Skull Session: Ohio State's Big Play Prone Defense, Joe Burrow's Hot Start and Mike Leach's Clever Ruse

By Kevin Harrish on October 4, 2018 at 4:59 am
The defensive line boys are ready in today's skull session.

It's been a few days, but this is an incredible Tweet that did not get anywhere near enough love.


Word of the Day: Cavil.

 BREAK BUT DON'T BEND. That's the perfect description of Ohio State's defense so far this season.

On one hand, the defense is stout and dominant a solid 95 percent of the time. But the few times things go wrong, they go extremely wrong.

Ian Boyd of SBNation broke down why this is happening, and how Greg Schiano's aggressive man-to-man scheme is high risk and high reward, especially with a young, undisciplined team.

From Ian Boyd of

Ohio State’s given up 15 30-yard plays, with only 11 FBS teams allowing more. Three opponent rushes of 70 yards or more: worst in the country. The Buckeyes rank No. 127 in IsoPPP, Bill Connelly’s explosiveness stat, and No. 130 in marginal explosiveness on passing downs (second-and-medium, third/fourth-and-long).

It’s looking as though Ohio State has some major problems on defense, and whether or not a team like Michigan or Indiana can exploit them, potential Playoff opponents certainly can.


Urban Meyer has recruited nationally to build a roster loaded with NFL prospects and he’s giving them all a chance to shine individually in an aggressive, matchup oriented defense. However when the individuals lose, the team hasn’t been there to clean things up.

Ohio State is on a good trajectory to make the playoff, but their issues with boom-and-bust cycles playing aggressive man coverage could limit their ceiling below championship level.

This is a fantastic breakdown for the most part, but I do have a little beef:

  1. This breakdown focuses on TCU and Penn State – two extremely RPO-heavy teams. Ohio State kind of has to play a ton of man coverage against RPO-heavy teams to negate the advantage an RPO gives an offense. So it's hard to blame man coverage in those games.
  2. This scheme has its benefits, even if it is giving up occasional big plays currently. And I'd argue the benefits I mean, the defensive line has scored three touchdowns in five games, is top 10 in tackles for loss and No. 2 in the country in total sacks. You don't get that otherwise.
  3. Ohio State has already played the two best offenses on its schedule, of course its statistical profile is a disaster compared to other teams.

Still, Ohio State has to be more disciplined. But the good news is, the Bucks are 5-0 and there's time to work on things before facing another top-25 team.

 MIKE LEACH DUPES TEXAS. Mike Leach is one of those dudes who I appreciate from a distance. I think everything about him is absolutely incredible, but I'm not so sure I'd feel the same way if I had to deal with it on a regular basis.

That said, only he could pull off the ruse he engineered during the 1999 Red River Shootout when he managed to plant a fake offensive script in the hands of the Texas defensive coordinators.

From Jake Trotter of

During pregame warm-ups of that year’s Red River Showdown, an underhanded script outlining OU’s opening offensive plays was spotted on the field by one of Texas’ student assistants, who scooped it up and took it to Longhorns defensive coordinator Carl Reese. To the heavily favored Longhorns, it seemed as if they’d caught an enormous break.

“We were trying to figure out if it was authentic,” Reese said. “We were in this state of, ‘Can we believe this?‘”

They shouldn’t have.

It was a fake, part of a plot hatched by Leach, the Sooners’ offensive coordinator, and consulted by the Longhorns, who quickly fell behind 17-0 before realizing they’d been duped.

The whole story is all kinds of incredible. For one, Leach put an extreme amount of effrt into this ploy. Not only were the plays on his fake script wrong, he'd developed his actual game script around how he expected the defense to react to his fake script.

And the results – at least for the first three drives, until Texas figured it out – were fantastic:

Even Tom Herman, who would later become the founder of MENSA, was duped, along with future Ohio State assistant Everett Withers.

"Back in the locker room, a few of the Texas coaches, including Reese, secondary coach Everett Withers and Tom Herman, just a grad assistant that season, passed around the script, attempting to determine what to make of it.

"It was one of those deals where we were like, 'No, this can't be real,'" said Withers, now head coach at Texas State. "But we all kind of thought it was.""

Something about Withers and Herman both falling for this ploy seems incredibly on brand, but I can't really explain how.

 JOE BURROW LOOKING LIKE A WINNER. Turning to Joe Burrow at LSU is proving to be a winning strategy. Facing their lowest preseason expectations in two decades, the Tigers turned to Burrow and are now 5-0 and have already beaten two top-10 teams.

Burrow is making the right kind of impression in Baton Rouge so far.

From Matt Hinton of Saturday Down South:

The first priority of all LSU quarterbacks is to do no harm, and Burrow has fulfilled that mission so far with zero interceptions in 131 attempts. (He has lost a pair of fumbles against Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss, although neither led to points.) Nationally, the only other Power 5 conference starter yet to throw a pick this year is Tua Tagovailoa, who has attempted significantly fewer passes.

And while Burrow’s output is thoroughly mediocre according to most conventional measures (see the next section), that’s at least partly due to the fact that two of his five outings so far have come against top-shelf defenses.

Adjusted for competition, he fares a lot better: In ESPN’s Total QBR metric, which takes the schedule into account, Burrow ranks 20th nationally; that’s good for third in the SEC, behind Tua and Drew Lock. Only Lock and Ole Miss’ Jordan Ta’amu are accounting for a higher individual share of their team’s total offense, and they’re both throwing the ball significantly more often in offenses that emphasize tempo and downfield passing. LSU is more spread-friendly these days than it has been in the past, but all in all remains one of the most run-oriented attacks in the conference. For a pocket-oriented quarterback in a scheme that still employs a fullback on a regular basis, that’s a significant number.

It’s also arguable that, in terms of his size, arm strength, and pocket savvy, Burrow already looks like LSU’s most NFL-ready prospect behind center since Zach Mettenberger, if not longer. In part, that’s because he’s quickly earned a reputation for affecting the game in ways that don’t necessarily show up on film or in the box score: After the season-opener, teammates applauded Burrow’s pre-snap intelligence, particularly on a key 4th-down audible that resulted in a 50-yard touchdown run by RB Nick Brossette (among others).

But it ain't over yet. Three of Burrow's next four starts are against ranked opponents, including No. 2 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama. If he comes out of that stretch unbeaten, or even with one loss, the Tiger folks should commission a statue.

 BEST DAMN ESPORTS IN THE LAND. Ohio State's general approach to things is that if it's worth doing, it's worth being the best. And it seems the university has decided that now applies to ESports.

From Alexis Shaw at Ohio State News:

The esports industry is growing quickly and The Ohio State University is leading in its development by forming the most comprehensive esports program to date. The campuswide collaboration brings together academics, collegiate competition and multidisciplinary research to give students as many opportunities as possible to be a part of the booming industry. 

“With Ohio State being a leader in engineering, academics, research and medicine, it seems a natural fit to pull all of these together to support the esports program,” said Deborah M. Grzybowski, co-director of the game studies and esports curriculum development and associate professor of practice in The Ohio State University Department of Engineering Education.

An interdisciplinary curriculum spanning five colleges will focus on game studies and esports is being developed at the core of this program. This curriculum will be one of the first of its kind in higher education, and will include undergraduate and graduate degrees; an elective course in esports content production; online certification programs for specialized credentials; and a gaming speaker series.

Hey, I'm down. As long as it's better than whatever Michigan's got.

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