By the Numbers - Illinois defense
By Jeff Amey
It only took a season and a half, but I finally got what I wanted when it came to doing a defensive breakdown for the Buckeyes. For the first time since the Jim Tressel era, the Buckeye stymied an opposing offense. Illinois managed to put 14 offensive points on the board, but weren't able to top 200 yards of total offense, and finished with less than 100 yards passing and rushing.
Aside from the fact that Illinois' offense has been pretty poor this season, it was the style of defense that has given the Buckeye offense fits the past two seasons. I was interested to see how well the defense could handle a spread-option attack with Zach Boren at linebacker, and while there were some improvements in the middle of the defense, it's hard to say if there is substantial improvement because the Illini offense was horrible.
The bye-week is coming at a good time for the Buckeye defense, as they've been the far more banged up side of the ball this season. The defense should be getting Etienne Sabino back from injury to shore up the linebacker corps, and some of the other banged up players like John Simon and Ohrian Johnson will get a week to heal. The defense has been steadily improving the past few games, and I'm anxious to see what they do against two highly contrasting styles of offense to finish this season.
Let's look at the stats for this game before we get into the few things we were able to learn about the defense this week.
65 Total Plays--169 yards--2.6 yards per play
33 pass (51%)--19/33 for 94 yards 1 INT
32 rush (49%) for 75 yards 1 TD--2.3 ypc
13 Defensive Possessions
Ave. of 5.0 plays--13.0 yards
Ave. Start--Illinois 31
First Down--28 plays (43%) for 82 yards
10 pass (36%)--8/10 for 22 yards
18 rush (64%) for 60 yards 1 TD--3.3 ypc
Ave. gain of 2.9 yards
Second Down--24 plays (37%) for 69 yards
13 pass (54%)--8/13 for 54 yards
11 rush (46%) for 15 yards--1.4 ypc
Ave. of 8.5 yards to go
Ave. gain of 2.9 yards
Third Down--13 plays (20%) for 18 yards
10 pass (77%)--3/10 for 18 yards 1 INT
3 rush (23%) for 0 yards--0.0 ypc
Ave. of 10.5 yards to go
Ave. gain of 1.4 yards
First Downs Allowed--15 Total
6 by pass
6 by rush
3 by penalty
Illinois Offense vs. 4-2-5--62 plays (95%) for 157 yards
31 pass (50%)--18/31 for 88 yards 1 INT
31 rush (50%) for 69 yards 1 TD--2.3 ypc
Blitz Percentage--10/62 (16%)
No Gain/Loss on blitz--6/10 (60%)
Illinois Offense vs. 3-3-5--3 plays (5%) for 12 yards
2 pass (67%)--1/2 for 6 yards
1 rush (33%) for 6 yards--6.0 ypc
Blitz Percentage--0/3 (0%)
Illinois Offense vs. Base (no blitz) defenses--55 plays (85%) for 154 yards
26 pass (47%)--17/26 for 87 yards 1 INT
29 rush (53%) for 67 yards--2.3 ypc
Illinois Offense vs. Blitz--10 plays (15%) for 15 yards
7 pass (70%)--2/7 for 7 yards
3 rush (30%) for 8 yards 1 TD--2.7 ypc
Illnois Offense vs. Man to Man (Combo) defenses--18 plays (28%) for 32 yards
11 pass (61%)--5/11 for 20 yards
7 rush (39%) for 12 yards 1 TD--1.7 ypc
Illinois Offense vs. Zone defenses--47 plays (72%) for 137 yards
22 pass (47%)--14/22 for 74 yards 1 INT
25 rush (53%) for 63 yards--2.5 ypc
Other Stats of Note
* 5 defensive penalties for 54 yards
* Illinois started on the Ohio State side of the 50 once--8 points (1 TD 2pt.)
* 2/2 in the Red Zone--(1 TD 1 FG)
* 2 sacks for
* 1 turnover (INT)
* 26/65 plays went for no gain or loss--(40%)
* 3/65 plays went for 10+ yards--(5%)
* 24/65 plays took place on the Ohio State side of the 50--(37%)
* 4/13 drives went three and out--(31%)
* Second Half Illinois offense--23 plays for 32 yards
Nathan Scheelehaase has been the starter there for the better part of three seasons though he has been hampered by injuries this year, but it seems like he's seriously regressed from the dynamic playmaker he seemed to be his freshman season to a shell of his former self. Their offense was disjointed, Their offensive line was over-matched., And their quarterback spent the entire game either running for his life or throwing off his back foot.
The Ohio State defense did seem to have a bit of trouble with their spread-option attack in the first quarter and on one drive in the second half, but shut down the Illinois offense the majority of the game. The second half was especially dominating. the Illini only managed 32 yards of offense on 23 plays. The defense has really struggled at times over the past two seasons getting off the field on third down, but did very well all game against Illinois, holding them to only 18 yards on 13 plays and only two conversions. No matter how bad the opposing offense is, that's pretty good. Big plays have also been a problem, but Illinois only managed three plays of ten or more yards, and their longest play was just 12 yards.
