Defensively Speaking: Bent But Not Broken

The Buckeye defense had a very “bend but don’t break” feel to it against Rutgers on Saturday. Rutgers had more success gashing the Ohio State defense than any other team Ohio State has played this season, but Ohio State still made Rutgers work for every last point they scored. Given how infrequently Rutgers threw the ball on Saturday, this article will be focused solely on the Buckeye run defense.

Generally speaking, Ohio State did well against the run on Saturday. Below, Rutgers runs Zone Cab, but Mike Hall beats the Center, which closes the A-gap, and gets ahold of the running back before Jack Sawyer gets there to clean things up:

In the next clips, Rutgers runs Duo to a 3-man surface, and Josh Proctor does a great job keying the tight end and quickly filling the B-gap from his field safety position:

And below, Rutgers runs Q-Zone Lead (Zone Lead with the quarterback as the ball-carrier), but Sonny Styles does a great job filling the C-gap and stopping the quarterback for a short gain. I was especially impressed with this play by Styles because Ohio State’s pre-snap alignment coupled with the post-snap movement of Jordan Hancock indicated that Tampa-2 was the coverage call, and Ohio State has had some struggles against the run while in Tampa-2 this season:

Jim Knowles also repeatedly called for blitzes that sent either the boundary safety or the field safety through one of the B-gaps. Below, Rutgers runs Duo, and Knowles’ call to send the boundary safety through the B-gap works to perfection:

Despite generally playing the run well, Ohio State had a few too many instances where they gave up chunk gains on the ground. They had problems defending Rutgers’ “Pop Out” play at times, which is a play that looks like Zone Read even though it is actually a designed quarterback keep with the running back as a lead blocker – Ohio State has ran this play in their “Devin Brown package” this season. See an example of Rutgers having success with it below:

Ohio State also struggled defending Split Zone at times, such as below where the backside C-gap was wide open for a cutback lane:

And here is another example of the defense struggling against Split Zone:

Rutgers was also able to build off of this later in the game by running Zone Bluff, which resulted in a big gain for the quarterback because there was no one there for him after Sawyer crashed down to tackle the dive:

Going into this game, I was a little nervous about how Ohio State would handle their first test against a quarterback who’s a threat in the run game. As we all saw, the defense struggled with it at times. However, I was a little more disappointed by the number of times the defense was gashed by basic run schemes such as Split Zone.

Regardless, I’d still say the defense played well, especially given the injuries. Also, once again, the defense routinely stepped up when it mattered most – in the red zone and in short-yardage situations.

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