By the Numbers - UAB Defense
By Jeff Amey
When I envisioned doing a defensive article to complement the offensive one, it was with the idea to show that no matter how bad we thought the offense was back in the Jim Tressel/Bollman days, at least they weren't the other team's offense. Back then, the defense was regularly near the top of the rankings in most defensive categories. I never thought that two seasons later, breaking down the defense was going to involve so much more work than the offense, and that I'd be writing about a defense struggling so badly.
So here we are, talking about a defense that allowed UAB to run 80 plays in a 29-15 win this last Saturday, giving up over 400 yards of total offense in the process. On the bright side, the defense only allowed the Blazers to score 9 points on offense, but the flipside is that UAB was winless and hasn't exactly been an offensive juggernaut.
The coaches aren't panicking (which they would never let you know even if they were), but Buckeye fans are left wondering what's wrong with the defense of a program that has traditionally been known for tough, fundamentally sound defense over the years. Is there hope that this can be a good defense by the end of the season?
We'll get to my opinions on the matter a little later. First, let's look at this game's statistics.
80 Total Defensive Plays--403 yards--5.0 ypp
46 pass (58%)--28/46 for 262 yards 1 INT
34 rush (42%) for 141 yards--4.1 ypc
12 Defensive Possessions
Ave. of 6.7 plays--33.6 yards
Ave. start--UAB 24
First Down--33 plays (41%) for 157 yards
19 pass (58%)--11/19 for 103 yards
14 rush (42%) for 54 yards--3.9 ypc
Ave. gain of 4.8 yards
Second Down--28 plays (35%) for 90 yards
15 pass (54%)--7/15 for 56 yards 1 INT
13 rush (46%) for 34 yards--2.6 ypc
Ave. of 7.4 yards to go
Ave. gain of 3.2 yards
Third Down--18 plays (23%) for 155 yards
12 pass (67%)--10/12 for 103 yards
6 rush (33%) for 52 yards--8.7 ypc
Ave. of 7.9 yards to go
Ave. gain of 8.6 yards
Fourth Down--1 play (1%) for 1 yard
1 rush (100%) for 1 yard--1.0 ypc
Ave. of 3.0 yards to go
Ave. gain of 1.0 yards
First Downs Allowed--21 Total
11 by pass
7 by rush
3 by penalty
Defensive Formation/Type Breakdown
UAB Offense vs. 4-3--23 plays (29%) for 111 yards
12 pass (52%)--7/12 for 71 yards
11 rush (48%) for 40 yards--3.6 ypc
Blitz Percentage--9/23 (39%)
No Gain/Loss on Blitz--3/9 (33%)
UAB Offense vs. 4-2-5--44 plays (55%) for 207 yards
24 pass (55%)--13/24 for 118 yards 1 INT
20 rush (45%) for 89 yards--4.5 ypc
Blitz Percentage--5/44 (11%)
No Gain/Loss on Blitz--1/5 (20%)
UAB Offense vs. 3-3-5--13 plays (16%) for 85 yards
10 pass (77%)--8/10 for 73 yards
3 rush (23%) for 12 yards--4.0 ypc
Blitz Percentage--9/13 (69%)
No Gain/Loss on Blitz--1/9 (11%)
UAB Offense vs. Blitz--23 plays (29%) for 111 yards
13 pass (57%)--8/13 for 71 yards
10 rush (43%) for 40 yards--4.0 ypc
UAB Offense vs. Base (No Blitz)--57 plays (71%) for 292 yards
33 pass (58%)--20/33 for 191 yards 1 INT
24 rush (42%) for 101 yards--4.2 ypc
UAB Offense vs. Man to Man/Combo--20 plays (25%) for 74 yards
12 pass (60%)--5/12 for 47 yards
8 rush (40%) for 27 yards--3.4 ypc
UAB Offense vs. Zone Defenses--60 plays (75%) for 329 yards
34 pass (57%)--23/34 for 215 yards 1 INT
26 rush (43%) for 114 yards--4.4 ypc
Other Stats of Note
* 4 Defensive Penalties for 40 yards
* UAB started on the OSU side of the 50 once--0 points
* 1/1 in the Red Zone--3 points (1 FG)
* 2 Sacks and 2 Turnovers (1 fumble 1 INT)
* 33/80 plays took place on the OSU side of the 50--(41%)
* 22/80 plays went for no gain/loss--(28%)
* 14/80 plays went for 10+ yards--(18%)
* 1/12 drives went three and out--(8%)
* Number of missed tackles--23
* Number of drives that ended in OSU territory--9/12 (75%)
*Number of drives of 7+ plays--6/12 (50%)
Kudos to the first year UAB coaching staff and the way they had the Blazers prepared to attack the Ohio State defense in this game. Ohio State has shown some glaring weaknesses in the first three games this season, and the Blazers ruthlessly exploited them time and again to keep the chains moving. Had this been a team with more playmakers on it, I don't think the Buckeyes win this game. As it was, they were never really stopped by the Buckeye defense. Only penalties, dropped balls and bad passes stopped them.
