Film Study: Devin Smith's Game-Changing 80-Yard Touchdown Catch

By Kyle Jones on September 1, 2014 at 11:30a
Devin Smith's 80-yard touchdown catch changed the game for Ohio State.
52 Comments

Trailing Navy by 1 with 4:21 in the third quarter, the Ohio State Buckeyes and new quarterback J.T. Barrett had yet to truly test the Midshipmen secondary, instead opting for mostly quick passes and screens to that point.

Though the Buckeyes had moderate success running the ball, especially on the outside, the Navy defense had begun cheating up toward the line, nearly intercepting a screen pass at one point. Fans and announcers alike had begun wondering, 'when will the Buckeyes throw it deep?'

After seeing some success with the outside running game, mainly coming from jet sweeps and 'stretch' runs to Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, the Navy defenders had begun keying on this action in the backfield. Both safeties had lined up deep on every play, running a cover 4 scheme, but they had begun creeping up to help support the undersized Midshipmen defensive front at the first sign of a run.

In an effort to both take a deep shot, as well as keep the Navy defense from attacking the running game, the Buckeyes called a play-action pass with three vertical routes, a staple of Urban Meyer's offense in Columbus.

OSU 3-vertical PA pass

The Buckeyes had actually called this same concept on their first drive of the game, and saw Dontre Wilson perfectly split the two deep safeties. Unfortunately, Barrett's throw was off target and fell incomplete. The speed of the Ohio State receivers was apparent from the start, but with a freshman QB seeing his first game action in two years, the coaching staff appeared hesitant to let him uncork many deep balls.

So when offensive coordinator Tom Herman dialed the concept up again in the second half, it just so happened that Navy had called a zone blitz with both outside linebackers rushing the passer, changing the rules of their cover 4 scheme.

Navy eyes on run action

With the outside linebacker now rushing the passer and not dropping into coverage, the cornerback to that side becomes responsible for the flat when there is only one receiver, letting the safety cover the deep man. But since they had been looking to stop the run first all afternoon, the Midshipmen secondary was a beat late in recognizing the deep pass routes in play.

Devin Smith uncovered

As the cornerback lets Smith run right by, looing to pick up Ezekiel Elliott out of the backfield instead, Navy Safety Kwazel Bertrand (#17) doesn't recognize that Smith is now his responsibility until it's too late. After stepping up a few steps, thinking it's a run, he now must stop and turn to get depth when Devin Smith is already even with him. No safety in America is going to catch up to #9 in that instance. The next time Smith appears in the picture, he's ten yards in front of Bertrand.

Devin Smith deep ball
Devin Smith deep ball

At this point, Barrett simply needs to get the ball to Smith. As a young QB still clearly trying to build some confidence, Barrett throws the ball too flat, and actually under-throws Smith, nearly allowing Bertrand to catch up. Regardless of what certain TV commentators may have said at the time, I'm sure Tom Herman has already had some words with #16 about putting more air under the ball.

The important thing though was that when Herman finally dialed up the deep ball again, Smith's speed gave Barrett a wide open target. From that point on, the Buckeyes finally had momentum on their side, never surrendering the lead and pulling away for a 34-17 victory.

52 Comments

Comments

Killer nuts's picture

Looks like Dontre was just as open coming deep across the middle. Great play call with good enough execution

+11 HS
dubjayfootball90's picture

Nice pick up. Didn't notice that. He definitely had his options.

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

mfelten's picture

JT is no Braxton, that's for sure.  But in Braxton's freshman year he would have overthrown an open reciever like that and did regularly. This kid is going to be okay.

+15 HS
J.Mo's picture

Braxton's arm has come a long ways. I know what you're saying. 2011 TTUN could have been a W had Braxton hit a wide open Posey at the end of the 4th but he overthrew him.

+1 HS
cinserious's picture

This is true, but an underthrown ball is way more at risk of being picked off than an overthrown one. I hope J.T. has the arm strength to get it corrected this year.

Life's daily struggle is choosing between saying F--ck-it, or soldiering on with your responsibilities.  

+2 HS
smithwessonBuckeye's picture

Arm strength had nothing to do with that underthrown ball. When  receiver is open like that, it is better to underthrow than overthrow. It even happens on Sundays.

