Film Study: The Ohio State Offense Was Prepared to Peak in the College Football Playoff | Eleven Warriors – Eleven Warriors

Chess Study

"You have to give Ohio State credit for that. They were awesome. They absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage. You can't win games like this if you can't stop the run and the big plays." - Dabo Swinney

The stage was set for another disappointment. Despite last season's slugfest in the desert, many expected Clemson to cruise to victory in its rematch with Ohio State, favoring the Tigers by a touchdown.

After a quick three-and-out from Ohio State to open the game, it certainly appeared as though all the talking heads were right.But as Justin Fields and the Buckeye offense took the field inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome a second time, things looked quite different.

First off, they emerged from a huddle for the first time in years, rather than looking to the sideline for a play-call. Then, after Chris Olave motioned across the formation, the opposing defense was flustered, flipping their alignment just as the ball was snapped.

The resulting 11-yard gain was vintage Ryan Day, using the motion to identify zone coverage for his quarterbackand stretching the defense horizontally with an underneath Spacing concept. It almost looked like the 2018 vintage of the Ohio State offense with Dwayne Haskins under center.

As the evening progressed, the Buckeyes continued to vary their tempo, sometimes huddling while also snapping the ball quickly. On the final play of that second drive, the Clemson defense was chaotic, with defenders still trying to line up after the ball had been snapped.

Trey Sermon ran 32 yards untouched through that giant space between the left guard and tackle.

We just didn't want them stealing our signals, Fields said of the new pace.And that's pretty much why we huddled up a little bit more than we usually do.

But new pacingwasn't the only new wrinkle added to the Buckeye gameplan on this evening.

Having lived in fear of an injury to Fields for nearly two full seasons, Day finally unleashed his star QB in the option game. The mid-zone scheme that encompassed 95% of the OSU running game on this evening was paired with a backside keep for Fields, as well as a backside WR screen on multiple occasions, forcing the defense to choose its fate.

But even as the threat of Fields running the ball dissipated following his rib injury in the second quarter, Sermon and the OSU run game continued to devastate the opposition.

In hopes of cutting off any open gaps for Sermon, Clemson DC Brent Venables began slanting his front in the opposite direction of the running back's alignment. If Sermon was to Fields' right, then he was likely taking a handoff going to the left, and the Tigers were bent on cutting him off at the pass.

Except that this slanting was reliant on the weak safety filling the backside cutback lane, leaving tons of space for the veteran runner to use to his advantage, going back against the grain all night for huge gains.

Sometimes, Day even designed such cutbacks for his newly minted star back, just as he had in the Big Ten Championship Game. By asking tight ends Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert to seal the backside edge on Crunch (aka Split-Zone or Slice) versions of the mid-zone, there was a natural hole in the backside C-gap.

Once past the line, Sermon was nearly impossible to take down, with 97 of his 193 rushing yards comingafter initial contact.

Day put the Clemson safeties in conflict all night, knowing they were asked to help defend against Sermon's legswhile also responsible for covering the pass.

To give his defense an extra body near the line to defend against the run, Venables relied heavily on 3-deep zone coverages, allowing one safety to come down into the box and act as an extra run defender. The only problem with this approach was the other safety was then left alone in the middle of the field to help defend deep posts from both Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.

As the Buckeyes showed the Crunch run with Farrell coming across the formation, only to set up in seven-man pass protection, safety Joseph Charleson (#18) was in trouble from the start. As the safety opened his hips up to the wide side of the field to help with Olave's deep post, Fields recognized he had no chance to also cover Wilson on the other side of the field and uncorked a deep ball that landed right in the sophomore wideout's outstretched hands.

The exact same concept would lead to a 45-yard touchdown toss to Jameson Williams in the fourth quarter, showing the Tigers never had an answer to containing both the Buckeye run game and the deep ball.

