A (mostly) strong effort by the Hoosier defense against the run and the pass, and incredible hustle by Mr. Newton. It’s the Week 5 Film Study, Defense edition.
Aside from the absence of the suspended Darius Latham, there weren’t any major changes to the defensive personnel between Weeks 4 and 5. The trend of somewhat limited substitution continued, as Ralph Green, Adarius Rayner, Nick Mangieri, Zack Shaw, Rashard Fant, Andre Brown, Chase Dutra, and Jordan Crawford all played at least two-thirds of the defensive snaps. The three-man rotation of Oliver, Simmons and Scales at the two inside linebacker spots continued, as did the three-man split among Newton, Fletcher and Walker at SLB. One other note: true freshman corner Tyler Green made his first non-special teams appearance, if only for a couple plays in the 3rd quarter.
My concern last week was how the defense would replace Darius Latham. Against Ohio State, the answer was Big Ralph Green and lots of him. Green took over the DT spot, aligned head-up on the guard or in the gap between the guard and tackle to the boundary side. Adarius Rayner handled the other DT/NT spot, lined up in the 1 gap between the center and field-side guard. Nate Hoff rotated in for Rayner, and Rayner slid over to Green’s spot when Green was out.
I’ll talk later about an alignment change for the passing/nickel package, but there were also some personnel changes to IU’s passing situation group. First, Robert McCray manned the nose in place of Latham. Rather than using Greg Gooch at Bandit, IU kept Zeke Walker in the game at SLB. Mangieri and Shaw continued to man the DE spots, with Scales and Oliver at ILB. Jameel Cook was once again the 5th defensive back.
Stopping Most Of The Runs
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: aside from x number of plays, the defense actually played pretty well. This week, against the run, x = 3 long TD runs by Zeke Elliott. As the chart below shows, OSU found very little running room outside of those three runs:
Elliott’s runs accounted for 195 of those 237 yards from the tackle and in on the left side. On runs in every direction except inside-tackle left, the Buckeyes were limited to 35 yards on 17 carries.[ref] These numbers include those touch-pass jet sweeps that are technically passes, but are tactically runs, and exclude scrambles.[/ref] On 11 outside runs, Ohio State picked up only 12 yards.
Those numbers provide solid evidence of IU’s game plan against the run: take away the jet sweep and any other form of outside run and make Ohio State beat them between the tackles. The Hoosiers showed this emphasis on the very first play from scrimmage, when corner Rashard Fant – lined up just outside the tight end because there were trips to the boundary side and no receivers to the field – jumped on a jet sweep and stopped it for a big loss.
On OSU’s second drive, IU’s inside linebackers showed another key component of stopping an Urban Meyer power-spread offense. On runs between the tackles, Urban Meyer’s teams frequently use lead blockers, in the form of tight ends, H-backs or pulling linemen. The goal is to outnumber the defense and create an extra gap on the playside. To stop such plays, IU’s playside ‘backer must take on the lead blocker in the hole, and the backside ‘backer must fill to take on the ballcarrier. On a quarterback draw on 3rd and 2, Tegray Scales and TJ Simmons showed us how it’s done:
Scales, the play side ILB in this situation, met the pulling guard at the line of scrimmage and held his ground, and Simmons came from the back side and greeted Cardale Jones rather rudely.[ref] Seriously, if you don’t love that clip, I don’t think football’s your thing. I’ve heard Pinterest is a good site.[/ref]
And that’s pretty much how it went the entire 1st half – a half in which the vaunted Bucks were held to only 14 yards rushing. Unfortunately, ol’ Urby didn’t become the best coach in college football[ref] Or second to Saban. I’m not going to argue with you.[/ref] without making adjustments in-game. Sure enough, Urby & Co. recognized IU’s focus on stopping the outside run and dialed up a play to take advantage of it. The play itself was a slight variation on the classic Power O that we saw IU struggle with most recently against Rutgers in 2014. The variation was that OSU faked a jet sweep to the same side as the Power O in order to draw out the force player and the playside defensive end, creating a crease inside of that defensive end. Take a look at the first example:
Because of OSU’s formation, trips to boundary side, IU shifted its linebackers such that the WLB (Scales) was well outside the hash to the boundary side, TJ Simmons was playing in the normal WLB position and SLB Clyde Newton was lined up where the MLB would normally play. At the snap, OSU’s playside tackle and guard blocked down on Nate Hoff and the tackle also took out Newton, who, probably because he was playing out of his normal position, was slow to react to the pulling backside guard. The playside defensive end, true freshman Jacob Robinson, jumped all over the jet sweep fake, as did field corner Rashard Fant, and both were easily taken out of the play by the H-Back. The pulling guard helped out on Newton. The huge gap created by the over-pursuit to the jet sweep left Elliott plenty of room to bounce to the outside. He did just that, easily moving around true freshman safety Jonathan Crawford, who was IU’s last hope to stop the play for less than a big gain. Chase Dutra’s hustle on the play was admirable, but if you go back and watch him from the snap, his initial angle was less than his best.