+4 HS
southbuc's picture

Qbs are taught to under throw the deep ball because the receiver has such an advantage 

+1 HS
zjhousley's picture

Wow, watch how fast Dontre gained on Smith and the DBs

+6 HS
dan_isaacs's picture

Yeah, that came up the /r/cfb thread.  Amazing acceleration.  Made up 5 yards on Smith.

Dan Isaacs

+1 HS
TheKid94's picture

Of course, Smith did just get out of breaking a tackle while Dontre was going untouched so that's really unfair to Smith.  But there's also no denying Dontre's freakish speed.

+3 HS
mabbuck's picture

I didn't notice Wilson until you pointed it out.  However, that is quite a hustle play on his part.  He was actually running to make a block on the guy coming from the left.  After he noticed he was not going to catch Devin, he let up and "airplaned" into the endzone.  Pretty awesome seeing a guy work that hard to get a block.

+5 HS
D-Day0043's picture

I wouldn't be surprised if Herman just tells Dontre to go run by everyone and we'll throw you the ball. He is going to be a star.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

+1 HS
buckeyedexter's picture

I was thinking the same thing, Dontre is 15 yards behind him when the catch is made, but only 5 when he crosses the end zone.  I'm assuming Devin slowed up maybe, jogged into the end zone once he knew he was out of reach.

steveoz49's picture

I love Devin's big play ability.  I would love to see him develop into a complete pass catcher.  The last 2 years he's had the drops on the simple passes.  But one thing is for certain, he's got all the ability and talent.  His one handed catch on opening day in the back of the endzone was one of the best I've ever seen.

+1 HS
Run_Fido_Run's picture

I though Devin looked really good on the first play of the game - the quick screen that went for 14 yards. He's also a very good blocker. We'll have to see if he's made progress in terms of all-around route running and instincts in games Barrett throws more than 15 passes and the Buckeyes get to run more than 65 plays.

Another facet that will be key with JT running the show is the ability/instincts of receivers to come back to the QB and make himself available on scramble plays. The OL was a mess in the 1H and JT had to get through first game jitters, but I anticipate that JT will be a better behind-the-line-of-scrimmage scrambler than is Braxton (although JT is nowhere near as dynamic running downfield). When these scramble plays happen, you gotta figure that guys like Michael Thomas, Corey Smith, maybe Jalin Marshall will shine in those type of improvisational "pure receiver" situations, but if Devin can make those types of plays, he will have truly arrived.      

+1 HS
Run_Fido_Run's picture

Excellent analysis, but the criticism in this post and elsewhere (e.g. in the CD) of Barrett's throw on this play is a bit off base. Was it a great throw? No, it's true that it was slightly flat and underthrown. 

On the other hand, Smith was wide open for what was going to be, at worst, a 40-yard completion and ending up being a TD despite the underthrow. Too often, it seems like QBs go for the perfect throw and end up overthrowing a wide open receiver. If you do a quick risk/reward analysis, you might argue that a coach should advise the QB to get the sure completion in these situations rather than trying to drop in a lower-percentage arc-of-beauty. It depends on how open the receiver is, the game situation, whether the QB is a witch (JT is not quite there yet), etc.

+7 HS
D-Day0043's picture

I agree. I have often heard quarterbacks say throwing to the guy that is wide open is the hardest throw to make because they over-think the throw. The fact that Barrett makes that throw is a testament to him.

Anyone remember Braxton's throw to Hauerman in the Orange Bowl, or lofting a bubble screen 5 feet over the receivers head against Buffalo?  That was coming from a guy with more than a few games under his belt.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

Balkestud's picture

Not to be a nit picking jerk here but it wasn't so much of a underthrow, it was that he was late throwing it. Comparing Brax overthrowing a receiver with JT's pass isn't fair because Brax has a much stronger arm. In that instance on Saturday it was impossible for JT to overthrow Devin simply because Devin was at top speed and JT doesn't have the cannon to do it. If JT throws the same pass a second or two earlier it hits Devin in stride and everyone is talking about his amazing deep accuracy. Once JT gets more comfortable he should be geting his throws out on time and then our offense can open up. Hopefully this happens sooner rather than later

It gets kind of rough in the back of my limousine,

 

 

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Fair enough, but I think you're talking about JT getting the ball out about 0.5 second earlier, not 1.5 or 2.0 seconds earlier.

