By the Numbers - Purdue Defense
By Jeff Amey
When you think about the Ohio State defense, what usually comes to mind first are shut-down defenses that the team and fans could always rely on to keep the Buckeyes in football games, even when the offense was struggling. You could always count on the defense being fundamentally sound, with great one on one tacklers in space. These are things we just aren't seeing this season.
As frustrating as the offense has been to watch this season, I think the defensive struggles have been harder to accept. Where are the issues, and who's responsible for them? On offense, I think the biggest part of the blame lies with the coaching, but the defensive issues are a little different, and I think that, while the coaching staff has to share in the responsibility for the shoddy defense we see at times this season, it falls mainly to the players in this case.
Let's get through the stats so we can get into it in more detail.
79 Total Plays--362 yards--4.6 yards per play
37 pass (47%)--25/37 for 232 yards 1 INT
42 rush (53%) for 130 yards 3 TD--3.1 ypc
13 Defensive Possessions
Ave. of 6.1 plays--27.8 yards
Ave. start--Purdue 32
First Down--36 plays (46%) for 211 yards
15 pass (42%)--11/15 for 120 yards 1 INT
21 rush (58%) for 91 yards 2 TD--4.3 ypc
Ave. gain of 5.9 yards
Second Down--25 plays (32%) for 62 yards
9 pass (36%)--7/9 for 42 yards
16 rush (64%) for 20 yards 1 TD--1.3 ypc
Ave. of 6.3 yards to go
Ave. gain of 2.5 yards
Third Down--18 plays (23%) for 89 yards
13 pass (72%)--7/13 for 70 yards
5 rush (28%) for 19 yards--3.8 ypc
Ave. of 6.2 yards to go
Ave. gain of 4.9 yards
First Downs Allowed--24 total
12 by pass
9 by rush
3 by penalty
Purdue Offense vs. 4-2-5--60 plays (76%) for 228 yards--(3.8 ypp)
26 pass (43%)--17/26 for 149 yards 1 INT
34 rush (57%) for 79 yards 1 TD--2.3 ypc
Blitz Percentage--11/60 (18%)
Negative Blitz Plays--2
Purdue Offense vs. 3-3-5--18 plays (23%) for 133 yards--(7.4 ypp)
11 pass (61%)--8/11 for 83 yards
7 rush (39%) for 50 yards 1 TD--7.1 ypc
Blitz Percentage--3/18 (17%)
Negative Blitz Plays--0
Purdue Offense vs. Goal Line Defense--1 play (1%) for 1 yard--(1.0 ypp)
1 rush (100%) for 1 yard 1 TD--1.0 ypc
Blitz Percentage--0/1 (0%)
Purdue Offense vs. Base (no blitz) defense--65 plays (82%) for 302 yards--(4.6 ypp)
25 pass (38%)--18/25 for 164 yards 1 INT
40 rush (62%) for 138 yards 3 TD--3.5 ypc
Purdue Offense vs. Blitz--14 plays (18%) for 60 yards--(4.3 ypp)
12 pass (86%)--7/12 for 68 yards
2 rush (14%) for -8 yards--(-4.0) ypc
Purde Offense vs. Man to Man (Combo) defenses--60 plays (76%) for 220 yards--(3.7 ypp)
25 pass (42%)--14/25 for 127 yards 1 INT
35 rush (58%) for 93 yards 3 TD--2.7 ypc
Purdue Offense vs. Zone defenses--19 plays (24%) for 142 yards--(7.5 ypp)
12 pass (63%)--11/12 for 105 yards
7 rush (37%) for 37 yards--5.3 ypc
Other Stats of Note
~ 2 defensive penalties for 30 yards
~ Purdue started on the Ohio State side of the 50 twice--9 points (1 TD 1 FG)
~ 4/4 in the Red Zone--(3 TD 1 FG)
~ 1 sack and 1 turnover (INT)
~ 27/79 plays went for no gain or loss--(34%)
~ 39/79 plays took place on the Ohio State side of the 50--(49%)
~ 15/79 plays went for 10+ yards--(19%)
~ 3/13 drives went 3 and out--(23%)
~ Missed Tackles--25
First off, we have to give some credit to the Purdue Boilermakers and their coaching staff. The Purdue staff found some weaknesses in the Ohio State defense, and exploited them the entire game. The sad part was that it didn't seem as if the Buckeye defensive staff had an answer for it.
