For all the talk about the added speed on this Ohio State roster, a power outage may be more to blame for the loss to Virginia Tech.
After finishing my video review Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech, I filed my usual report with BuckeyeSports.com. The conclusion was that Virginia Tech had a good plan considering all the factors going into the game, both from their personnel standpoint and Ohio State’s. For the Hokies, that relates to speed. For the Buckeyes, it is youth.
As Urban Meyer said this week, the defense Virginia Tech used has been used against them before but not regularly and not since his first year at Ohio State. One thing about the spread” It’s supposed to prevent teams from loading up the line of scrimmage against you. I guess when they scout you and decide to do it anyway, that should probably be a sign of a pretty big problem.
Meyer prides himself on still playing power football despite the formation, but there are times I wonder if he and offensive coordinator Tom Herman are a little bit too rigid in their philosophy as far as how they line up. This shouldn’t be taken to mean I have major overall questions with what they do, it’s obviously a pretty effective most of the time, but I do wonder if they have limited themselves more than they need to.
I wrote when Meyer was hired Ohio State was fortunate to be getting a spread offense at a time when it had had several years to develop and grow, and I still believe that. However, I can’t help but notice of how many teams have now managed to add elements of the spread while maintaining their pro-style identity. At places like Alabama they have seemingly built toward Meyer’s system, but has Meyer moved any closer to the Crimson Tide?
Of course, being committed to one style and a few concepts is important, especially considering the limited amount of preparation time allowed in college, so it can be a slippery slope. The previous coaching staff in Columbus showed how dangerous it can be for your own effectiveness if you get caught dabbling with too many formations and play series, but there are teams that managed to pull off both two-back power and a lot of multi-receiver sets just fine.
If you insist on having three receivers on the field all the time, then what happens when teams are no longer afraid to load the box against you? One answer is recruit better players on the outside, but does that have to be the only one?
One thing you can learn very quickly, especially if you check out a high school game, is the spread is just as bad with the wrong personnel as a set with two running backs and a tight end can be. Bad spread football can be really ugly.
A football-savvy poster on the BuckeyeSports.com “Ask the Insiders” premium message board pointed out Virginia Tech’s daring plan to clog up the middle of the field and play most of the night with no free safety had to have been born at least in part out of necessity. An undersized Hokie front and linebackers who look more like safeties could have been mashed even by this rebuilt Ohio State offensive line, so drastic measures had to be taken to make sure the Buckeyes ended up being one-dimensional. The athleticism of the ends/outside linebackers and speed of the inside linebackers also made Ohio State’s read option and inverted veers tougher to execute, an added benefit.
Just as teams can be too stubborn in keeping too many blockers in the box, sometimes they are too stubborn in leaving them out wide. The No. 1 plan for Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman to beat a loaded box is to throw deep (this is no different from a pro-style offense, by the way), but that didn’t work well enough Saturday night. What about bringing another blocker into the equation, especially if the opposition has a player or two who is hard to option? If a team decides to put seven or eight guys in the box whether or not you have three receivers, is it smart to keep using three receivers when you want to run the ball? Perhaps another tight end or an H-back could have been useful in this scenario.
They showed what I would call the “power pistol” (because it resembles the old power I) once with Ezekiel Elliott lined up to the right of QB J.T. Barrett and Dontre Wilson lining up behind Barrett (after motioning from the slot), but that was all. I wonder if they could get some use out of that with power back Rod Smith basically playing fullback and one of the speedsters at tailback. Meyer has praised Smith’s blocking after all, and he is a running threat. They experimented with the “diamond formation” (three backs, one to either side of the QB and another behind) last season, but we never saw much (if any) of that in an actual game.
Of course, this points to a secondary personnel problem. Given Jeff Heuerman’s health and Marcus Baugh’s off-the-field problems (which hopefully are behind him even if he has had to continue to deal with the consequences early this year), Ohio State is thin at tight end even with Nick Vannett being a very good No. 2 option. There are no fullbacks on the roster even though at the beginning of Meyer’s tenure the coaching staff talked about continuing to bring in guys of various body types to fill that dual role (tight end/fullback).
Since becoming head coach, Meyer has brought in seven receivers, two running backs, one guy listed as both (Curtis Samuel) and three “athletes” (who turned out to be a linebacker, a cornerback and a hybrid RB/WR) along with one tight end (Baugh), so it would seem the obsession with building speed on the roster has come at the cost of some size. Whether that is temporary or long term remains to be seen.
The youth of the offense also caused the staff to try to keep the game plan from getting too big, and then it turned out Virginia Tech’s surprising approach probably made a lot of what they had worked on during the week worthless. An older team might have been able to flash back to the last time it saw this type of defense even if it didn’t practice those plays last week. A team with a couple more big bodies to put on the field might have had another answer, too, but neither of those were possible in this case.
What’s the answer going forward? Well, there probably won’t be a lot of teams that have Virginia Tech’s personnel, but does Ohio State have the personnel on this team to be able to deal with a similar defensive approach if the Buckeyes run into it? I’m sure the OSU coaches would still like to believe their outside weapons will develop to the point they can just simply bomb it into submission, but that hasn’t happened yet. Will it? The Buckeyes might not have many other options.