The play design of Elliott’s next TD was very similar. Once again, OSU faked a jet sweep to the same side as the Power O. This time, though, because it was a 4th and 1, IU was aligned more advantageously, with Marcus Oliver, TJ Simmons, and Chase Dutra in the box. This time, the H-Back couldn’t create quite as much space because Dutra attacked the line of scrimmage without going for the jet sweep fake. Likewise, Marcus Oliver read the play and attacked the pulling guard, actually meeting him behind the line of scrimmage. Everything was set up for TJ Simmons to do exactly what he did to Cardale Jones earlier. Except…
You might not be able to tell exactly what happened from that angle, but the end zone view on the ABC broadcast showed it clearly: Simmons flowed just a little past the gap between the pulling guard and the down-blocking tackle[ref] Most likely because he was concerned about Elliott hitting the hole on the other side, between the pulling guard and the tight end[/ref], and Elliott blew past him with a vicious cut. I feel comfortable saying that Simmons gets Elliott on the ground there 8 out of 10 times, even if he only just gets a piece of him, and I’d wager Simmons would stop Elliott short of the first down a couple times out of 10. It just didn’t happen there. We can’t put all the blame on Simmons, however. Defenses have safeties for a reason. I have no idea what Jonathan Crawford was reading on the play, but based on where he shows up in the clip above, it looks like he didn’t move until after Elliott was already past Simmons. Less than ideal.
Finally, Elliott’s final TD was yet another Power O, this time without the jet sweep fake. Once again, Ohio State’s formation, trips to the boundary, led IU to have SLB Zeke Walker playing inside and Marcus Oliver pushed outside the hash, and once again, an SLB playing out of position struggled at the point of attack. Have a look:
The first thing I noticed was how quickly Ralph Green fired off the ball. He was doing it all game, and it usually made a positive impact. Not so much in this instance, however, as the double team by the playside guard and tackle pushed him back. Bandit Zack Shaw did a good job of not getting kicked out too far by the tight end. Simmons and Oliver seemed to have everything shut down to the playside. Things got a little weird when Ralph Green rolled off the double team and sort of backed into Elliott. This redirected Zeke to the backside without slowing him down, and also had the effect of throwing off the pursuit angles of Nick Mangieri and Jonathan Crawford, who both saw Elliott pop out where they didn’t expect him. Zeke Walker might have been there to help, but he was easily pushed out by the playside guard who bounced off the Green double-team at just the right time.
Keeping Everything In Front
Just as the first play from scrimmage provided a strong indication of IU’s focus against the run, the first time IU employed its nickel package showed IU’s emphasis against the pass. Unlike in previous games, where the nickel back, Jameel Cook, replaced the SLB and essentially played the SLB position[ref] Outside the hash to the field side, within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.[/ref], in this game, Cook lined up as a third safety. On passing downs, Cook, Dutra and Crawford were arranged in a horizontal line about 10 yards off the ball, spread across the middle three-quarters of the field. The corners on either side lined up about 8 yards off the line of scrimmage.
The benefit of this alignment is that if IU wanted to run a 3-deep zone, they were already pretty much in
it. And IU ran a bunch of 3-deep (Cover 3) zone against Ohio State.[ref] Although sometimes the “3” included one of the corners because one of the 3 safeties dropped down into a short zone, what’s known as a “robber.”[/ref] While IU sometimes runs a 3-deep, 2-under zone when it brings 6 blitzers, that only happened once on Saturday. In fact, I only counted 4 times (all in the 1st half), when Cardale Jones faced even a 5-man pressure. Usually, then, when Jones dropped back, IU rushed 4 and played a 3-deep, 4-under zone or something similar.
Here’s an example of the zone working to perfection, with ILB Tegray Scales undercutting a throw for the pick:
There were some man principles involved there, as you can see Zeke Walker shadowing the running back, but Scales – who probably also had some QB-run responsibilities as well – dropped into a short zone, read Jones’ eyes and made the pick.[ref] Incidentally, Jameel Cook should be happy that Zander led a scoring drive after the pick. But for Cook’s failure to block OSU receiver Dontre Wilson (and Wilson’s own hustle), Scales might have scored.[/ref]
These tactics indicate that IU’s game plan against Jones was to make him stand in the pocket and beat IU on short and intermediate routes, rather than blitzing him and possibly giving up deep passes against single coverage. Knorr’s defense wanted to keep everything in front, and for the most part, they did just that. Ohio State only got behind the defense once, the 23-yard TD to Michael Thomas in the 3rd quarter. Other than that, even the throws classified as “deep” in the passing chart were mostly plays where the Buckeye receiver found a hole between the deep and under zones.[ref] OSU’s longest pass play was 34 yards. In comparison to the passes IU’s given up in the first 4 games, I’d call that improvement.[/ref] Obviously, IU should probably clean that up going forward, but in terms of executing the game plan, I think they (mostly) accomplished what they set out to do.
On Jalin Marshall’s first fumble of the game, the obvious great play was Marcus Oliver’s strip. And it was a seriously good play, made by a guy with an extremely valuable knack for forcing fumbles. That being said, there was another incredible effort on that play, turned in by Clyde Newton. As you watch the play unfold, you’ll see #41 miss the sack against Jones on the OSU 40, but that won’t be the last you’ll see of him:
That’s right, Newton ended up with the ball after a scrum on the IU 7. After failing to make a play, Newton didn’t give up and instead ran 53 yards and battled for a loose ball. We’ve talked before about how fumble recoveries have an element of luck. While that’s undoubtedly true, I’d argue that effort like Newton displayed here can swing the odds in a team’s favor.
Check back on Friday for a look at the offense’s performance against Ohio State.