By the Numbers - MSU defense

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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 10/06/2011 4:10 PM
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By the Numbers - Defense MSU
By Jeff Amey

It's not very often that a defense will give up only 10 points and that team lose, but that is exactly what happened to Ohio State this week against Michigan State. Breaking down the tape pretty much just confirmed what we already knew about the defense.  It is good, but not great, and it won't be able to completely cover for an inept offense.

Looking through the defensive stats, it isn't nearly as bad as for the offense.  The Buckeyes did a pretty good job of stopping the run against a team that likes to run the ball.  That, at least, is encouraging as they enter the Big Ten Season.  We'll get more into the particulars after the stats.  On the bright side, when I break down the defense, I get to fast forward through the offense.

Run/Pass Breakdown

63 Total Plays--321 yards--5.1 yards per play

            32 pass (51%)--20/32 for 252 yards  1 TD  2 INT

            31 rush (49%) for 69 yards--2.2 ypc

14 Defensive Possessions

            Ave. of 4.5 plays--22.9 yards

            Ave. Start--MSU 36

First Down--27 plays (43%) for 102 yards

            7 pass (26%)--6/7 for 48 yards

            20 rush (74%) for 54 yards--2.7 ypc

            Ave. gain of 3.4 yards

Second Down--21 plays (33%) for 133 yards

            14 pass (67%)--10/14 for 123 yards  1 TD

            7 rush (33%) for 10 yards--1.4 ypc

            Ave. of 7.3 yards to go

            Ave. gain of 6.3 yards

Third Down--14 plays (22%) for 86 yards

            10 pass (71%)--4/10 for 81 yards  2 INT

            4 rush (29%) for 5 yards--1.3 ypc

            Ave. of 7.1 yards to go

            Ave. gain of 6.1 yards

            Conversions--3/14 (21%)

Fourth Down--1 play (2%) for 0 yards

            1 pass (100%)--0/1 for 0 yards

            Ave. of 4.0 yards to go

            Ave. of no gain

            Conversions--0/1 (0%)

First Downs Given Up--14 total

            11 by pass

            2 by rush

            1 by penalty

Defensive Personnel/Formation Breakdown

MSU offense vs. 4-3--8 plays (13%) for 23 yards

            3 pass (38%)--3/3 for 24 yards

            5 rush (62%) for -1 yard--(-0.2) ypc

            Blitz Percentage--4 (50%)

            Negative Blitz Plays--2

MSU offense vs. 4-2-5--44 plays (70%) for 214 yards

            20 pass (45%)--12/20 for 140 yards  1 TD  2 INT

            24 rush (55%) for 74 yards--3.1 ypc

            Blitz percentage--10 (23%)

            Negative Blitz Plays--0

MSU offense vs. 3-3-5--11 plays (17%) for 84 yards

            9 pass (82%)--5/9 for 88 yards

            2 rush (18%) for -4 yards--(-2.0) ypc

            Blitz Percentage--3 (27%)

            Negative Blitz Plays--0

MSU offense vs. Base (no blitz) defense--46 plays (73%) for 217 yards

            24 pass (52%)--14/24 for 174 yards  2 INT

            22 rush (48%) for 43 yards--2.0 ypc

            Ave. gain of 4.7 yards

MSU offense vs. Blitz--17 plays (27%) for 104 yards

            8 pass (47%)--6/8 for 78 yards  1 TD

            9 rush (53%) for 26 yards--2.9 ypc

            Ave. gain of 6.1 yards

MSU offense vs. Man to man/Combination--29 plays (46%) for 115 yards

            13 pass (45%)--7/13 for 86 yards  1 TD  2 INT

            16 rush (55%) for 29 yards--1.9 ypc

            Ave. gain of 4.0 yards

MSU offense vs. Zone defense--34 plays (54%) for 206 yards

            19 pass (56%)--13/19 for 166 yards

            15 rush (44%) for 40 yards--2.7 ypc

            Ave. gain of 6.1 yards

Other Stats of Note

~ 1 defensive penalty for 15 yards

~ Michigan State started on the Ohio State side of the fifty 3 times--3 points (FG)

~ MSU was 0/1 in the red zone

~ No sacks and 3 turnovers (1 Fumble  2 INT)

~ 22/63 plays went for no gain or loss (35%)

~ Number of plays of 10+ yards--15 (24%)

~ 4/14 drives went three and out--(29%)

So why didn't this game get out of hand?  The Buckeye offense could do very little the entire game, and the Spartans average starting position was their own 36 yard line, including three starts on the Buckeye's side of the 50.  This had the potential to get very ugly.  Instead the defense played very opportunistically, forcing three turnovers, all in Ohio State territory, and did a good job on third downs, allowing the Spartans to convert only 21% of them.  The Buckeyes only allowed 69 rushing yards and came up with some big stops on third down and short running plays.

Those were the good things, but there were some concerns about the defense as well.  For one, the defense gave up short passes nearly at will to the Spartan offense.  Second, other than John Simon, the Buckeyes weren't able to get any pressure on Kirk Cousins the entire game.  Third, the absence of Nathan Williams has caused some situational substitution adjustments that aren't always advantageous to the defense.

Let's get into the position groups and talk about the issues.

Defensive Line

Every game this season I've mentioned John Simon and Johnathan Hankins first, and I'm not going to deviate from that.  Neither of those players are blockable one on one unless they're held, and that's happening all the time.  Michigan State paid special attention to both of them all day, with Hankins commanding a double team on nearly every running play.  He still managed to disrupt several running plays despite the double-teams and holding.

