By the Numbers - Indiana Defense
By Jeff Amey
When you think about Ohio State's 52-49 win over the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday night, I'm willing to bet "good defense" isn't one of the things that come to mind. I'm also willing to bet that the fourth quarter colored your view of the entire game, and that you'd be surprised if I told you that the defense actually didn't play all that badly for the first three.
Before the fourth quarter started, the Hoosiers had managed only six first downs to that point. Their longest sustained drive was six plays. They had run 46 plays through those three quarters. Three of them went for 174 yards and 14 points. The other 43 had gained only 126 yards total, which is less than three yards per play. Five of their 12 possessions had went three and out.
As the game went on, however, things got worse for the defense. Indiana ran 32 plays in the fourth quarter, gained 182 yards, and scored 22 points, including 15 in the final two minutes, to make this game look much closer than it really was. They managed to sustain two drives of 10 or more plays, recovered an onside kick, converted a fourth down, and were helped by three late defensive penalties.
It will never be acceptable for a defense to give up 49 points...to any opponent. I'm just saying that just as things are never as good as they seem when they are going well, they weren't as bad as they seemed in this game. I went into breaking this game down with the expectation that I'd be writing a column ripping the defense. Instead I ended up being disappointed with some of the continuing breakdowns that keep allowing opposing offenses big plays, but also encouraged by a few things I saw.
Let's take a look at the stats before we get into all of that.
78 Total Plays--482 yards--6.2 yards per play
54 pass (69%)--28/54 for 351 yards 3 TD
24 rush (31%) for 131 yards 3 TD--5.5 ypc
16 Defensive Possessions
Ave. of 4.9 plays--30.1 yards
Ave. Start--Indiana 29
First Down--34 plays (44%) for 255 yards
21 pass (62%)--12/21 for 157 yards 2 TD
13 rush (38%) for 98 yards 1 TD--7.5 ypc
Ave. gain of 7.5 yards
Second Down--24 plays (31%) for 69 yards
17 pass (71%)--8/17 for 53 yards
7 rush (29%) for 16 yards 1 TD--2.3 ypc
Ave. of 7.9 yards to go
Ave. gain of 2.9 yards
Third Down--19 plays (24%) for 140 yards
15 pass (79%)--7/15 for 125 yards 1 TD
4 rush (21%) for 15 yards 1 TD--3.8 ypc
Ave. of 6.7 yards to go
Ave. gain of 7.4 yards
Fourth Down--1 play (1%) for 16 yards
1 pass (100%)--1/1 for 16 yards
Ave. of 6.0 yards to go
Ave. gain of 16.0 yards
First Downs Allowed--18 total (12 fourth quarter)
13 by pass
4 by rush
1 by penalty
Indiana Offense vs. 4-2-5--69 plays (88%) for 457 yards
48 pass (70%)--25/48 for 334 yards 3 TD
21 rush (30%) for 123 yards 3 TD
Blitz Percentage--6/69 (9%)
No Gain/Loss on Blitz--1/6 (17%)
Indiana Offense vs. 3-3-5--9 plays (12%) for 25 yards
6 pass (67%)--3/6 for 17 yards
3 rush (33%) for 8 yards--2.7 ypc
Blitz Percentage--3/9 (33%)
No Gain/Loss on Blitz--2/3 (67%)
Indiana Offense vs. Base (no blitz) defenses--69 plays (88%) for 365 yards
48 pass (70%)--25/48 for 246 yards 2 TD
21 rush (30%) for 119 yards 2 TD--5.7 ypc
Indiana Offense vs. Blitzes--9 plays (12%) for 117 yards
6 pass (67%)--3/6 for 105 yards 1 TD
3 rush (33%) for 12 yards 1 TD--4.0 ypc
Indiana Offense vs. Man to Man (Combo) Defenses--17 plays (22%) for 66 yards
10 pass (59%)--5/10 for 44 yards
7 rush (41%) for 2 yards 2 TD--3.1 ypc
Indiana Offense vs. Zone Defenses--61 plays (78%) for 416 yards
44 pass (72%)--23/44 for 307 yards 3 TD
17 rush (28%) for 109 yards 1 TD--6.4 ypc
OTHER STATS OF NOTE
* 4 Defensive penalties for 46 yards
* Indiana Started on the Ohio State side of the 50 three times--18 points (2 TD[w/ 2pt.] 1 FG)
* 4/4 in the Red Zone--(3 TD 1 FG)
* No sacks against and no turnovers
* 32/78 plays went for no gain or loss--(41%)
* 16/78 plays went for 10+ yards--(21%)
* 25/78 plays took place on the OSU side of the 50--(32%) (Only 3 in first half...15 in fourth quarter)
* 5/16 possessions went 3 and out--(31%)
* Indiana Fourth quarter offense--32 plays for 182 yards--22 points
* Indiana First three quarters offense--46 plays for 300 yards (174 of those came on 3 plays)
There are several things the Buckeyes did on defense that don't really show up anywhere in the breakdown, so I'll mention them here. While they didn't blitz very much, they did do several line slants and stunts. They weren't very effective, but it wasn't as if the coaches were calling straight vanilla defenses every play. Secondly, they were playing some coverage games where they would play man to man on the field side and zone on the boundary (or vice versa). These also weren't overly effective, but deserve mention. Finally, I've seen a lot of complaints about the "rush three and drop eight" defenses, but the Buckeyes really didn't do that very much in this game. They were more visable mainly because Noah Spence was in on the tackle on most of the plays where they did it, which should reflect positively on him instead of negatively on the coaches for putting him out there.
