By the Numbers: Buffalo Defense
By Jeff Amey
As I watched this past Saturday's game between the Buffalo Bulls and Ohio State Buckeyes live, I remembered feeling frustrated with several of the things I saw. I was unimpressed with the defensive line, frustrated with the defensive backs, and angry about poor tackling. I wasn't as down about the linebacker play, but I wasn't exactly thrilled with that either. I fully expected the tone of this article about the defense was going to be negative and critical.
It's amazing how your perspective can change just by watching the game a second time.
Instead of feeling frustrated, I feel cautiously optimistic about where the defense is and where it can go this season. After rewatching, I can honestly say the POTENTIAL is there for this to actually be a pretty good defense by the end of the season. It remains to be seen if they can get there, but with the pieces of the puzzle missing for this game, I would say that the defense is already way ahead of where they were last season at this time.
Before we get into what we learned about the position groups, let's take a look at the stats. I wouldn't have thought this was what we saw Saturday.
67 Defensive Plays--259 yards--3.9 yards per play
32 pass (48%)--19/32 for 187 yards 2 TD 1 INT
35 rush (52%) for 72 yards--2.1 ypc
12 Defensive Possessions
Ave. of 5.6 plays--21.6 yards
Ave. Start--Buffalo 25
First Down--29 Plays (43%) for 145 yards
17 pass (59%)--11/17 for 131 yards 1 TD
12 rush (41%) for 14 yards--1.2 ypc
Ave. gain of 5.0 yards
Second Down--22 Plays (33%) for 84 yards
10 pass (45%)--7/10 for 50 yards 1 TD
12 rush (55%) for 34 yards--2.8 ypc
Ave. of 7.2 yards to go
Ave. gain of 3.8 yards
Third Down--14 plays (21%) for 25 yards
5 pass (36%)--1/5 for 6 yards 1 INT
9 rush (64%) for 19 yards--2.1 ypc
Ave. of 6.4 yards to go
Ave. gain of 1.8 yards
Fourth Down--2 plays (3%) for 5 yards
2 rush (100%) for 5 yards--2.5 ypc
Ave. of 1.0 yards to go
Ave. gain of 2.5 yards
First Downs Allowed--17 total
7 by pass
8 by rush
2 by penalty
Buffalo Offense vs. 4-3--17 plays (25%) for 97 yards
6 pass (35%)--5/6 for 80 yards 2 TD
11 rush (65%) for 17 yards--1.5 ypc
Blitz Percentage--8/17 (47%)
No gain/loss on blitz--3/8 (38%)
Buffalo Offense vs. 4-2-5--44 plays (66%) for 148 yards
25 pass (57%)--14/25 for 107 yards 1 INT
19 rush (43%) for 41 yards--2.2 ypc
Blitz Percentage--15/44 (34%)
No gain/loss on blitz--6/15 (40%)
Buffalo Offense vs. 3-2-6--3 plays (4%) for 5 yards
1 pass (33%)--0/1 for 0 yards
2 rush (67%) for 5 yards--2.5 ypc
Blitz Percentage--1/3 (33%)
No gain/loss on blitz--0/1 (0%)
Buffalo Offense vs. Goal-line (5-3)--3 plays (4%) for 9 yards
3 rush (100%) for 9 yards--3.0 ypc
Blitz Percentage--2/3 (67%)
No gain/loss on blitz--0/2 (0%)
Buffalo Offense vs. Base (no blitz) defense--41 plays (61%) for 154 yards
22 pass (54%)--14/22 for 119 yards 1 TD 1 INT
19 rush (46%) for 35 yards--1.8 ypc
Buffalo Offense vs. Blitz--26 plays (39%) for 105 yards
10 pass (38%)--5/10 for 68 yards 1 TD
16 rushes (62%) for 37 yards--2.3 ypc
Buffalo Offense vs. Man to Man (Combo) defenses--37 plays (55%) for 136 yards
18 pass (49%)--9/18 for 93 yards 1 INT
19 rush (51%) for 43 yards--2.3 ypc
Buffalo Offense vs. Zone defenses--30 plays (45%) for 123 yards
14 pass (47%)--10/14 for 94 yards 2 TD
16 rush (53%) for 29 yards--1.8 ypc
Other Stats of Note
* 4 defensive penalties for 50 yards
* Buffalo started on the Ohio State side of the 50 twice--6 points (1TD)
* Buffalo was 2/3 in the Red Zone--(2 TD)
* 1 sack
* 1 turnover (INT)
* 23/67 plays went for no gain/loss--(34%)
* 9/67 plays went for 10+ yards--(13%)
* 19/67 plays took place on the Ohio State side of the 50--(28%)
* 2/12 drives went three and out--(17%)
When you look at the statistics, it's hard to see what there is to be concerned about. The Buckeyes gave up only 259 yards on 67 offensive plays for the Bulls. When you consider that for a good potion of this game there was only one returning player from last season on the field, that is actually pretty incredible. There were some issues out there, most importantly being the poor tackling technique displayed by some of the players, but all in all, it was a pretty good effort from the defense.
Buffalo was clearly not an offensive juggernaut, but to their credit they did find some weaknesses in the Buckeye defense and attacked and exposed them repeatedly in the game. With Bradley Roby out to suspension, it fell to Armani Reeves to try to fill his shoes. Buffalo tested him early and often with short passes, and he struggled in both coverage and tackling. While he might not be ready yet, he's still a young guy and this was the first meaningful action. Despite the coach's posturing, Roby should return to the starting lineup and immediately fix this glaring weakness.