Those two are the only real game-changers the defense has on the field this season, and it seemed clear Michigan State was gameplanning with them in mind.  They got the ball out of Cousin's hands quickly on pass plays before Simon could get there, and it kept him from even getting too many hits on him. 

Garrett Goebbels and Adam Bellamy saw the most field-time along with Hankins and Simon, and I think they are slowly improving as the season rolls on.  I thought Bellamy had his best game shedding blocks and getting in on some tackles against the run.  J. T. Moore started off as an every down player after Nathan Williams went down to injury, but after struggling against the run, he has been relegated to coming in on pass situations in the Leo spot, and hasn't really made an impact there either.

Grade--B+   This is clearly the strongest position group on the team this season.  Opposing teams are game-planning around Simon and Hankins.


Last week, the Buckeyes spent most of the game in 4-2-5 personnel, but I was hesitant to make too much of it due to Colorado spending so much time in the shotgun passing the ball.  I thought it might have been a one-time deal just for that game.  After Michigan State, they have gone away from their base 4-3 defense and are sticking with the 4-2-5 with Tyler Moeller coming in and playing the Sam spot when they want to maintain their 4-3 look.  Against Akron, it was Nathan Williams that slid back to the Sam spot from Leo, and it seems that was going to be the plan for Williams all season.

Moeller has been catching a lot of heat from the fans for not being as dynamic as he has in the past, but he's being asked to do a lot of things he wasn't being asked to do in the past, and I don't think he's physically suited for a good part of it.  Instead of taking on Wide Receiver blocks and making plays out in space, he's taking on linemen and fullbacks on a lot of plays.  He's facing guys a lot bigger than he is on a lot of plays.  When he gets to play in the Star role we've been accustomed to seeing him in he's shown he can still be a playmaker, but he's had a little trouble this season tackling.

Storm Klein is still having trouble getting into position due to being just a step slow, but is a good tackler if he does get there.  Same for Sweat, and he needs to do a better job of using his hands to get off of blockers.  Too many times he's blocked just out of plays because he can't get the blocker off and is forced to reach and attempt an arm tackle that the back just blows through.  Sabino actually looked to take a step in the right direction this week.

Grade--B   Surprisingly, this was probably the best game the linebackers have had this season.

Defensive Backs

Last week, I made a mistake saying C. J. Barnett replaced Ohrian Johnson, when it was actually Christian Bryant (that's what happens when your notes just say C.B.) and after another week, I think that switch has clearly improved the tackling in the secondary.  Bryant is much better in run support, and hasn't been a huge dropoff when it comes to coverage.

I have read a lot of fans questioning the ease with which Michigan State was allowed to complete short passes in this game.  Re-watching the game, I also found it a little frustrating to see the Buckeyes playing so far off of receivers even if they were playing man to man.  On the bright side, the corners did a good job of tackling to not allow many big plays after the catch, but it certainly allowed Cousins to get into a rhythm with his receivers that wasn't broken until the fourth quarter.  This was a scheme issue and not one with the corners, and we'll cover it in the coaching section.

I think Bradly Roby has been one of the more pleasant surprises at cornerback.  I wasn't sure what to expect from him, but as the season has gone on it has become clear that he's a playmaker. Against MSU he came up with his second interception of the season and also tipped a ball to teammate C.J. Barnett for a second interception in the end zone to stop a Spartan scoring drive.

At the other corner spot, I'm having trouble seeing why Dominic Clarke isn't seeing more field time ahead of Travis Howard.  Howard's coverage has been decent, and he's actually pretty tough in run support as well, but he just doesn't do nearly as good of a job of contesting passes as Clarke.  There has to be something we just aren't seeing, and it seems as if Howard gives up on plays occasionally, and that concerns me the most about him.

Grade--B+   Normally 252 yards of passing isn't going to get this good of a grade, but I can't lay the blame for that at the feet of the secondary.

Defensive Coaching/Gameplan

With the offense being what it is, and the relative youth and inexperience on the defense, I am of the opinion that the coaching staff has decided to take a "bend but don't break" approach to defense.  There have been a lot of loose coverages, little and unsophisticated blitzing, and nearly no stunts or twists up front.  The defense has been pretty vanilla, and I no longer think it is because they're "saving" anything for later.

On the bright side, it forces opponent offenses to drive the field, and the defense hasn't given up many big plays.  The tackling against Miami was rough, but the other games haven't been all that bad.  The Buckeyes have also tightened up in the red zone and on third downs.  I think this is probably the best way to go with the defense until if the offense improves.  On the flip side, not being aggressive means there is less chance of the defense turning the ball over and causing negative plays.

I do think the defense could do more if they had to, as evidenced by a few things up in the breakdown.  When the Buckeyes go man to man on defense, the opposing offenses have not done nearly as well as when they play zones.  Against Michigan State it was 4.0 yards per play in man to man vs. 6.1 yards per play in zone.  Since the blitzing has been so unsophisticated and ineffective, I can't really make any assumptions based on more blitzing.

All in all, I think Jim Heacock is calling the defense in a way that gives them the best chance to win.  I don't think taking chances and possibly getting down huge to any team would be good for this team's psyche.  He's best served trying to keep the scores down, play opportunistic, and hope the offense improves.

Grade--A   Without Heacock, I think the 2011 season goes from disappointing to a disaster.

At this point, there are only two games left that I think can get completely out of hand early, and Nebraska is one of them.  The defense will have to play sound, fundamental football to keep the Buckeyes in it early.  If they can do that, maybe there will be a chance for the Buckeyes to win.  If not, I expect another ugly loss with a score a lot worse than the 10-7 "beatdown" the Spartans gave them this past Saturday.

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