I've already stated I'm not going to rip the defense, but I was disappointed in some things. While the tackling was a little better, the angles and control (leverage in coach-speak) of the defenders on some plays were horrible. On the first touchdown run, Michael Bennett allowed himself to be pinned inside, Ryan Shazier allowed himself to be swallowed by the lead block by not using his hands to meet and shed him, and Bradley Roby took an awful angle that allowed the back to race to the end zone untouched. All that play was missing was a missed shoulder tackle and it would've been a microcosm of the entire season so far. For all of the good defense played in the first quarter to that point (10 plays for 34 yards and two 3 and outs), that play threw it all out the window and allowed Indiana some momentum.
I was also disappointed in the uncanny ability of this defense to avoid making the plays that will get them off the field, especially in important situations. I counted five dropped interceptions, all of them in the second half, including three on fourth quarter drives. There were three other passes that were batted in the air that I didn't see anyone make a real effort to get to. While it didn't happen every play, there were times where guys weren't giving 100% effort.
Before I drone on too long about disappointments for this game, let's get into the position groups so we can sprinkle in a few positives.
After the game, I saw a lot of people talk about their disappointment in the lack of pressure the defensive line got in this game. Indiana passed the ball 54 times and their QB scrambled several more times, yet the Buckeyes finished the game with no sacks. Just what was going on with the line? Why wasn't it getting more pressure?
I think you have to give a lot of credit to the Indiana coaching staff for this one, at least early in the game. They did a lot of different things to keep the OSU d-line off-balance through snap count, tempo, pre-snap motion, play fakes, and just getting the ball out of the QB's hands quickly. The defensive line was never really able to just pin their ears back and go. Later in the game, especially in the fourth quarter, I think the defensive line was just gassed.
Through the first three quarters, even with all Indiana was doing, the Buckeyes did manage to get pressure on the quarterback on several plays and at least make him uncomfortable. In the fourth quarter, the defensive line was barely able to make a dent in the Indiana front. This is where I think Mike Vrabel needs to think about the differences between the current college and pro games. The NFL is a huddle every play, 40 seconds between snaps league. Teams rarely top 60 plays in a game on offense. Indiana ran 78 plays, and a lot of up-tempo, no huddle stuff. It's not a sign of weakness to rotate defensive linemen. In some cases, it's a matter of survival.
With Nathan Williams out for this game, it fell to true freshman Noah Spence to play the Leo position, and I thought he did a surprisingly good job. He showed an instinct for the football and gave 100% on every play. I expected him to struggle a little bit when asked to drop into coverage, but was in on almost every play when he went out. He also showed a knack for reading a screen pass that few Buckeye defenders have shown this season. With the coaches tinkering with the idea of using Williams at linebacker, I think we can expect to see a lot more of Spence on the field this season.
All in all, I'm not down on the defensive line after this game. Aside from the one long touchdown run, the Hoosiers did next to nothing on the ground on called running plays. The pass rush wasn't spectacular, but wasn't awful through the first three quarters either. I've seen some people call the D-line over-rated. I say they cause the opposing coaching staffs to plan around them, and the rest of the defense isn't good enough to stop them.
Grade--(B) Still clearly the best position group on the defense. Simon and Hankins saw consistant double-teams all game, and the Hoosiers still had to hold them on several plays.
