By the Numbers - Wisconsin defense
By Jeff Amey
For 55 1/2 minutes against Wisconsin the Ohio State defense put in their game of the year, holding the powerful Badger rushing attack to just 41 yards and Quarterback Russell Wilson to just 160 yards and a single touchdown as the Buckeyes took a 26-14 lead. Those last few minutes were agonizing to watch. OSU gave up 134 yards and two touchdowns on the Badger's next 8 offensive plays. It took a herculean effort from the Buckeye offense to cover for a defense that gave up their second double-digit fourth quarter lead of the season.
So what happened? Watching the game live, I thought two conspired to hurt the Buckeyes on those two touchdown drives. The Buckeyes spent a majority of the game playing an aggressive man to man style of defense, and I thought they played most of those two drives in zone, but I was incorrect. Five of those eight plays were man calls, but both touchdown plays were zones. The major culprit here is just inexperience in the defensive backfield and some savvy in the passing game from Russell Wilson.
The Buckeyes gave up two plays of 40 or more yards on those drives The main victim on both of those plays was Christian Bryant. For all of the good he's brought since he was inserted into the lineup over Ohrian Johnson, we have to remember he's still a freshman, and he's sometimes going to make freshman mistakes. With only two senior starters and six freshmen or sophomores, youth is going to rear its ugly head from time to time, but the future looks very bright.
61 Total Plays--341 yards--5.6 yards per play
32 pass (52%)--20/32 for 252 yards 3 TD
29 rush (48%) for 89 yards 1 TD--3.1 ypc
14 Defensive Possessions
Ave. of 4.4 plays--24.4 yards
Ave. start--Wisconsin 29
First Down--26 plays (43%) for 158 yards
12 pass (46%)--9/12 for 111 yards 1 TD
14 rush (54%) for 47 yards--3.4 ypc
Ave. gain of 6.1 yards
Second Down--19 plays (31%) for 94 yards
14 pass (74%)--7/14 for 93 yards 1 TD
5 rush (26%) for 1 yard--0.2 ypc
Ave. of 6.7 yards to go
Ave. gain of 4.9 yards
Third Down--15 plays (25%) for 88 yards
6 pass (40%) for 48 yards 1 TD
9 rush (60%) for 40 yards 1 TD--4.4 ypc
Ave. of 5.3 yards to go
Ave. gain of 5.9 yards
Fourth Down--1 play (2%) for 1 yard
1 rush (100%) for 1 yard--1.0 ypc
Ave. of 2.0 yards to go
Ave. gain of 1.0 yards
First Downs Allowed--12 total
8 by pass
3 by rush
1 by penalty
Wisconsin offense vs. 4-3--3 plays (5%) for 18 yards
1 pass (33%)--1/1 for 15 yards
2 rush (67%) for 3 yards--1.5 yards to go
Blitz percentage--2/3 (67%)
Negative Blitz plays--0
Wisconsin offense vs. 4-2-5--43 plays (70%) for 279 yards
22 pass (51%)--15/22 for 202 yards 3 TD
21 rush (49%) for 77 yards--3.7 ypc
Blitz Percentage--5/43 (12%)
Negative Blitz Plays--0
Wisconsin offense vs. 3-3-5--11 plays (18%) for 41 yards
8 pass (73%) for 35 yards
3 rush (27%) for 6 yards--2.0 ypc
Blitz Percentage--3/11 (27%)
Negative Blitz plays--0
Wisconsin offense vs. Goal line--3 plays (5%) for 3 yards
3 rush (100%) for 3 yards 1 TD--1.0 ypc
Blitz Percentage--2/3 (67%)
Negative Blitz plays--0
Wisconsin offense vs. Prevent--1 play (2%) for 0 yards
1 pass (100%)--0/1 for 0 yards
Blitz Percentage--1/1 (100%)
Negative Blitz plays--0
Other Stats of Note
~ 1 Defensive penalty for 15 yards
~ Wisconsin started on the Ohio State side of the 50 once--7 points (TD)
~ 2/2 in the Red Zone--(2 TD)
~ 3 sacks and no turnovers
~ 19/61 plays went for no gain or loss--(31%)
~ Number of plays of 10+ yards--11 (18%)
~ Drives that went 3 and out--3/14 (21%)
~ First half Wisconsin rushing yardage--9 (the Statisticians were being generous)
~ Number of blatantly missed obvious holding calls--15
Wisconsin's line got away with more holding without a single holding call in the game than I have ever seen in a college game before. The 15 holding calls I mention aren't of the questionable kind. They are instances where jerseys were being pulled severely out of shape, or defenders were just out and out tackled. I understand the referees have a tough job and aren't going to catch every holding call, but to catch none of them? That crew is notoriously lax at calling holding, but that was nearly "they deserve a reprimand" bad.
