By the Numbers - Defense
Earlier this week, we got into some of the how's and why's of the struggles of the Ohio State offense, but after this game, most Buckeye fans came away with some concerns about the defense as well. Not only did the Rockets outgain Ohio State (333-300), but they also held the lead two different times, and came 16 yards away from winning the game in the fourth quarter before falling, 27-22.
The concern came from Ohio State's seeming inability to stop a screen pass, which Toledo seemed to run at will in this game. As I was watching the game live, I came away with a fair amount of concern as well, but after studying the game, I feel a lot better about the defense. While it was a little frustrating to watch the Rockets throw screen after screen at the defense, it does help to realize that where most teams use them to slow down a pass rush or to counter blitzes, for Toledo, their entire offense is based off of them.
I have to give credit to Toledo's coaching staff yet again. Their gameplan for attacking the Buckeyes maximized their strengths and minimized their weaknesses, all the while negating many of Ohio State's advantages. The Rockets had two pretty good receivers, though only Eric Page had a big day, and a decent running back who did the most he could with the screens out of the backfield. In the end, however, the Rockets didn't have a whole lot of offense outside of those screens. What did we learn about the defense in this game? We'll get into a lot more of that after we get through the stats.
One thing to note in the statistic section. When I call a defense "man to man", that will include all combination defenses, meaning the corners and linebackers are in man coverage with safeties playing 1 deep or 2 deep behind them. Ohio State very rarely plays pure man to man cover 0 (meaning no deep safety), so that section is essentially all combination defenses of some type.
70 Total plays--333 yards--4.8 yards per play
42 pass (60%)--21/42 for 292 yards 2 TD 1 INT
28 rush (40%) for 41 yards 1 TD--1.5 ypc
15 Defensive Possessions
Ave. of 4.7 plays--22.2 yards
Ave. Start--Toledo 32
1st Down--28 plays (40%) for 148 yards
14 pass (50%)--7/14 for 108 yards 1 TD
14 rush (50%) for 40 yards--2.9 ypc
Ave. gain of 5.3 yards
2nd Down--22 plays (31%) for 146 yards
18 pass (82%)--10/18 for 130 yards 1 TD
4 rush (18%) for 16 yards--4.0 ypc
Ave. of 8.3 yards per play
Ave. gain of 6.6 yards
Third Down--15 plays (21%) for 31 yards
8 pass (53%)--3/8 for 35 yards
7 rush (47%) for -4 yards--(-0.6) ypc
Ave. of 8.2 yards to go
Ave. gain of 2.1 yards
Fourth Down--5 plays (7%) for 18 yards
2 pass (40%)--1/2 for 19 yards
3 rush (60%) for -1 yard--(-0.3) ypc
Ave. of 6.6 yards to go
Ave. gain of 3.6 yards
First Downs Earned--13 Total
10 by pass
3 by rush
Defense Type Breakdown
Toledo Offense vs. 4-3--3 plays (4%) for 8 yards
3 rush (100%) for 8 yards 1 TD--2.7 ypc
Blitz percentage--1/3 (33%)
Negative blitz plays--0
Toledo Offense vs. 4-2-5--62 plays (83%) for 311 yards
40 pass (65%)--20/40 for 279 yards 2 TD 1 INT
22 rush (35%) for 32 yards--1.5 ypc
Blitz pecentage--9/62 (15%)
Negative Blitz plays--1
Toledo Offense vs. 3-3-5--4 plays (6%) for 26 yards
2 pass (50%)--1/2 for 13 yards
2 rush (50%) for 13 yards--6.5 ypc
Blitz percentage--1/4 (25%)
Negative Blitz plays--0
Toledo Special Teams. vs. Special Teams--1 play (1%) for -12 yards
1 rush (100%) for -12 yards--(-12.0 ypc)
Toledo Offense vs. Base (no blitz) defense--58 plays (83%) for 297 yards
33 pass (57%)--17/33 for 241 yards 2 TD 1 INT
25 rush (43%) for 56 yards--2.2 ypc
Toledo Offense vs. Blitz--11 plays (16%) for 48 yards
9 pass (82%)--4/9 for 51 yards
2 rush (18%) for -3 yards--(-1.5) ypc
Toledo Offense vs. Man to man (combo)--30 plays (43%) for 177 yards
19 pass (63%)--9/19 for 139 yards 1 TD
11 rush (37%) for 38 yards 1 TD--3.5 ypc
Toledo Offense vs. Zone--39 plays (56%) for 168 yards
23 pass (59%)--12/23 for 153 yards 1 TD 1 INT
16 rush (41%) for 15 yards--0.9 ypc
Other Stats of Note
~ 1 defensive penalty for 8 yards
~ Toledo started on the Ohio State side of the 50 once--8 points (1 TD)
~ 1/2 in the Red Zone--(1 TD)
~ 4 sacks
~ 1 turnover (INT)
~ 31/70 plays went for no gain or loss--(44%)
~ 4/15 drives went 3 and out--27%)
~ Number of plays of 10+ yards--12 (17%)
~ Screen passes accounted for 14 of 21 completions and 208 of 292 passing yards.