Balkestud's picture

Fido, if he eliminates that needless last back step then that gives him the 2 seconds to be on the money. Again this comes with the confidence of a QB who is ready. Goff was great at this last year when I saw him in person

It gets kind of rough in the back of my limousine,

 

 

dubjayfootball90's picture

We have the speed. This play should give Barrett some confidence. We will be open on speed alone on many plays vs many teams. We also have good route runners. Like what was said before, J.T. just needs to distribute, and be himself. If he can do that, and continue to build confidence, we could have something special brewing. After this game, my confidence is higher in J.T.4

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

+2 HS
buckeyedude's picture

What happened to your icon, brah? You going 11W incognito?

 

 

+1 HS
dubjayfootball90's picture

I have no idea what it was doing that. Did that for a few days and now it is back. Beats the hell out of me...

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

Bamabucknut's picture

I think J.T. will end up being a better passer than  Miller. 15 of 18 isn't to shabby for his first game in 2 years.

Opposing teams crowded the box on Miller for a reason. It's one of the reasons Miller came back for his senior year.

+3 HS
bucks15's picture

I think J.T. already is a better passer than Miller.  Much prettier looking ball and has good touch.  

+1 HS
southbuc's picture

Doesn't have the zip on the ball to throw long outs regularly though. The one he threw to Thomas was pretty but took a month to get there 

+1 HS
ScarletGray43157's picture

I agree that it is possible that Barrett will be a very effective passer, which time will tell for sure. 

Braxton Miller is a run first, throw second QB.  This is a style that is more effective in the college game than in the pro game.  

In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land...

+1 HS
OSU_Football_is_Life's picture

That was a smart throw, didn't over throw, but still gave Devin a chance to do something once it was caught.  Ball traveled a little over 40 yds, and looked good the entire time.  Very excited about the young talent on this team.  I'm expecting big things for the next few years!  Go Bucks!!!!

A win over TTUN is one of the most important annual milestones I can think of!

HeuermanTheFireman's picture

I feel Devin is taken a little for granted. His ability to take the lid off the defense is extremely valuable. 

The person responsible for toes clearly wanted you to stub them.

+3 HS
CC's picture

Until proven otherwise I still think Devin is the biggest home-run threat we have of the WR group.  If you go all the way back to Wisconsin 2011 and the winning pass (which was not a hail mary as some suggest) he has been making big plays.  The play against MSU in 2012 was huge, this play broke the game open and the play in the first game last year was just awesome.

+1 HS
byoung114's picture

I feel more shots like this need to happen to open up the defense (Especially on 1st down). We definitely have the talent at WR for it to happen.

buckeyedude's picture

I don't think it was that bad of a pass. U have to give Barrett a little time to get his timing down pat. Patience. This kid's going to be good.

 

 

+1 HS
IH8UOFM's picture

I was about 10 deep when that play happened and just remember Verne going "whoa-oh-oh" and knowing something huge was about to happen. Thought it was an injury at first.

+1 HS
buckeyedude's picture

Navy was sniffing out the screens and it almost cost us. I was waiting for one deep ball. Just one. BOOM.

Maybe Navy's D thought Braxton was still at QB because they were cheating up the whole game.

 

 

CC's picture

We may already do this, but we should consider a fake screen similar to play action and then go deep on the same side as the corner/safety cheats.

+2 HS
TheKid94's picture

Saw that in the Okie St-FSU game Saturday night.  Great play call and the receiver ended up wide open nobody within 15 yards cause they bit on the fake.

+1 HS
osu407's picture

That will be particularly effective if we start running more screens per game which has been suggested as something we are likely to develop. 

Qujo's picture

We will miss Devin when he is gone. Opponents D has to account for him because of his speed. That opens up other receivers. Devin may not lead the team in receptions this year (maybe he will) but it is because of his threat for the deep ball that will allow others to prosper.

"Tough times don't last, tough people do" - Gregory Peck

+1 HS
mrspray's picture

Do I remember correctly that Devin Smith runs track at OSU as well? He's certainly no slouch at running quickly...