The inability of this defense to get themselves off the field is almost uncanny, as is their inability to create negative plays for the opposing offense. UAB got themselves behind the sticks later in the game when they went to their passing game almost exclusively, but before that, they were constantly working with 2nd and 3rd down and short. In the second half, the Buckeye defense allowed the Blazers to convert two 3rd downs of 15 or more yards in the same drive that ended in them pulling within 6 points.
No talk about the defense is going to be able to ignore the fundamental issues this defense exhibits, and has been exhibiting consistantly for a season and a half now. There were 23 missed tackles by my count, and many more instances of poor angles taken and tacklers meeting ball carriers too high and being carried for more yardage. It's just not something we're used to seeing from Ohio State defenses. In the past, when a Buckeye defender got his hands on you, it meant you ended up on your rear. Now, we're lucky if the defender even bothers to use his arms or hands.
The fact that the defensive coaches seem to make light of this situation in their interviews bothers me a little bit. Missing tackles in space happen to every team, true, but it should be unacceptable to miss a tackle...ever. Especially the WAY they are being missed. Lowering your head and throwing a shoulder into a runne'rs legs should NEVER be tolerated, yet we've seen it consistantly from the back end defenders since the beginning of last season. Is this being addressed, or simply tolerated by the coaches?
When it comes down to it, I don't see a lot of PRIDE or EMOTION out of this defense. I don't see a group that works like the fingers of a hand, doing their best not to let the other 10 guys down. It seems at times there are 11 individuals out there instead of a team. Is there a disconnect with these guys? I don't see a lack of physical talent on the field, but I also don't see a group where the whole is better than the parts it's made up of.
Let's take a look at the position groups and see what we learned about the defense this week.
For the second season in a row, the strength of this defense is its defensive line, though you would be hard pressed to notice it on Saturdays. The schemes Ohio State is using are allowing teams to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands before the defensive line is able to be much of a factor on passing plays, and the linebacking corps hasn't been good enough for teams to have to take chances single blocking up front to get to the linebackers on running plays. We see a lot of plays where teams double team either John Simon or Jonathan Hankins, and some where they even double both.
I have a hard time laying much of the blame for the defensive issues at the feet of the defensive line. Despite the schemes, Hankins has been an absolute force, and has been all over the field making plays the past two games. John Simon hasn't been lighting up the stat box this season, but the attention he's received has opened things up for the rest of the line. Nathan Williams still doesn't seem 100%, but he's getting closer and becoming a larger part of the defensive plan every week.
If the Buckeyes start employing more aggressive schemes out on the corners and safeties, we might be able to better evaluate this group, as well as possibly see them start dominating games. Until the schemes stop allowing opposing offenses to scheme around the defensive line, I don't think this defense can possibly end up being a good one.
Grade--(B+) Too many missed tackles to give them an A. Not even the best group is getting a pass this week.
It should come to no surprise that the weakest area of the defense, for the second season in a row, is the linebacker corps. The weakest of the three is the middle linebacker spot, where Curtis Grant was replaced by Storm Klein to start this game. The defense just isn't getting any production from this spot, and Heacock/Fickel's schemes have always relied on a steady tackler there.
Ryan Shazier has picked up right where he left off the end of last season. He's incredibly athletic, and has the ability to make some great plays, but tries to tackle way too high and is constantly carried for extra yardage after contact. He is also one of the worst on the team at taking poor pursuit angles and overruns plays constantly. He really needs to concentrate on his fundamentals and playing within himself and the defense. If the light goes on for him, he has the ability to be a star on this defense.
Etienne Sabino seems to be one of the popular whipping boys this season on the defense, but I thought he played one of the best games of his career against UAB. Unlike several players in Ohio State's back seven, he's one of the best tacklers on the team, and is doing a better job of getting himself in position. With the Buckeyes playing more 4-3 defenses this week, he's been forced to play in space quite a bit so far this season, and I think he's done a pretty good job with it.
Grade--(C-) The middle linebacker spot drags this grade way down. Shazier is making just as many poor plays as he is good plays right now. Sabino is the only bright spot on this corps.
This group is the great mystery of the defense this season. What's clear is that this is not a great tackling set of defensive backs, especially in space. Travis Howard's tackling technique is horrendous. Christian Bryant is a playmaker and fantastic hitter, but doesn't wrap up and is succeptable to big plays as he looks to lay the big hit over making the sure tackle almost every time. Dorian Grant started this game for the injured Bradley Roby, and didn't show me much more than Travis Howard when it came to tackling. When faced with a one-on-one tackle, he ducked his head and threw his shoulder into the runner's legs instead of attempting to wrap up.
The tackling notwithstanding, the question I think most Buckeye fans want to know the answer to is "Can these guys cover man to man"? I think it's obvious to just about everyone that the soft zones the defense has been playing are not working and are basically allowing teams to scheme around the Ohio State defensive line. Teams are simply running quick screens and other short passes to easily move the ball down the field, and with the questionable tackling, especially to the field side, I honestly wonder why opposing teams would run anything else.
Of the players that seem most disengaged from the rest of the team, I get that feeling from the defensive backs more than anywhere else, Travis Howard especially. I can't say that I can blame them completely either. I don't think these guys commit to a big time school to sit ten yards off the ball in soft zones all game every game. They want to challenge receivers. They want to be put on an island. If they don't, then they don't need to be playing the position. Now we just need to know if they can do it.
Grade--(C+) In Ohio State's current schemes, this group can be graded at no more than just above average. I think the potential is there for more, though.
I don't think Ohio State's current defensive schemes/philosophy is allowing this team to be as good as it can be. I refuse to believe that the best an Ohio State defense can do is sit in soft zones and hope the other team makes mistakes, especially when there has been ample evidence that the back seven of this current group aren't solid tacklers in space.
For this defense to be successful, I'm firmly of the opinion that they need to start being a team that disrupts opposing offenses before they get started rather than bend and not break. The defense didn't break against UAB, but California shredded them for big play after big play the week before. I can't see the next two games going well for the Buckeyes if the defense continues to play like this. If the defense is going to give up big plays, I'd like to see them do it playing aggressively rather than look like a bunch of clowns missing tackle after tackle in soft zones.
I also think this coaching staff needs to do a better job of getting these players to come together as a group, start playing with more PRIDE and EMOTION, and stop looking like they're just going through the motions. These guys are getting pushed around week after week by teams that have no business pushing them around. I don't know where the spark is going to come from, but the coaches need to find it, harness it, and use it to get this entire team to start playing with a little bit of fire in them.
Grade--(D) The defense has clearly had a plan, I just think the plan is a poor one that has been poorly executed by players that are ill-suited to make it work. The one thing that has really surprised me about this whole situation is that both Mike Vrabel and Luke Fickel played on a defense that had an awesome defensive line that was allowed to dominate games by putting pressure on the opposing offensive skill players to make something happen before the defensive line (and constant blitzers) got there. Did they not learn anything from their playing days?