As Tony Gerdeman alluded to in his Buckeye Watch, it was almost comical for the Big Ten Network cameras to focus in on Zach Boren playing on the defense several times through the first two quarters, yet the game announcers not mention it until there was about six minutes left in the second quarter. I've been an unabashed Zach Boren fan for the last three years, and his moving to linebacker for the sake of the team only enhances my respect for him. For those of you that might not have read it somewhere yet, let this sink in. He led the team in tackles with 8 having played in only 10 of the Buckeye's 16 defensive possessions. All of that despite playing fullback for the past three and a half seasons and having only three practices at linebacker under his belt.
He didn't play a great game. In fact, it wasn't really even a good game. He got himself out of position and over-ran several plays. He missed a few tackles, including a big one on the Hoosier's last touchdown. The important thing is that he gave effort on every play, and he's only going to get better with reps. How much better? That's hard to say, but since this looks to be a "temporarily permanent" move, we'll find out.
There's nothing I can say about Shazier and Storm Klein that I haven't written before. I hope to one day see the light go on for Shazier, but I'm not holding my breath for this season. He is what he is, and what he is is a player that can make some great plays, but loses leverage too easily and always seems to try to tackle too high. The sad thing is that this defense would be in much worse shape without him on the field.
Grade--(D+) The coaches are having to go out of their way to protect this group now that injuries have decimated them. Had Shazier came up with either of the two interceptions he dropped, the grade would be higher. Hopefully the addition of Boren and Williams adds a spark.
I'm torn on how to grade this group this week. On the one hand, Indiana barely completed 50% of their passes. On the other, they managed 351 yards through the air and threw three touchdowns. There were several passes broken up by either knocking the ball out of the receiver's hands or seperating the ball with a hit, but there were also several possible interceptions dropped.
Part of the issue, in my opinion, is the scheme. I'm not a big fan of the soft zones the Buckeyes are playing on a majority of downs. The Buckeyes gave up an average of 6.8 yards per play in their zone plays, and just 3.9 yards per play in man to man defenses. That's a pretty significant difference, and it makes you wonder why they didn't call more man defenses. In the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes ran some type of zone on 27 of the 32 plays, including 14 of the final 15.
With Travis Howard dealing with a shoulder issue this season, and with what we've heard about Doran Grant from the coaches, I think we were all wondering why Grant wasn't seeing the field a little more considering how much Howard has struggled with his tackling and zone coverages. When Grant came into the game, however, Indiana immediately started picking on him with three straight passes. Two were completed, one for a long gain, and Grant interfered on the third. It was a little disappointing that he wasn't able to step up there.
Grade--(B-) Bradley Roby even had a few mistakes in this game, the worst being on Indiana's first touchdown run. I haven't seen him let himself get that out of position before.
It took a week longer than I thought it would, but I predicted after the Michigan State game that we would all be wondering again if the defensive coaching staff should be let go at the end of the season. Giving up 49 points to Indiana was a pretty quick way to get back to that point.
I don't envy the coaching staff for the personnel issues they're facing. Injuries have so decimated the linebacking corps, they have moved a fullback over to that side of the ball to help out. They have a bunch of young guys, but none of them have picked up the defense well enough to warrent any playing time. It's clear they've had to call their defenses to protect this group, and it's limited the effectiveness of the defense as a whole.
None of that excuses the fundamental issues the defense shows week after week. Taken as a whole, the defense actually played better against Indiana than they have been, but gave up several big plays that allowed the Hoosiers to stay in the game. No matter how many no gain/loss plays they managed to get (a season-high 41%), the big plays rendered it all moot, and their inability to get stops in the fourth quarter nearly gave the game away.
I don't think there's going to be a magical one week fix that is going to cause this to go from a poor to dominant defense, but I think there is one thing that can help things immediately. The biggest thing missing from this defense to me is just the attitude that the Buckeye side of the line of scrimmage is THEIRS, and the other team isn't welcome there. That means 11 men busting their butts to the ball until the whistle blows...every play. Urban Meyer is calling it "4-6 seconds of effort". If they just started doing that consistantly week to week and play to play, the difference would be tremendous.
Hopefully the Zach Boren move and possible use of Nathan Williams at linebacker will give these guys the spark they need to get things going. The Luke Fickel/Heacock schemes have always relied on having a solid middle linebacker for it to work. I don't know if Boren is a dynamic enough of a player to give them everything they need there, but one thing is for sure. He'll give them his best effort.
Grade--(D) I'd like to go higher since I still feel that the defense actually played better overall, but the 49 points and 482 yards are impossible to ignore. If they can start eliminating the big plays and shore up the pass defense, maybe we can move this grade up a little bit.