As I watched this game live I kept wondering why the Buckeyes weren't doing anything to stop the screen passes the Rockets kept throwing at them. I was confused as to why the defensive gameplan wasn't set up to take away what the opposition liked to do most. It took me awhile to even realize what I thought the gameplan even was. After re-watching the game, I still have some issues with how the defense was called against the Rockets, but all things considered I suppose I can understand.
Toledo spent the majority of the game getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands very quickly with outside screens. It also tried to take advantage of a young and aggressive front with halfback slip screens. When they ran the ball, the majority of the run calls were read option plays, also minimizing the amount of blocking their offense had to do, essentially reading the last man on the line to the option side by not blocking him. Those three basic played accounted for well over 2/3 of the Rocket's offensive output for the game. When the Rockets tried to run more conventional plays, either running the ball or passing, they were pretty much stuffed.
When they weren't throwing screens, their quarterbacks went just 7/26 and didn't top 100 yards on those plays. Take out read option, quarterback scrambles or sacks and the botched field goal attempt, and the Rockets gained just 21 yards running the ball. What I'm getting at here is that the Buckeye defense did very well against Toledo's "conventional" plays. Toledo's offense is dependant on, and very good at, running a lot of screens to move the ball. Ohio State's game plan seemed to be to play things safe, take away everything else, and try to keep Toledo from hitting big plays in the screen game, which they weren't always successful at doing. There are few teams as commited to the screen game as the Rockets seemed to be, so I feel much less concerned about the defense after breaking the game down than I did after watching the game live.
Let's take a swing through the position groups and see what we've learned.
It was clear from the start that Ohio State had a big advantage over the Rockets in the trenches. They couldn't block Johnathan Hankins or John Simon, and had a tough time with just about everyone else that came in as well. Toledo's solution was to not really even try, getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly with a variety of screens. The Rockets had a lot of success with this, and if I had one big complaint with the defensive line it would be lack of recognition when Toledo was running slip screens to the halfback. I can remember only one play where a lineman recognized screen, found the halfback and was a part of breaking up the play before it broke big.
As for individuals, I have to once again come back to Hankins and Simon. Hankins played more plays in this game than I have ever seen him and held up very well. He was just as disruptive at the end of the game as he was in the first quarter. Simon had to come out of the game with some mysterious "physical/mental" ailment, but when he was on the field, he was playing in the backfield. His and Hankins' constant pressure was a big part of the reason Toledo quarterbacks went just 7/26 on non-screen defensive plays. The defense didn't do a whole lot of blitzing, so it was up to the defensive line to pressure the Rockets, and they dominated the Rocket line all game long.
I do think the defense missed Nathan Williams. J.T. Moore doesn't quite have the pass rush ability, and I would've liked to see if Williams would've made a difference against their screen game.
Grade--A- Hard to be down on a group that the opposition gameplans around avoiding.
I finished this game with mixed feelings about the linebackers. They were the group under the most stress for the game. If anyone was going to blow up those halfback screens, it was going to have to be a linebacker or the star position. There were a couple of early reads and good plays on halfback screens, but they also gave up over 100 yards receiving to the halfback on others. The Rockets were never able to get anything going on the ground, yet they gave up either a first down or touchdown to all three plays Toledo ran from the single wing (or the "wildcat" as the commentators call it). Andrew Sweat got himself out of position on all three of those plays following the motion of the receiver instead of covering his gap responsibility.
