Film Study: Darron Lee's Game-Changing Interception

By Kyle Jones on October 6, 2014 at 11:30 am
Darron Lee capped off a big day with his first career interception

The momentum had finally shifted.

After being down 24-3 to the Buckeyes midway through the second quarter, the Maryland offense put together their first real drive of the day, a 13-play, 75-yard drive that finished in the end zone and brought the score to 24-10. 

After quickly forcing an OSU punt on the ensuing possession, the Terps had the ball back with 1:12 remaining in the first half. Though they were pinned back at their own seven-yard line, things were looking up for Maryland.

Looking to build on their recent success, the Terrapin coaches called for an aggressive, down-field pass, sending both receivers on the left side of the formation on deep routes. They were likely expecting to get the Buckeye defensive backs in one-on-one coverage, especially after seeing them line up in their base, Cover 4 alignment with both safeties deep.

OSU Cover 4 Shell

Had the Buckeyes played Cover 4, this would have meant that cornerback Doran Grant (#12) would cover the outside receiver one-on-one, and safety Vonn Bell (#11) would take the inside receiver in the same manner.

But Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash had a trick up his sleeve, calling for a completely different coverage scheme, one his secondary had rarely shown thus far in 2014.

At the snap, Bell immediately takes off for the middle of the field, while the opposite safety, Tyvis Powell (#23) steps up to play a short, underneath zone next to the middle linebacker, signifying what's known as "Buzz" coverage.

Powell Buzz coverage

With the cornerback, Grant, dropping deep as well in what is known as a "Bail" technique, the Buckeyes have completely shifted their entire coverage scheme to a "Cover 3 Buzz" scheme, something Ash had shown while at the University of Arkansas.

OSU Cover 3 Buzz

The only difference between this scheme and the regular Cover 3 scheme that virtually every defense in America has in their playbook, is the placement of the strong safety, Tyvis Powell. 

Instead of covering the curl/flat area to the outside and letting the linebackers cover the middle of the field, Powell flips responsibility with Josh Perry (#37), and now reads the middle of the field. This adjustment is a very common one for teams that often line up with two deep safeties like the Buckeyes, and is often used in the NFL.

But a cover 3 scheme is by no means complex, and should still be quickly recognized by any decent quarterback at the collegiate level. It appears that Maryland QB C.J. Brown does just that, knowing that he has two receivers to the left against only one deep defender, the cornerback Grant.

With Grant playing the deep third, the outside Maryland receiver, Marcus Leak (#82) properly adjust his route to the "Bail" coverage, and runs a very deep curl route instead of simply continuing straight downfield.

The real adjustment that duped Brown and the Terps though was the subtle wrinkle given to defensive end Steve Miller (#88). Although OSU linebacker Darron Lee is responsible for the curl/flat area to Brown's left, Miller doesn't come on a pass rush, and instead picks up running back Brandon Ross (#45) as he tries to run a route to that flat area.

Miller picks up the RB in the flats

Miller's adjustment was likely that of a "spy" that teams often employ against quarterbacks that are a threat to run. If the back had stayed in to block, Miller likely would have rushed the QB like the rest of his line-mates. But one of the weak spots to a Cover 3 zone when compared to other schemes is the lack of underneath pass defenders, so Miller's "spy" work neutralizes any effort the Terps may have taken to attack one side of the defense.

To counter Miller's lack of pass rush though, the rest of the Buckeye defensive line adjusted, all slanting to the quarterback's right side. The two defensive tackles, Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington, both deal with double teams, but that gives Joey Bosa a one-on-one pass rush against the right tackle, a matchup that clearly favors Ohio State.

Without having to cover the short, outside zone, Lee drops much deeper in his zone than any quarterback would expect from the curl/flat defender in a Cover 3 scheme. Brown can feel Bosa coming on the pass rush to his right, and has to step up and throw quickly. 

Brown looks for Leak, who should be sitting in a nice, open window between Lee and Grant. Instead, Lee dropped much deeper than Brown expects, and is in perfect position to make a play on the ball.

The Buckeyes would take over on the 1-yard line, and would score on the very next play. By extending the lead to three touchdowns, the Buckeyes had taken all the wind out of Maryland's sails as both teams went into halftime, and the Terps would never get that close again.

Though head coach Urban Meyer would say after the game that the Buckeyes are still not playing "championship-level defense," calling for adjustments like these shows that the coaching staff is beginning to have faith in their young secondary.

The starters in the OSU defense were able to contain the Maryland passing game, and it was a backup safety, Cam Burrows, that gave up the only big gain of the day through the air. The Terp offense isn't a great measuring stick, but by containing a group of receivers that have serious big-play potential and making some highlights of their own, the OSU pass defense may have turned a corner in College Park.

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