The only other real weakness the Bulls exploited was poor tackling technique, which bit the Buckeyes in short yardage situations, and extended drives that otherwise might have ended early. While the Buckeyes only gave up 72 rushing yards, the Bulls managed 8 first downs on running plays, and several of those featured a missed tackle short of the line to gain. This has been a trend that has continued over several seasons now. Wrapping up just doesn't seem to be a coaching point to this staff. On the bright side, the Buckeyes were a lot quicker getting to the ball on a lot of plays, and while there may have been several missed tackles, there were usually more Buckeyes right there to clean up the play, so the Bulls didn't really break off anything big.
Let's take a look at the position groups and see what else we learned.
I think most Buckeye fans were excited to see what this group of youngsters could do this season. Watching the game live, I was underwhelmed with what I saw, but I wasn't really taking into account what the Buffalo offense was doing. With their quarterback getting the ball out of his hands so quickly, it negated the pass rush for the most part. However, when the Bulls did not throw quick, I was actually impressed with the amount of pressure the line was able to get on the quarterback, especially Noah Spence on the edge.
With Tommy Schutt going down to injury right before the season started, it left the inside a question mark, and I'm not sure that question was answered on Saturday. Michael Bennett showed some flashes at defensive tackle, but I can't say that I was all that impressed with Joel Hale at the nose. That position needs to demand a double team, and I didn't see it enough from Hale.
One of the bigger surprises to me up front was the play of freshman Joey Bosa at defensive end. Adophus Washington may be the starter out there right now, but Bosa was impressively hard to block and it looks like it will hard to keep him off the field this season. The coaches lined him up several different places, and he was able to be disruptive wherever they put him. Looks like they had good reason to be so high on him this pre-season.
Grade--(B+) The combination of Ohio State's defensive gameplan and Buffalo's plan to attack it conspired to make this group less of a factor than they could've been. If the Buckeyes plan on continuing to play their corners nearly 10 yards off the ball, you can expect opposing teams to continue to gameplan to avoid them. As for run defense, I'll wait until the Buckeyes play against a better run offense before really judging them, but it was a good start.
With Ryan Shazier returning to anchor the front seven, most Buckeye fans were anxious to see if Curtis Grant would finally start to play up to the levels needed to turn this position group from a weakness to a strength. Last season, he just looked lost on most plays and was eventually replaced in the lineup by Zach Boren. This year, there is no Boren to fall back on. I think the jury is still out on how good he's going to be this season, but what was immediately evident is that he's much better than he was last season. He didn't play at super-star level, but he was active and seemed to have a nose for the ball. If he has any major issues, it would be that he plays too high on a lot of plays, which makes him easier to block and causes him to loses leverage on some of his tackles. A good portion of his tackles finished with him on his back with the runner on top of him instead of vice-versa.
With Shazier spending a good portion of this game on the sideline due to cramps, it gave us a chance to see a little bit of the future in freshman linebacker Trey Johnson. He didn't do anything spectacular, but at least looked quick out there. The interesting thing to see was Grant taking a leadership role for him to get him in the right spots. Buffalo's offense meant that Josh Perry and Camren Williams didn't see a lot of field time, so there isn't all that much to say about them this game either.
Grade--(B) Shazier is still clearly the best of this group, but he is also still maddeningly inconsistent when it comes to wrapping up. Other than getting beat on the wheel route in the third quarter, he was pretty dominating when he was in the game.
With both Bradley Roby and C. J. Barnett out for this game, I wasn't really expecting a lot from this group in this game, and that's about how it turned out. The defensive backs played more man to man or combination defenses than they usually did last season, but they played so far off the ball that Buffalo had a fairly easy time tossing short passes and making the Buckeye corners try to make tackles in space.
For the most part, the Bulls picked on Sophomore Armani Reeves, who was starting the first game of his career, to limited success. He struggled with his tackling at times and was the only defensive back that was beaten downfield. It wasn't a good game for him, but he's still young and should get better.
While there wasn't anything spectacular to come out of the safety play in this game, I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by Christian Bryant. Last season I was continually frustrated by his play, but I thought he did a pretty good job of playing within himself, and while he still has a tendency to go for the big hit without wrapping up, he did a pretty good job of not getting out of position, finding the ball, and being in a bad mood when he got there.
Grade--(B) Not bad, but certainly not great. I imagine having Barnett and Roby out had something to do with the conservative gameplan, so I'm willing to give them a pass on that for at least a week.
I'm just not completely sold on Luke Fickell as the defensive co-ordinator. The thing is...I WANT to be sold on him. I liked him a lot as a player, and under Jim Heacock when he was there, but I just haven't been impressed with the direction the defense has gone since Jim Tressel was fired. The open-field tackling has gone from the Buckeye's biggest strength to one of their biggest weaknesses. The defensive backs, which were never really played all that aggressively under Heacock, seem to be played even LESS aggressively under Fickell.
Perhaps I've been spoiled, but I expect the Buckeye's defense to be solid and dominant every season, no matter who or how many new starters are on the field. I came away from watching the game live very frustrated with the defensive coaching staff, but I think I was a little pre-mature with that. Instead I'm going to take a wait-and-see approach and follow how the defense develops in the coming weeks.
Breaking the game down, I actually liked a lot of things I saw. There were more and varied blitzes with a mix of man and zone coverages behind them. There was more man to man and less weak zones than the last two seasons. While they were still in the 4-2-5 quite a bit in this game, there were some new approaches such as the 3-2-6 in obvious pass situations. All in all, I think the defense can be good with some games under their belt to gel together.
Grade--(B) I'm giving the coaching staff a break on the loose coverages due to the injuries/suspensions, but I'm hoping the Buckeyes tighten up here to allow the defensive line to be a greater factor in games. I'm now anxious to see what this defense can do against some of the better Big Ten offenses.