing the jet motion, and out of several different formations as well.
By the way, I always really like this feature here. You do a good job finding things to breakdown week to week.

breakdownsports.blogspot.com - A B1G Football X's and O's site. @SpaceCoyoteBDS

Jdadams01's picture

I LOVE watching defenders go all out on blocking during an interception return.

oregonianbuckeye's picture

Thanks again, Ross. I always learn a ton from these articles. Keep up the good work!

KeithByarsRightFoot's picture

One thought/request for you on these wonderful breakdowns. Is there a way to have the animated GIFs play at half speed? I think that would really help illustrate the points you are making.

Space Coyote's picture

I know Brian at MGoBlog does slow motion youtube videos and they do help a lot. Agree that it would really help the posts, especially when looking at run game stuff.

breakdownsports.blogspot.com - A B1G Football X's and O's site. @SpaceCoyoteBDS

NorthernOhioBuckeye's picture

Watching that .gif of the Wisky offense, it is hillarious how bad the AzSt def is. When White goes in motion, the corner comes down and the safety on that side deepens and adjusts closer to the middle of the field, as they should. On the snap, the backside of the def plays the power run to that side, but the playside tackle runs right by the running back coming right at him. The backside safety that adjusted towards the middle of the field starts dropping into a deep third without ANYONE threatening that zone. Then he completely turns and runs away from the play until he is completely out of the picture. Both LB's sell out on the run fake completely ignoring the jet sweep by White. 

I was worried about this coming game based on what I have heard about how good the AzSt. def was supposed to be. However after seeing this gif, I can see why Wisky was able to run on them the way they did. It makes me feel a little better now about the ability of Bucks Def to slow the Badgers down.

Ross Fulton's picture

I actually thought ASU was able to keep Wisconsin's base run game largely in check. Wisconsin was able to hit some big plays, such as the one shown above.

buckguyfan1's picture

Carter needs to come to play Saturday night.  D-Line must to stay on assignment and the LBs should have a fun night!

45OH4IO's picture

I'm a little worried with the automatic LB blitz check. I can see a play where they delay the RB release, but the LB misses it. Stave throws a weak duck out into the flat but no one's home and White or whoever is off to the races.
Keep your eyes locked on those RBs. Watch for misdirection trying to get those backs out in the flat one on one. When that happens, the Bucks are one missed tackle away from giving up a big play. And I saw enough missed tackles in the Cal game...

d5k's picture

But if they are on a check-release the blitzing is essentially forcing them to stay in to block most of the time or your QB gets murdered.

Seattle Linga's picture

Nice comments - if we grab a lead early and make them throw the ball it could get ugly.

hetuck's picture

As a change up, I'd like to see OSU use a 5th defensive lineman. Old school 5-2. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi