The Ohio State offense largely moved the football successfully against Oregon—but left too many points on the field to overcome the Buckeye defense’s inefficiencies and playing from behind in Ohio State’s 35-28 loss.
Operating from their odd 2 and 3 man fronts, the Ducks used a game plan that many Buckeye opponents have featured against Ohio State in recent years—roll down to one-high safety at the snap on early downs to bring overhang pressure to outnumber the Ohio State run game—protected by soft corner coverage to limit big pass plays.
Specifically, Oregon’s goal was to apply an unblocked defender against the Ohio State run game based on formational tendencies. They did so by frequently stemming (having the defensive line shift gaps) before the snap to a 3-3 stack, slanting, and applying the overhang defender against the run.
There were times where the Buckeye offensive line did not correctly identify who should come off on combination blocks against Oregon’s two-gap schemes. The most notable was the failed fourth and 2 mid-zone run where left guard Thayer Munford tried to reach the inside linebacker through Luke Wypler’s block on the slanting 2 technique instead of a combination block where Munford picks up the defensive tackle and Wypler comes off to the linebacker.
But the primary limitation on the Ohio State run game was being outnumbered at the point of attack by an overhang defender that is not accounted for in the blocking scheme. For example, below the Ducks brought a front side overhang blitz against the Buckeyes’ wide zone from the pistol.
Similarly, when Ohio State’s halfback was offset, Oregon frequently brought a backside overhang to target the Buckeyes’ mid-zone scheme. Below, Ohio State is outnumbered 7 versus 6 in the box, leaving the Will linebacker as the free hitter.
By contrast, when the Buckeyes could secure the overhang, it resulted in successful run plays.
Ohio State was not including a quarterback read with their zone runs. The Buckeyes do not generally read mid or wide zone. And when the Buckeyes ran tight zone they attached the tight end to the backside to run what Urban Meyer calls tight zone “Cab” where the tight end blocks the backside end instead of a read.
Instead, the Buckeyes combined their zone runs with reliefs or RPOs. Reliefs are bubble screens that the quarterback will decide to throw pre-snap based on the defense’s leverage on the wide receivers.
Ohio State then faked a bubble to run a quick slant.
RPOs are determined post-snap based upon reading an unblocked defender and determining whether he is overplaying the run. On Saturday, Ohio State ran several quick outs off of mid-zone.
Ohio State must rely even more upon reliefs and RPOs to prevent overhangs from cheating against the run. In particular, they are going to have to rely upon more RPOs if they do not want the quarterback involved in the run game. They also must continue to throw the football on first down if defenses are going to provide single coverage.
For instance, the wide side out throw was continually available against Oregon’s early down soft corner coverage.
It is certainly a positive sign for Ohio State that C.J. Stroud has the arm strength to repeatedly hit this throw—a throw that was also very effective for the Buckeyes with Justin Fields.
Whether because of the score or because of Ohio State’s sustained success throwing the football, in the second half the Ducks stopped cheating their overhangs so much against the run; providing Ohio State even numbers to run the football.
The Buckeyes also found success in the second half running same side duo (front side down blocks and double teams) to prevent backside penetration. Note below how Oregon slants away from the halfback expecting mid zone.
Even with an at times inconsistent run game, Ohio State moved the ball throughout. They just did not convert enough of those scoring drives into touchdowns, as they were plagued by inopportune drops, penalties, and misfires on several potential deep throws.
In addition, ironically, the Buckeyes may have been too quick to abandon the run on the last two drives once Oregon removed their overhang from the box. The Buckeyes but did not run once, for example on the second to last fourth quarter drive that resulted in a punt. Both the play calls and Stroud may have been trying to force the football down the field at times to catch up rather than taking what the defense provided. In several instances Stroud could have tucked and ran or checked down to an open running back for significant yardage.
As discussed below, Stroud also displays a tendency to lock onto his target, which is impacting Ohio State throwing between the hashes.
But it is difficult to fault Stroud too much in his second start. After opening early with several high throws, Stroud improved on manipulating coverage with his eyes and repeatedly pushed the ball downfield accurately.
For example, on the dig route completion to Garrett Wilson above, Stroud works the left side, scanning the out and vertical route before coming back to Wilson on the in-breaking dig. It just was likely too much to ask a young quarterback to continually have to play catch up for a porous defense; particularly where a couple of tough catches on well thrown balls instead of drops could have alone been the difference in the outcome.