Ohio State turned in a complete performance in overwhelming Michigan State 56-7. Ryan Day and the Buckeye offense adeptly targeted the Spartans’ defensive scheme that mixes HOT pressures (3 deep, 2 under) and some cover 4 (particularly in the red zone) with base cover 3 weak (cover 6 in Nick Saban-speak),
Ohio State was able to routinely pick up Michigan State’s HOT pressures featuring blitzes from both inside linebackers, before exploit the under manned second level of support. For example below, on the opening drive, Ohio State runs a curl-flat concept.
The Buckeye six-man half slide protection picks up the blitz, allowing Chris Olave to come open on the curl after the underneath hot defender widened with the flat route.
Later that drive, Michigan State brought another HOT pressure. But Day used the threat of Garrett Wilson on a wide receiver bash jet sweep to force the defensive backs to rock and roll to the field. This left Michigan State without force support to the boundary for the Buckeyes’ weak side mid-zone run.
And below, Ohio State picks up the HOT blitz on wide split zone, leaving limited second level force support.
Day also exploited Michigan State’s base cover 3 weak. Throughout, Day generally had the Buckeyes run to the formation’s strength, given that the Spartans like to spin their safeties away from the formation. For example, the Buckeyes repeatedly used a toss pin and pull to the halfback side in shotgun, knowing that safeties would be rotating away from the run action (as well as receiving stellar blocks from left guard Thayer Munford and center Luke Wypler pulling below).
Ohio State also repeatedly threw vertical stem comeback routes to the twins or trips formation side, as Michigan State’s heavy use of cover 3 weak meant that Day could feel confident that Ohio State’s outside receiver was likely to face single coverage from the corner.
The ability to continually connect on such far hash throws against soft cover 3 or cover 4 corners is critical to keeping the Buckeyes ahead of schedule and targeting teams for playing off coverage.
Day then took advantage of Michigan State’s cover 3 weak to the rotation side (and cover 3’s limitations against trips) on Garrett Wilson’s 77-yard touchdown. Knowing that the single deep safety would have to push to the trips, Day ran Wilson to the post. The opposite side deep crossing route held the Spartan safety rotating down to the hook curl, freeing Wilson behind.
Stroud aided this effort by holding the safety with his eyes by looking to the cross before throwing to Wilson.
Day similarly targeted Michigan State’s red zone cover 4 on Ohio State’s opening touchdown. Day placed Olave inside as the number 3 receiver and had him run a divider route between the safeties. The Spartans failed to carry him vertically, with the sit route helping to hold the boundary linebacker and safety.
Throughout, Ohio State again critically came prepared to hold backside defenders and force the opponent’s overhangs out of the box with pre-snap reliefs, jet sweep action, RPOs, and bootlegs. This began on the first play, as the Buckeyes protected the run game from the pistol by presenting 12 personnel with both tight ends as blockers. Olave was placed in yo-yo motion to define the coverage and demonstrate that Ohio State had a 3 on 2 to the outside, leading Stroud to pull and throw the bubble relief (again, reliefs are a pre-snap read for the quarterback, with Stroud pulling and throwing if the pre-snap alignment shows that the defense has inside leverage or is off the inside receiver).
Day continued to rely upon reliefs to punish the Spartans for overplaying the run and/or lining up with two high safeties throughout—for example below with a front side relief (meaning away from the halfback side) where Michigan State ran a Tampa 2 with the Mike linebacker cheating to the box, leaving Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the slot uncovered.
And below, on third and 7, Michigan State mugs up both linebackers (meaning placing them up over the offensive line) while playing cover 3 weak. Ohio State motions to empty and runs a bubble to the trips side with a cover 3 beater “Dragon” (slant-flat) to the twins side. With the mugged up linebackers, the Spartans only have two defenders over the trips, leading Stroud to throw the bubble for a first down.
As against Purdue, Ohio State also again used jet bash concepts—and the threat of the jet—to similar effect. After showing jet action on the opening series to open up the weak side run, on the third series the Buckeyes faked both the jet and the weakside zone before targeting the post with Olave’s second touchdown on a two-man Yankee variation, with the deep curl intended to hold the safety.
Ohio State also continued to rely upon naked bootlegs to protect the wide zone pistol run game, again finding success hitting the opposite side crosser.
And Wilson’s second touchdown came off a front-side RPO (meaning that Stroud reads the frontside overhang away from the halfback). Below, the overhang plays the run, leaving Wilson with inside leverage on the safety.
The sustained use of these concepts to protect the run—particularly reliefs—the last two weeks has allowed Ohio State to avoid the situations they faced against Penn State and Nebraska, where the defense was able to place the Buckeyes behind schedule by overloading the box or bringing edge pressure to create negative plays; particularly in short yardage situations.
For instance, below, on second and one, Stroud pulls and throws the front side bubble to Wilson against the boundary overhang pressure from a 6-1 look that defenses have used against Ohio State in short yardage to limit zone blocking double teams and create backside pressure.
Notably, on the above play, Ohio State also ran an RPO tight end slide to the backside—providing a Stroud a backside option if the Buckeyes did not have outside leverage to the front side pre-snap.
Relatedly, the Buckeyes have improved their low red zone (inside the 10-yard line) performance. Day again relied upon double tight, I formation lead wide zone at the goal line, which is an excellent goal line run as it establishes double teams and movement and limits run throughs.
But Day has also combined heavy personnel with wide receiver motion and hard play action. For example, on consecutive plays on Saturday, Day motioned backup Z-wide receiver Julian Fleming in on short motion. On the first play, Fleming came in to down block the edge on duo. TreVeyon Henderson again does a nice job on the play reading the Mike, making him commit inside, and then bouncing the play out.
Day then followed that up by again brining Fleming in short motion to sell the block, only to throw a pop pass off play action.
The Buckeyes had so much sustained success throwing horizontal reliefs and vertically on Michigan State that the Spartans eventually eschewed their base concepts to play heavy amounts of Tampa 2 (corners have the flats while the Mike linebacker bails to play the deep middle).
But the Spartans’ use of this pass-first coverage provided Day precisely the point of all these run-protection concepts—which is to re-equate numbers for the run game.
For example, below, Ohio State again motions in from the 12 personnel bunch to run counter OH. Respecting the relief and pass threat, Michigan State maintains a 3 over 2 to the twins stack side, with the Mike bailing deep in cover 2—providing the Buckeyes 7 on 6 in the box.
Perhaps even more absurdly here, Michigan State’s Mike is so worried about gaining depth in Tampa 2 that he leaves the backside A-gap wide opened on tight zone.
The use of reliefs, RPOs, and hard play action will thus remain critical to protecting Ohio State’s run game (and getting the ball to its three wide receivers) to ensure that the Buckeyes can stay ahead of schedule where they are so effective—seeking to conflict and neutralize the Michigan defensive ends so that Ohio State’s skill position players can get in space against the Wolverine back 7.