I'm still going to give Badger quarterback Russell Wilson some props for his play. The only way the Buckeyes were able to slow down the Wisconsin passing attack was to get pressure on him. When he wasn't pressured, he picked the defensive backfield apart. He was always a decent QB at North Carolina State, but he's really come into his own at Wisconsin and fits their offense very well. You also have to give props to their receiver Jared Abbrederis. How he isn't already on scholarship is a mystery. He caught both of their late touchdown passes and finished with over 100 yards on 6 receptions.
I think this game was a watershed moment for the Buckeye defense despite giving up the two late touchdowns. The defensive front seven showed they could dominate the line of scrimmage against a team that doesn't often lose up front. The linebackers showed they could play faster if they could stay clean. The defensive backfield showed they can challenge a receiver corps man to man and come out on top. The future looks very bright for this group when they start eliminating the mistakes plaguing them that give up big plays in crucial situations.
If we were handing out game balls after this win my choice would be to the entire defensive line. Not only did they dominate an opposing offensive line that rarely gets dominated, but they kept the linebackers clean most of the game to allow them to have a pretty big game as well. Montee Ball did gash them for a 40 yard gain on their first late touchdown drive, but up to that point had less than 50 yards rushing. They also managed to sack Russell Wilson three times, one of them being a huge intentional grounding call in the second half.
The only way the Badgers were able get either John Simon or Johnathan Hankins blocked were to double-team them or hold them, sometimes both. Hankins had yet another big day with 7 tackles, while Simon finished with two of the three sacks.
What was a little less expected was what the Buckeyes got from their other linemen. Adam Bellamy was coming on, and he seemed to have a break-out day against the Badgers. He only finished with 2 tackles and a sack, but was disruptive all game long. Though he only finished with one tackle, this was the best I've seen Garrett Goebel look this season as well.
Grade--A+ Keep in mind there are only two seniors on the two-deep, Solomon Thomas and little used Evan Blankenship. If everyone comes back, including Nathan Williams if he's able to get a medical redshirt, this group is going to keep opposing coaches up at night next year.
As has already been noted, the main beneficiary of the defensive line play this week was the linebacking corps. Last season, I thought the Ohio State gameplan for the Badgers was terrible, as it allowed the Badgers to set their double teams on the defensive line and constantly get to the linebackers on nearly every play. This season the line held their ground or penetrated on play after play, allowing the linebackers to stay clean and attack the runners in the hole. As a result, the linebackers came through, especially Andrew Sweat, to stuff the Badger running game.
There were a few little problems, namely Storm Klein not being able to keep up with the fullback in man to man situations, and a few instances of poor tackling, but I think the group has made strides toward becoming better in the past few weeks. The biggest improvement has come from Etienne Sabino. Against Nebraska, he looked like a liability on the field. He still has issues, such as being painfully slow to pick up his man on playaction man to man calls, but every week he looks like he's thinking less and reacting more. He came up huge, along with Andrew Sweat, to stuff the fourth down play in the fourth quarter, and he made that play while being held.