UpIrons's picture

OK I do recall the commentators saying that it was a "smartly underthrown" ball. I have no idea why that would be stated though and what you demonstrate here is that indeed it was just underthrown due to "Redshirt Freshman mistakes". I do not know quite as much about all the dynamics of deep balls and defensive strategies so can anyone explain why anyone would have said this was smartly underthrown at all or is it just the commentators are full of crap?

smithwessonBuckeye's picture

When a receiver is open that much, the QB under-throws the ball to guarantee the reception. That is why it was referred to "smartly underthrown." Under-throwing a ball when the receiver is covered is dangerous, under-throwing when the DB is beat by a few yards is not. Devin didn't have to slow up that much to make the catch which is why he still scored the TD. 

+1 HS
UpIrons's picture

Very good explanation. Thanks!

tosubuckeye's picture

I agree with the {HeuermanTheFireman) comment about Devin being "taken a little for granted". For whatever the reason it appears in the comments over the years that Devin has been seen as this guy that we have to replace. His freshman year, yes, a number of drops, His last 2 years he may have had a total of 3 drops. Rewind the film. We always want to anoint someone else, for whatever reason(?) Here's what this young man has brought to the Buckeyes, before and during: Senior year at Massillon (100 m dash state champion, Long jump state champion; District High Jump champion and record holder 7'; and while at OSU All-BIG High Jump 1st team 2014 - 7-0).

The fans have been disrespectful of this guy's talents. Like our own #2 as a Buckeye (Cris Carter) all Devin does is catch touchdowns. I truly believe that with a "throwing qb" (and J.T. appears to be that guy) Devin Smith will rise to the top with many many games of multiple catches. I also believe that come 2015 NFL Combine Devin and Doran will post crazy numbers that will drive their draft status through the roof. As I've posted before Devin will leave OSU 2nd on the all-time td receiver list. I don't think that's too shabby. In closing, this 6-1, 199 lb wr is both fast, strong, and explosive. We need to appreciate this guy's talents and be happy that he is a Buckeye.  GO BUCKS!!!!

tosubuckeye
 

TheKid94's picture

I have seen Devin play regularly since his years at Massillon, as well and I have to agree that with all the surrounding athletes like Dontre or Jalin or Braxton he doesn't get the credit he deserves as an athlete.  He's definitely shown improvement each year in terms of catching the ball consistently and he has great vertical speed.  The one thing I think he needs to improve on this year is his ability to distance himself from defenders while juking or changing directions.  As a track athlete, he's always had great speed when running in one direction (hence all the deep TD passes), but he's not the best on short routes, especially after he catches the ball.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure how much of that is a teachable/learnable thing.

Knarcisi's picture

First play of the game, he makes a cut outside on that bubble screen, he's gone there, too. 

tosubuckeye's picture

Thank you QUJO and CC. Spot on!!

tosubuckeye
 

Brutus1972's picture

I like him but until he proves he can display improved route running and show up vs top competition I am not sold. I am not impressed by running 30 GO routes a game. Physical defenses don't have to worry about keeping a safety over the top of him because they jam him at the line and delay his route until the defense can react to run vs pass. He has elite leaping ability and above average top end speed but his acceleration out of his breaks do not create enough separation for a RS Frosh QB. I hope he proves me wrong this year, we are going to need him.

Citrus's picture

Great piece, my lone disagreement is that first time this play was run Dontre alligator armed the toss, Barrett wasn't off target. Nit picked.
 

Montana silver bullet's picture

CC-  Do remember the Cal game last year?  Think it was our first drive and smooth jazz set the safety up with a wide receiver screen,  then the next play or so he faked the screen throw and launched down field to a completely wide open Smith for a TD

Montana Silver Bullet

+1 HS
Bucksfan70's picture

i guess he wears #9 for a reason eh?

“Today I will do what others won't, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can't.” - Jerry Rice

+1 HS
AlwayzABuckeye614's picture

Gosh Barrett looks JUST like Troy Smith with this particular release of the ball. Crazy.

RufusVonDufus's picture

I liked how Dontre sort of glided in behind Smith.    It was about time to stretch the Navy defense and JT and Smith sure did that.

Bucksnnuts