So what did Purdue attack in this game successfully? Generally, they attacked two different areas of the defense. When they ran the ball for any success, they attacked the edges of the defense. When they tried to attack the middle of the defense, the defensive line stuffed them cold most of the time, but they were able to get the edge blocked several times, and while they didn't break off many big runs, they were able to get positive yardage outside.
In their passing game, they took advantage of fact that this team isn't all that great at one on one tackling. They got the ball short to their receivers and let them make plays. It wasn't fancy, but Purdue was able to keep the chains moving by their receivers making the first and sometimes second man miss to gain extra yardage.
Something that doesn't show up in the breakdown is the number of long drives the Boilermakers had. Five of their drives went for 7 or more plays, and four of them went 9 or more. The Buckeyes had a hard time getting off the field on third downs at times, and gave up seven third down conversions on Purdue's scoring drives. Six of Purdue's seven third down pass completions went for a first down as well.
So what did we learn about the defense this week? A look at the position groups will tell the tale.
It should come to no surprise at this point that the defensive line is still the best group on the field. Purdue spent the entire game running away from John Simon when they ran the ball, and getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly or rolling him out when they passed. It effectively took Simon out of the game, and neutralized a lot of the line's strengths. The few times they did run up the middle, they were stuffed, and the Buckeyes got good games out of both Michael Bennett and Garrett Goebel to go along with the solid play of Johnathan Hankins and Adam Bellamy.
There have been some complaints about the lack of pass rush the defense gets on obvious passing situations, and there is some truth to it. The Buckeyes like to play zone in those situations, and you can see above where the Boilermakers completed 11 of 12 passes and averaged almost double the yardage per rush as they did when they played man to man. While the defensive line is indeed tough, they aren't the best pass rushers, as a group. This is where Nathan Williams is missed the most this season.
Grade--B The lack of pass rush is troubling, but most troubling is that teams are having so much success avoiding the defensive line this season.
For nine games this season, fans have been champing at the bit to see Ryan Shazier get on the field for extended time at linebacker. It took a head injury to Andrew Sweat for fans to get their wish, and the resulting question has to be: Why did it take so long? He immediately brought a playmaking ability we haven't seen from any of the other linebackers this season, as well as a nose for the ball that allowed him to stuff a few run plays before they got started. He's raw, and did make a few mistakes out there, but the positives far outweighed the negatives, and it's going to be difficult to see a reason for him to leave the lineup now that he's gotten to the front.
As for the rest of the linebacker corps, it was more of the same. Etienne Sabino and Storm Klein were solid tacklers when they were able to get into position, but they struggled to get there all game long. The linebackers were slow reacting to screens and playaction, and the Boilermakers had some success using mis-direction on them as well.
Grade--B- Shazier's play was a pleasant surprise, and he nearly came up with three turnovers himself, stripping the quarterback on the Buckeye's only sack of the game, nearly jumping a pass for an interception, and causing and recovering a fumble that was called back because the receiver's knee was on the ground. He needs to stay on the field.
This is the area of the defense that has caused a bit of a conundrum for Jim Heacock, in my opinion. They are much better in man to man than they are in zones, and were again in this game. The Boilermakers gained 40% of their offensive output against zone defenses, which accounted for just 24% of the Buckeye's defensive calls. However, there are times when the defensive backs look lost and give up plays they shouldn't, even when they're in man.
