Studying film is integral to success in football. Knowing what the opponent likes to do can help players be in the right place at the right time. Mark Schofield takes a look at reads and man coverage’s effect on the option in this week’s NCAA film preview.
In Week 2 of the 2014 college football season, Ohio State and their 1-0 record welcomed Virginia Tech in a non-conference tilt to Columbus where the visiting Hokies pulled off the upset, 35-21. It would be the only loss the Buckeyes sustained during their National Championship season. The visiting Hokies were able to slow down Ohio State, holding them to only 327 yards of total offense, only one of two teams to keep the Buckeyes under 400 yards in a single game during the 2014 season. Given that Ohio State averaged over 500 yards of total offense per game last year, this was an incredible effort from the Hokies. How they accomplished this is worth revisiting as we look forward to their 2015 Week 1 rematch.
Pre-Snap Reads, Post-Snap Reads & Minding The Gap
Despite 40 carries the Hokies limited Ohio State to just 108 yards on the ground, for a 2.7 yards per carry average. Both the total yardage and YPC were season-lows for Ohio State. Here’s how they attacked Urban Meyer’s read option concepts.
Virginia Tech’s defense used man coverage to stifle the option offense. The Buckeyes face 2nd and 10 at their own 17-yard line. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is in the shotgun with 21 personnel on the field, in dual slot formations. Tight end Jeff Heuerman (#5) is the slot receiver to the right with running back Jalin Marshall (#17) is in the slot to the right. The Hokies deploy a 3-3-5 defense, and they show straight man coverage across the board. The two outside linebackers walk up to the line of scrimmage and use wide-9 alignments in a two-point stance:
Prior to the snap Marshall motions into the backfield, giving Barrett dual backs ‒ Marshall to the left, Ezekiel Elliott to the right ‒ and watch how the defense responds. Cornerback Chuck Clark (#19) follows Marshall from the slot and bumps inside to a linebacker’s alignment, still mirroring the running back. Meanwhile free safety Detrick Bonner (#8) adjusts his a position, moving from six yards off the line of scrimmage and over the football, to a LB alignment as well, and mirroring Elliott:
Slot cornerback/rover Kyshon Jarrett (#34) is gesturing to Bonner from his position across the TE. This will become important in a moment. But for now, here is the diagram of the offensive play:
The Buckeyes intend to use an option-concept, with Marshall cutting in front of Barrett on the QB/RB mesh, and aiming for the right tackle. The quarterback reads the edge player on the right, basing his decision on what LB Deon Clarke, #40 is going to do. If the LB stays home on Marshall, Barrett will cut straight ahead, aiming for the right B-Gap. The Buckeyes also pull the left guard through the B-Gap and in front of the quarterback, as an extra blocker should Barrett keep the football.
To the outside, Heuerman is tasked with blocking down on the play, while Elliott swings to the outside, giving Barrett a potential third option on a swing pass. Given how the center blocks downfield it is unlikely the swing pass was an actual option on this play, however it is something Ohio State uses on occasion.
As the play develops, Clarke stays home, minding his rushing lane and containment responsibilities. On the outside, Heuerman cuts inside to try and block Bonner. Jarrett, who was aligned across from the TE, lets Heuerman angle inside and stays home, waiting and reading Elliott.
Remember the gesture between Bonner and Jarrett pre-snap? Perhaps Jarrett was giving Bonner the heads-up on a potential crack block. Or perhaps the two were signaling a switch in their man responsibilities. Regardless, Jarrett stays in the slot and is in position to cover Elliott should he be a target on this play:
Watch how the trio of Bonner, linebacker Chase Williams (#36) and Clark flow to the B-Gap:
All three defenders collapse on Barrett’s running lane. Bonner is able to slide inside the blocking attempt by Heuerman, while Williams sacrifices himself by engaging the pulling guard. On the edge, Clarke has angled around the run of Marshall and dives at the legs of the quarterback. The linebacker’s tackle attempt slows Barrett and forces him into a spin, and the slot corner, Clark flows perfectly to the ball carrier and stops this play for a short gain. When you watch the video, pay attention to how the DB reads his cues. Once he sees the pulling guard and the mesh action between QB/RB, he looks for a hole to explode through:
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This is quick recognition from Clark, likely the result of film work and practice. But I’ll be watching to see if Ohio State tries to exploit this, by showing a pulling guard and then attacking the gap vacated by the OG.
Slowing the Option With Man
In this second example, the Buckeyes face a 1st and 10 to start the second quarter on their own 30-yard line. With 11 personnel on the field Barrett is in the shotgun with RB Curtis Samuel (#4) to his right. The offense deploys trips to the left with Heuerman in a three-point stance to the right of the formation. Virginia Tech again sends out a 3-3-5 defense, with man coverage across the board:
Jarrett aligns over the running back, while Williams is sets up over the football – and the quarterback.
Ohio State runs the speed option to the right here, with Barrett taking the snap and immediately racing toward the right edge while Samuels trails him in a pitch position. The QB again reads the edge player on the defensive front:
If Clarke stays on Barrett, the QB pitches the football to his RB. But if the LB angles toward Samuel or tries to split the difference, then Barrett keeps the football and cuts inside of Clarke.
The LB does not hesitate, and cuts right for the QB:
With Clarke in perfect position to take Barrett to the turf for a loss, the QB is forced to make the pitch. Now it is up to the next two defenders ‒ Jarrett and Williams ‒ to flow to the football:
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Jarrett mirrors the RB perfectly, and even evades the blocking attempt of the RT, before knifing Samuels to the turf for a very minimal gain. These are just two plays, but they show how the Hokies used man concepts to stop two of Ohio State’s core option running plays. Look for Virginia Tech to again rely on these schemes to try and slow the Buckeyes’ rushing attack when these teams meet again in Blacksburg to kick off the 2015 season.
But as we will see in Part 2 of this series, the man coverage that was used to slow the running game last season afforded Ohio State options in the passing game.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.