Defensively Speaking: Opening Argument

Indiana decided to go with a gameplan that was largely centered around the Triple Option as well as other Read Options. As a result, we did not get much of a chance to see new wrinkles from Jim Knowles’ defense on Saturday. Regardless, the defense played quite well. Let’s take a deeper look at the defense’s performance in the 2023 opener.

Coverage-wise, Ohio State was no different than what we saw for the majority of last season – the three primary coverage calls were Cover 1-Rat, Cover 3-Buzz, and Tampa-2. Knowles’ go-to coverage was Cover 1-Rat (below):

In Cover 1-Rat, everyone is in man coverage except for one deep safety and one linebacker acting as the “rat” who is essentially acting as a spy in the low hole and looking to cut off any crossing receivers. In the above clip, the Mike LB (Tommy Eichenberg) was the rat and the Field Safety (Josh Proctor) was the deep safety. Everyone else was in man coverage.

In the next clip, Ohio State is again in Cover 1-Rat. This time, the #1 receiver (outside receiver) to the bottom of the screen runs a crossing route, and Eichenberg does a good job of picking him up:

Knowles also called for a fair amount of Cover 3-Buzz (below):

Note how to the boundary (bottom of the screen), the Boundary Safety (Lathan Ransom) becomes the hook defender while the Will LB (Steele Chambers) becomes the curl-flat defender.

Additionally, Knowles used Tampa-2 coverage quite a bit on passing downs in the second half:

In the above clip, the Mike LB (Eichenberg) serves as the “pole runner” in the high hole.

Lastly, as he’s done before, Knowles called for a drop-8 Cover 3 scheme at one point on Saturday:

Against the run, Ohio State was solid all day. As mentioned earlier, the defense spent a lot of time defending various Triple Options, as well as other Read Options, throughout the game. Outside of a couple plays, the defense showed good discipline and did their assignments correctly against the option throughout the day.

On Indiana’s first offensive snap of the day, for example, they ran a Pin-Pull Triple Option. J.T. Tuimoloau tackled the dive, Eichenberg and Proctor were there for the QB, and Sonny Styles was there for the pitch:

In the next clip, Indiana tries running a Zone Triple Option. However, again, Ohio State remains disciplined – Jack Sawyer tackles the dive, Styles is there for the QB, and Proctor is there for the pitch:

Ohio State was also strong against Indiana’s pure designed run plays. For example, you can see Ty Hamilton do a great job maintaining his gap and not allowing himself to get overtaken by the double team against Split Zone below, which lead to a stop for nearly no gain:

Indiana’s favorite non-option run play of the afternoon was Power, but they did not have much success with it. Below, you’ll see Mike Hall do a great job fighting over the Left Guard’s down block to make the stop against Power:

Given how rarely Indiana threw the ball, coupled with how many options they ran, Knowles did not call for many pressures. However, Knowles appears to have installed a new type of A-gap pressure that we did not see last season. On this particular pressure, the Mike LB will attack the Center and choose which A-gap to insert based on the Center’s first step. It is very similar to what Dave Aranda refers to as the “Mex” path (below):

If the Center steps away from the Mike, he will insert the near A-gap off the Center’s backside (below):

If the Center steps towards the Mike, the Mike will fight over the top of the Center and insert the opposite A-gap (below):

Knowles also called for stunts on the defensive line on a few occasions. In the following clips, you’ll see Knowles call for a Tex Stunt to the boundary (bottom of the screen), which worked perfectly to blow up the Quarterback Draw play Indiana called for:

While we did not see many new tweaks from Knowles on Saturday, I believe a lot of that can be attributed to Indiana’s option-heavy gameplan. Nonetheless, the defense had a great performance overall against both the run and the pass. It will be interesting to see if we start seeing new tweaks moving forward.

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