Much has been made of the "miscommunication" on the long third down play converted by Purdue that, in essence, cost the Buckeyes the game. It looks as if the Buckeyes are playing man on that play, and the Boilermakers had trips to the left side of their formation. The man that eventually caught the ball was the outside man on the trips side. If the Buckeyes were indeed supposed to be in man, the eventual receiver was Bradley Roby's man. After the snap, with Roby playing nearly 10 yards off the receiver, it looks as if he's expecting to switch with someone when his man starts his crossing route. No one ever did and the receiver runs free across the field. At the end of the play, Christian Bryant and C. J. Barnett are both running at him and Barnett eventually pushes him out of bounds, but the only one Roby could've wanted to switch with in this situation was Bryant. I'm not sure who's ultimately to blame, but it looks like the miscommunication was with Bryant and Roby.
Miscommunications aren't the biggest issue with this group this season, however. The Buckeyes haven't been a very good tackling team this season, and nowhere has that been more of an issue than the defensive backfield. Whether it is poor angles, bad technique, or simply not wrapping up and going for "kill shots", the main reason the Purdue had so much success is that the Buckeye secondary just couldn't get the Boilers on the ground when they had their opportunities.
Brandon Castel makes a good point about Tyler Moeller, and how he acquired his "stud" status when he was being used more aggressively on the edge of defensive formations. He's been asked to do almost none of that this season and has instead been playing more of a linebacker role against heavy formations, and coverage against receiver heavy formations. He's been a surprisingly bad tackler in space this season, and was abused several times in this game. This was the first team to attack him extensively in space (there have been several teams attack him with strength), and I don't think he held up very well.
Is a shakeup in order? Christian Bryant seems to have more to bring to the star position at this point, and might be a better choice, and Ohrian Johnson seems to be a better choice at safety as well considering Bryant's well-documented struggles as well. I'm not sure exactly what the answer should be, and though it's sad to say considering how much Moeller has gone through in his Buckeye career, he's just not getting the job done when the opposing offense decides to attack him.
Grade--C Roby is the only real playmaker in the secondary. The rest of these guys need to step up their play or the end of this season is going to be ugly.
There have been a lot of people blaming the coaching staff for the lacksidasical start for the Buckeye defense the past two games. I think this problem is nearly entirely on the players. Defense plays on pride and emotion, and there is very little a coach is going to do or say to bring that out of players. That has to come from themselves. Where is the leadership to help bring this out going to come from? This has been a young group with not very many returning starters. Sweat and Simon were the major holdovers from last year, but neither seem to have stepped up and taken the emotional lead for all of the young guys. Someone has to step up and accept that role for the defense.
How much do we blame the coaches for the bad tackling and lack of fundamentals at key areas of the defense? Mike Vrabel has come under some fire for the linebacker play, but I don't think he's had a whole lot to work with. Sweat, Sabino, and Klein aren't a terrible crew by any means, but they aren't going to remind you of any of the great linebackers of the past. The only thing I'd really question in his case is why it took so long to get Shazier on the field. He came on and immediately became one of the best 11 on defense in my opinion.
I'm much more concerned with the coaching in the secondary. This has been an area of strength for the Buckeyes for years, but they don't seem to be in synch most of the time, and look poorly coached in general. Why, ten games in, are they making the same fundamental mistakes over and over again? I'm still confused as to why Dominic Clarke hasn't seen the field more. He showed me more in the first two games than Travis Howard has this entire season, not that he's been bad, but he's just not a playmaker.
That all said, I think Jim Heacock is doing the best he can with what he has. I've been calling for more man defenses, and we saw them spend more than 3/4 of the game in it against Purdue. I think they could've done a little more blitzing, especially from the edge, to at least discourage the Boilermakers from attacking outside so much. On one of the few times they did, Shazier caused the fumble on the Buckeye's only sack of the day. I also think the linebackers do a better job when they're attacking than when they're reading and reacting, though that has slowly improved this season. The problem with blitzing more is that it is going to put more stress on the safeties, and that is probably part of the conundrum Heacock is facing. It seems he's reluctant to put on the pressure and rely on the shaky safeties.
Grade--B- I wasn't that upset with the gameplan, but think they could've been a little more aggressive. I'm much more concerned with the generally sloppy fundamentals.