Grade--B+ Minor issues keep this from being an A, but it was an overall solid game for the linebackers.
It's easy to look at the 252 yards passing with three touchdowns and get down on the defensive backfield, but things weren't quite as bad as they seemed. I don't think any of the issues are related to talent. I think they have their best group starting, and their major issues are inexperience and youth. Second, I don't think the major issues are coming from the cornerback positions. Bradley Roby continues to impress me every week, and this game I thought he did a fantastic job in run support. He didn't make many tackles, but he constantly flew in to disrupt the blocking if they ran outside to his side, allowing others to clean up the play. Both corners are holding up very well in man coverage.
With the linebackers slowly improving, I think the weakest link of the Buckeye defense has shifted to the safety positions. Both safeties have been spotty this. C. J. Barnett had a terrible game a few weeks ago. Though he didn't miss any tackles, he was allowing extra yardage by letting the runner initiate contact. He's not allowing that any more and had a fantastic play to hold Montee Ball short of a first down on a third and one play in the first quarter. While he hasn't completely turned things around, he's shown a lot of improvement over the last couple of games.
That means we have to turn our focus on Christian Bryant. Bryant is an aggressive safety that isn't afraid to stick his nose in there for a hit which is something we couldn't say about his predecessor but his aggressiveness is getting him in trouble sometimes. He did make a few nice plays to stop runners short of first downs and deny a catch in one instance, but there were far more times he was abused than he made good plays.
Most disturbing is the bad angles he takes coming up to take on running plays. He took a terrible angle on Montee Ball's long run in the fourth quarter to allow that play to hit big. He did the same thing on nearly an identical play earlier in the game, but that run was stopped for only 13 yards instead of hitting bigger. He went for the interception and missed on Wisconsin's first touchdown, which allowed Ball to get going and eventually get into the end zone. He also missed tackles which allowed first downs on playaction dump offs to the fullback and tight end in the first half. Lastly, he was caught in no-man's land on Wisconsin's last touchdown, though the Badgers had a good play called for cover two.
Grade--B Bryant's play drags down what should've been an "A" to a "B". I thought the other three, plus Moeller, who is always a "tweener", held up pretty well.
I've already touched on it, but I think Jim Heacock learned something last year in how not to try to defend the Badger offense. Instead of playing a passive defense that allowed the Badger offensive line to dictate the play, he attacked with the defensive line aggressively, played a lot of man to man coverage, and dropped a safety into the box right away to try to take away the run game. It worked so well, the Badgers never really got anything going on the ground, and finished the game with more pass attempts than rushes. That's a win all by itself against Wisconsin.
My only issue with the defensive calls was that I thought they actually played a little too much zone when man to man was working so well. The statistics are a little deceptive. The Badgers threw 16 passes each against man defenses and zones, but had more completions for less yards against man, and more yardage on fewer completions against zone. All three touchdowns were against zone. Against the man defenses, the Badgers only had success when they went playaction and attacked the linebackers and safeties on short plays.
The Buckeyes do such a good job in man coverages with their top three cover guys (Roby, Howard, Moeller or Ohrian Johnson depending on 4-2-5 vs. 3-3-5), I think they should be playing man on important downs more often instead of the cover three zones we almost always see in those situations. I think other teams have come to anticipate the cover three on important downs and call plays to counter it.
I thought the coaches did a good job calling defenses on third down and short. The Badgers were only able to convert four of eight of those situations. There were six of those in the first half, when the Badgers were trying to impose their will, and the Buckeyes stuffed three of them to get off the field.
All in all, you have to be impressed that the Buckeyes held the Badgers to less yardage than the Buckeye offense managed when the Badgers finished with two more possessions. The Badgers gained over 150 yards less than their season average, over 100 yards less than their rushing average, and nearly 20 points less than their scoring average.
Grade--B+ I'm only taking off for the questionable use of zone coverages in this game when man was working so well. Take away the 40 yard run and the Badgers had just 27 yards on the other 21 carries against man.