But the Buckeye passing game wasn't just deep, play-action. For the first time all season, we saw some other classics from the Haskins era, such as Mesh and Mesh-Pivot, giving Fields a triangle read over the middle (here hitting Jaxon Smith Njigba on the sit route at the top of the read).

Day continued to go deeper into his playbook, doing what he does best by attacking the weakness of an opponent's gameplan. As the Tigers continued to sit in 3-deep zones, the OSU head coach and offensive play-caller went to everyone's favorite counter to the coverage: 4-verticals.

With a motion from Wilson confirming zone coverage (by the Tigers not following him across the formation), Fields knew he had a simple read of the seam defender, who had quickly jumped Wilson's route. That action allowed Farrell to run completely unguarded up the middle of the field, and Fields easily threw a strike for a big gain.

The Buckeye tight ends would have a huge night, with each of the two starters catching touchdown passes (Ruckert would finish with two, including a beautiful throwback off a rollout from Fields). But the evening belonged to Fields, who finished the night 4/7 for 184 yards on targets of 20+ yards.

Even as the Tigers began pulling back from their predictable, three-deep looks, Day had answers. Going back to one of his staple concepts, known asSpreadorSaints(and often considered to be part of the Air Raid'sY-Crossfamily), Fields had been trained to attack the Quarters coverage Venables showedon occasion.

With an initial high-low read to the boundary from Williams and Ruckert, Fields quickly turned back to the middle of the field. As Wilson flattened out his post route into a dig, sucking up the two safeties, Olave simply cut inside the cornerback as the third option - winning a footrace with the flat-footed safety.

The Buckeyes stayed one step ahead of the Tigers all night, seeming to keep their opponents guessing and often unable to even get lined up properly. The absencesof veteran signal-callers like James Skalski and Nolan Turner certainly didn't help but were by no means the entire story. The Tigers looked as though they had no idea what to expect from the Buckeye passing game while simultaneously searching for ways to stop the run.

In fact, the inconsistencies of the Ohio State offense throughout this crazy seasonturned out to be a blessing in disguise. Due to the lack of a regular lineup, Day's offense often relied simply on its most basic concepts and rarely showed any of the complementary pieces that were put on display in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, Venables' defense had nearly twice as many games to show exactly what it was- a sometimes haphazard unit that tried to cover up for a lack of high-end talent by confusing the opposition and often, stealing its signals. When those tactics were taken away, this year's version of the Clemson defense proved to be little more than paper Tigers.

Now that the Buckeyes have shown what they're capable of, the true test will come in the form of Alabama's disciplined unit.

Nick Saban's defense certainly didn't look like what we expect from the Crimson Tide early in the season, surrendering 647 yards and 48 points to Ole Miss back in October. But since then, the unit has settled in, allowing over 400 yards of offense just once over the past eight games - a shootout with Florida's talented passing game in the SEC championship.

While the Alabama defense will not get caught scrambling the way Clemson's was, the Buckeyes may be catching Saban's program at the right time. Just as was the case in the 2015 CFP Semifinal featuringthese two teams, the Tide features plenty of talent but is young.

While veterans like cornerbackPatrick Surtain II and middle linebacker Dylan Moses headlinethe starting lineup, it also features four sophomoresand two freshmen. Talented as players like edge rusher Will Anderson and safety Malachi Moore may be, they've never faced a running game like the Buckeyes' and a QB like Fields at the same time.

The Tide held off the Gators' vaunted passing attack and the physical running game of Notre Dame but the Buckeyes create a unique challenge for Saban and his staff. Such will be the great dilemma for Saban:which facet of Ohio State's balanced offense must he take away?

Surtain may be capable of locking up one of Olave or Wilson, but how must the rest of the secondary align to cover the other? Or will that secondary be forced to play in the box and take away Sermon?

The chess match between the Ohio State offense and Alabama defense may be one for the ages - something few thought they'd say even a week ago.

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Film Study: The Ohio State Offense Was Prepared to Peak in the College Football Playoff | Eleven Warriors - Eleven Warriors

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