The reason this game wasn't a very good gauge of how much the defense has improved is that they were very vanilla in this game and dominated it start to finish. They pretty much stayed in their 4-2-5 nickel the whole game, did very little blitzing, and played most of their game in the soft zones we've been accustomed to seeing this year. What we COULD get from it, however, is that the overall tackling and leverage to the ball is a lot better than it was early in the season. We see a lot better one on one tackling and more gang-tackling in general. The next two weeks will test it, but I think the defense has finally gotten to "adaquate".
Let's get into the position groups and see just where the improvements are coming from.
Although there are a lot of Buckeye fans that feel that the defensive line is a bit of a disappointment, the problems on defense have never really been along the defensive front. The Buckeyes finished with only two sacks, but Scheelehaase spent a lot of time scrambling or throwing from his back foot in this game. He ended up being sacked or scrambled on eight pass plays.
The only success the Illini had running the ball was when they went to the read option and started handing the ball off to their tight end which they put in the backfield. Other than the one drive where they did that, the Buckeyes didn't really allow much to the Illini running game. The defensive line was active, but didn't get a whole lot of tackles. What they did do, however, was keep the Illini offensive line off of Ryan Shazier and Zach Boren and allowed them to flow freely to the ball.
On passing downs, Nathan Williams and John Simon were nearly unblockable. When Illinois went to anything more than a quick pass or rollout, Scheelehaase had no time to scan the field and had to scramble or throw off his back foot. The young guys also rotated into the game on several occasions. We already knew Noah Spence had the coaches' confidence, but it looks like Adolphus Washington might be picking things up and is ready for a little more field time.
Grade--(A-) I thought they could've done a better job against the read-option in this game, but it's nit-picking on such a dominating performance.
I've made no secret that Zach Boren is one of my favorite players on this team. His move from fullback to linebacker was a little surprising, but he's a natural fit for the middle linebacker spot, even if he's a little lost in pass coverage at times. Against the run, he's been fantastic other than the few times he's been juked in one on one situations. His impact has been far greater than merely the new position he's playing, however.
The biggest improvement on the Buckeye defense is in the play of Ryan Shazier. Brandon Castel has talked about a light seeming to have gone on for him, and I completely agree. It seemed to start during the Purdue game, continued through last game at Penn State, and was on full display against Illinois. His improvement in leverage both on the ball and during the tackle has been tremendous. He's also doing a much better job of using his hands to shed blockers as well as reading and reacting to plays much faster. The plays he absolutely blew up in the backfield were what we've been waiting to see out of him.
It will be interesting to see how Sabino fits into the linebacker situation in the coming two games. I suspect we'll see him at his normal Sam spot against Wisconsin, but what will the coaches do against Michigan and Denard Robinson? For the first time this season, this isn't a question I dread to find out the answer to.
Grade--(A) I can't tell you how happy I am to give the linebackers an A this season. Shazier was all over the field and Boren was solid at Mike. Can they keep it up against Wisconsin?
With the linebackers finally looking like they're coming together, that just leaves the defensive backs as the weakest link of the defense. Some things have actually gotten better. C. J. Barnett is playing fairly well since returning from injury. Bradley Roby has been a force on his side of the field playing the boundary corner. Before his injury, Ohrian Johnson was playing a decent game at the star spot as well.
I'm still not sold on Travis Howard playing the field corner spot, and feel that is the weakest spot on the defense at this point. The few decent plays Illinois made were screen plays to the field. He just allows himself to be blocked too easily and does virtually nothing to shed the blocks. At least he came up with an interception.
Christian Bryant is still an enigma to me. On the one hand, he does look like he's put some effort into playing a little more within himself. He's not getting himself horribly out of position, and he's actually done a better job of not just shoulder tacklilng on every attempt. On the negative side, he's still getting called for unnecessary penalties, including two in this game. I'm slowly coming around to him, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to get totally behind him.
Grade--(B+) The defensive backs are taking baby steps as well, but I can't give this group an A until the field corner play is better.
As much grief as the defensive coaches have gotten for the early season struggles, they deserve at least some of the credit for the improvement. Some people want to give the credit to Urban Meyer for the Boren move to linebacker, but the immediate improvement after the move also points to the schemes being just fine if they have the right people to run them.
The low point of this season defensively was the Indiana game. It has been talked about that fundamental work is a point of emphasis during practices. That isn't something that is usually worked on much after the season starts, but this team badly needed it, and it seems to finally be paying off. The tackling has been better every week since the Indiana game, and that alone has spelled the difference between giving up too much yardage and points to teams that have no business doing it against Ohio State.
These last two games are going to show us exactly how far they've come. Wisconsin's power running game seems to fit better with what Ohio State is built best to stop, but we can be sure that the Buckeyes will get their best shot. I'm sure last season's finish is on their mind, and the roles are even somewhat reversed this season.
Three weeks ago, I felt a sense of dread when I thought about the Michigan offense vs. this Ohio State defense, but my feelings have changed. I still think Michigan will move the ball, even if Denard Robinson can't play, but I no longer think they are going to be running a track meet up and down the field. I no longer feel dread, but a sense of confident optimism for a group that seems to have finally found their heart and pride, and is doing what it takes to make sure another game like Indiana doesnt happen again.
Grade--(A+) The coaches were confident enough in the defense's ability to stop the Illinois offense to call a pretty vanilla game and shut the Illini down. Illinois is bad, but that shouldn't stop me from giving the coaches credit when it is due.
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