Its the new evolution of college football. The offensive numbers are soaring through the roof. The points being put up on the scoreboard are electric. The fans, OC's, and alumni and college board members love it and can't get enough of it. Defensive coordinators are experiencing chronic migraines, getting little sleep, and hate it...What phenomenon am I referring to? None other than the newest college football craze...the spread offense.
Its versions are endless. From Texas Tech's put it in the air 70 times a game, to Michigan's spread read option where you'll be lucky to see the football thrown 20 times a game, and everything in between. The formation is the new era of college football and seemingly every team is getting in on the action at one level or another.
So why how is this related to Ohio State and some of the problems they have had? Simple...out of the four losses that Ohio State had in the last three years, three of the four were to teams who effectively ran versions or sets of a spread offense. LSU, Florida, and Illinois all were able to dominate and set the tempo of the game offensively against the Silver Bullets by running and throwing the ball successfully. Its become somewhat of a trend, and has been the topic of heated discussion between fans in the Buckeye community.
People who think that the "spread offense problem", is just a myth, argue that the Buckeyes defense has dominated teams that operate the spread offense Indiana, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Purdue. And to that argument I would say you are right in a sense. But to use that as the summary of your entire defense on this topic, I would assert that you are looking to narrowly at the topic.
My question to you as a Buckeye fan that thinks fans like me are just paranoid, would be how does Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota, and Northwestern's offenses compare in talent really to that of the likes of LSU, Florida, and Illinois? The answer is that they aren't comparable whatsoever, the latter are far superior, and the Buckeyes do indeed have a problem with this offense.
My next question to you would be how do you effectively stop the most dominant of spread offenses? WOW...how about that? I have the answer to that one too. Actually you have to accomplish a couple of different things...
1) You have to be aggressive as a defensive unit, and take the battle to the offense.
2) Your ends/outside linebackers/ safeties have to know and keep their keys on their assignments responsibilities (QB, TB, WR on sweeps).
3) You have to be able to establish pressure into the backfield with your front four.
4) As linebackers and defensive backs you have to be able to make open field tackles.
Against the likes of Purdue, Indiana, Minnesota, and Northwestern they have been able to accomplish those tasks simply because Ohio State has been more talented those teams.
But when the Bucks have ran up against teams like Florida, LSU, and Illinois...teams that have had explosive playmakers on the outside or at quarterback, they've been exposed. And out of the previous four points I made in stopping the spread offense they've had trouble accomplishing any of those four tasks consistently.
The two main deficiencies I see on the defensive half of the football are...
1) No consistent pass rush, and this has been a problem since almost 2002 (excluding Quinn Pitcock a few years back, and Vernon Gholston).
2) Other than Malcolm Jenkins, a lack of talent in the secondary that can play physical man defense, and come off of blocks down the field to make solid one on one tackles.
Think back to the LSU game...how many missed tackles were there in the secondary??? Too many for me to count and provide you with a concrete number. Now think back to the Illinois game...how many times were there blown coverages, with wide receivers running WIDE OPEN??? Five or six times, with four of those going to for touchdowns in what was a career day for Juice Williams to that point in his career.
Why do you think Jim Heacock runs so much soft zone? Better yet why do you think part of the reason the Buckeyes have been playing "bend but don't break" defense for the past few years? And lastly why do you think the Ohio State staff signed six prospects for the 09' campaign in the secondary. One, because there isn't any quality depth, and two, the staff is DESPERATE to find more impact defensive backs for when Malcolm Jenkins is gone.
Go back to the Illini game again...how many third down and short conversions did Juice Williams convert??? When everyone knew it was going to be in Mendenhall or Williams hands, on the ground, trying to milk the clock...the Buckeye front four couldn't get penetration into the backfield to get the Illini off the field. Illinois killed the final eight minutes on the ground...game over. Or the Florida game where Chris Leak sipped margaritas in the pocket while waiting for receivers to open up.
So where is the solution to the problem? I think this answer is one of cinergetic roots. The philosophy of Jim Heacock isn't working, schematically or in recruiting when the competition is at least equivilent. I think the average recruiting classes we've seen from 2004-2007, have left us with talent that in a way forces us to play in Heacock's current scheme because it isn't developed upon strengths, as much as its designed to cover up weaknesses. And I think when you are able to answer one of the problems if you are Ohio State, then the other problem will be solved through the process.
So Buckeye fans, get on your knees tonight, and lift a prayer to the football gods that the Buckeyes find a new pass rushing nucleus in the future of Keith Wells, Garrett Goebel, Adam Bellamy, Melvin Fellows, John Simon, Jon Newsome, and Nathan Williams.
And if you have some extra time, send up another one hoping that C.J Barnett, Jamie Wood, Corey Brown, Justin Green, Dominic Clarke, and Travis Howard provide the improved athleticism, talent, and depth in that secondary to go against the best of the best wide receiver corps in the nation.
Because until those things happen...you will see the same vanilla schemes, and the same problems against teams with versatile weapons in the spread offense.
Thanks everyone hope you enjoyed Part 6! Please feel free to leave thoughts and comments, become my friend, and pass the word along about my page!
Coming Tomorrow...Roots of Ohio State's Problems, Part Seven: "Tresselball"
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