Etienne Sabino is another one I have mixed feelings about. He's pretty good when he's moving forward, and the Buckeyes blitzed from the linebackers more when he was in the game. They didn't have much success with that, but Sabino did have a sack on the day. On the other hand, he sometimes seems lost in coverages. He split time with Storm Klein and he seems to be weaker against the run, but much better at zone coverages, coming up with an interception in a Tampa 2 set. He seems a step slow in man coverages, however.
All in all, I like this group, but they showed some inexperience. At some point, you would have expected someone to recognize screens quicker and helped blow a few of those up. On the other hand, combined with the defensive line, it looks as if the Buckeyes are going to be very strong against the run this season.
Grade--C+ This might be a little harsh on this group considering the stress the Rocket offense was putting on them, but they could've done a much better job in some areas of this game.
Watching this game live, I was extremely upset at this group for allowing so many outside screen plays to be successful , but this was another group that was better than I thought after studying the game. For one, this is where I thought the coaches were playing things the safest. At the beginning of the game, the Buckeyes were playing too far off the receivers to be able to slow down the screens at all, even giving up an unusual big play for a touchdown. They adjusted by attacking the middle receiver in trip formations, usually with Tyler Moeller, which resulted in disrupting the blocking on screens and taking that receiver out of his route on non-screen plays. This slowed down the outside screens later in the game.
The downside was that it took Moeller out of position to make some of the plays against the screens we've seen him make in the past. There have been a lot of fans wondering what was wrong with him after registering no tackles. I didn't see anything wrong with him. He was just being used in a way that didn't allow him to fly all over the field making the plays we're used to seeing from him. Some fans seem ready to throw him under the bus. I say Miami's offense offers him the opportunity to look like his old self, and don't be surprised if we're singing his praises again come Saturday night.
For the second game in a row, I came away very impressed with Dominic Clarke. He's probably been the most pleasant surprise on defense so far this season. Travis Howard's suspension probably cost him the starting job at corner. Clarke has been on his man like glue every time he's been targeted and he's done a fantastic job of contesting passes.
Grade--B I can't really hit this group too hard considering how the coaches were calling the game, but there were several missed tackles that allowed screens to gain more than they should've. That drags the grade down a little.
As I've already alluded to several times in this article, I felt the gameplan was the biggest reason Toledo had success with their screen game against the Buckeyes. They called the game pretty safe, forcing the Rockets to work their way down the field and trying not to give up big plays. They did end up giving up a few big plays, but for the most part, they were successful. Aside from the screens, the Rockets weren't able to sustain drives, and after the adjustment with Moeller, the only thing they were able to break were a few halfback screens.
Was this the best way to go against the Rocket's offense? It's debatable. During the game, I was hoping to see the defense play the Rocket receivers much more aggressively to take away the screens, but I suppose that would've left them more succeptable to the big play, though the defensive line was doing a good job of getting pressure and I'm not sure if they would've had time to get too fancy. I will say that the defense was missing more tackles than I'm used to seeing from the Buckeyes, though it wasn't terrible.
In a close game like this, safer was probably the way to go, though it did allow Toledo to stay in the game and even have a chance to win it at the end. After the screen pass that went for a big play on the first play of the second hald, I thought the defense did a good job of forcing Toledo to work their offense. It took some great plays by their quarterback and receiver Eric Page down the stretch for the Rockets to get into position for the win.
Grade--B Not exactly what I was expecting out of the defense considering they had to know a lot of screens were likely, but in the end it worked.
After two games from a pretty bad offense and a pretty good, unconventionally screen based one, the Buckeyes finally play a team that will help tell us exactly what the Buckeyes have on defense this season. Miami is very conventional in their attack and have speed at every skill position. I expect the Hurricanes to test the defense, but I think we'll be surprised at how well the Buckeyes hold up. I'm not sure if the defense will dominate their offense, but I'll be surprised if they gain more than Toledo did this week, especially with Jacory Harris calling their signals. This should be the game that really tells us what the Buckeyes have on defense this season.
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