Mailbag: Will the Ohio State Defense Have Michigan’s Problems?

Greg Mattison Ohio State Football Buckeyes

Welcome to the first post-spring mailbag of the Ryan Day Era.

Fifteen practice have come and gone, but some concerns still remain.

Buckeye fans got to see the spring game and have read and heard plenty about their team, but they still have questions.

Thankfully, this mailbag is designed to answer some of those questions.

(Or at least address them.)

I’m hoping to do one of these every week this offseason, so if you have anything you’d like addressed, go ahead and leave it in the comments, or on the forums, or hit me up on Twitter or simply email me.

If I didn’t get to your question this week, I’ll add it to next week’s list.

If Munford’s injury keeps him out next season, who do you project at LT: Alabi or Bowen? Think both would be solid. — @AaronJWenzel

I would probably project Josh Alabi there because Ohio State really likes Branden Bowen’s ability to be a utility guy. That being said, Bowen could certainly give him a run at that spot. Redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere could also get a look there. Greg Studrawa has told me that he’s more comfortable on the right side, but Petit-Frere told me he’d play left tackle if asked. Hopefully for Thayer Munford’s sake, this question doesn’t actually need to be answered this season.

Did anything (or anyone) in the spring game make you re-evaluate your preconceived notions coming into the game? — @BuckeyeTy23

If you weren’t both surprised and impressed by Jahsen Wint’s performance, then you either didn’t see it or you are lying. As the No. 2 at Bullet behind Brendon White this spring, I viewed it as a good spot for him because he would no longer be asked to provide deep support down the field and would be closer to the line of scrimmage. So imagine my surprise when his two interceptions came while he was at safety in a two-deep look and had to cover a lot of ground and then make a play on the ball. That’s something he didn’t do well last year. Credit Wint with being a year older and a year better, but also maybe Greg Mattion, Jeff Hafley, and Matt Barnes know what they’re doing.

Surprise Spring player on O, D, and ST that will lead to significant PT in the Fall. — Barrett777

We haven’t really seen much special teams this spring, but I would like to see Jaelen Gill in the return game this season. Also keep an eye on Chris Olave at gunner as he tries to replace Terry McLaurin in more way than one. In terms of a surprise player on offense, I’m having a difficult time coming up with a name because I have high expectations for the guys who performed well this spring. Defensively, the first guy that comes to mind for me is redshirt freshman defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste. I didn’t really know what to expect from him this spring because I wasn’t sure where he would be strength-wise, but he looked strong enough this spring and still possesses the athleticism that made him so intriguing. I don’t know that it will lead to significant playing time, however.

Are we done recruiting for this season, or still in shape to get a grad transfer center? – Mark

Chris Holtmann said last week that he likely wouldn’t be adding two players, unless one was a sit-for-a-year transfer. Holtmann’s preference was for a graduate transfer center, so when Ibrahima Diallo committed last week, that told me the graduate transfer market didn’t go Ohio State’s way.

“It probably begins there, we’re looking for an interior backup guy for Kaleb,” Holtmann said prior to Diallo’s commitment. “We also could potentially look at another position, whether that’s another versatile wing forward, I don’t know. We’re still trying to figure our roster out in some ways. So that may mean that we may add another guy as potentially a backup five, but do I think we would add two more? No, not right now. Not two more eligible guys.”

What adjustment will Mattison make to the defensive scheme so that we aren’t screaming at the tv about getting carved apart by short crossing routes like Michigan did last year. – 2BUCKI

This is something that I’ve been wanting to address for a few weeks now. Everybody remembers seeing Buckeye receivers running free on crossing routes last season against Michigan, helping to pile up points against one of the nation’s top defenses. So when Ryan Day then goes out and hires Greg Mattison and Al Washington from the team up north, Buckeye fans understandably ask if that’s actually such a good idea. What you have to keep in mind, however, is that Mattison and Washington were running Don Brown’s defense last year and they won’t be doing that this year. This year’s defense has been put together by Mattison, Jeff Hafley, and Larry Johnson.

Earlier this spring, Ryan Day said something that caught my attention. When talking about KJ Hill, he said he wasn’t being targeted as much this spring as he was last year, which to me speaks to the defense the Buckeyes are playing. They will switch back and forth between man and zone, and spent a lot of time working on zone with their linebackers this spring.

Day also said this spring that the quarterbacks’ completion percentage was about the same as it was this time a year ago, which he was a little disappointed by because the Buckeyes have played more zone this spring, which should allow for a higher completion percentage, but perhaps a smaller yard-after-catch accumulation.

The bottom line is that this won’t just be a defense that constantly pits defenders in man-to-man situations against quicker and faster players. And remember, we’re talking about a Michigan defense that has routinely been among the best in the nation since Brown’s arrival, so it’s not like that would be a bad thing to emulate. The crossing routes, however, are impossible to ignore. And you didn’t even get to see what a running quarterback would have done to them.

Something else to keep in mind is that the Buckeyes also have more talent in their nickel and safety positions than the Wolverines, which helps them against those crossing routes. This interception below shows great coverage by Amir Riep, who is currently behind Shaun Wade at strong safety. We also don’t yet know where Jordan Fuller will play, which only makes the group even deeper.

Also, in the play below, Riep runs the route before Jaelen Gill does, which speaks to the teaching that Hafley has done about understanding what an offense can and can’t do against certain coverages.

How much of the QB numbers was o-line being limited? Conversely, how much of the RB success was due to LB not being settled? Obversely, why must we look at the spring game with grey-colored glasses? — @zidaya

I went back and looked at Justin Fields’ 4-for-13 performance and there are reasons not to be too upset about it. Let’s break down each of the passes.

1 – Skipped off of a helmet. Not good.
2 – Hand hit by a DL. Not great.
3 – Completed curl to Binjimen Victor.
4 – Rollout, caught jut out of bounds. Eh.
5 – Jump ball down sideline, Victor gets one hand on it, but has other hand tangled in a fight. Incomplete. If you want to see more 50/50 balls, you’re going to have to accept the downside.
6 – Deep comeback to Mack, completed. This pass was 30 yards on a line.
7 – Completed 10-yard out to Mack.
8 – Incomplete corner route to CJ Saunders, overthrown in the end zone.
9 – JK Dobbins drops screen pass.
10 – KJ Hill drops deep back shoulder pass.
11 – Binjimen Victor catches deep ball in stride for 98-yard touchdown.
12 – Incomplete, pass is a bit low and off of Garyn Prater’s hands.
13 – Out route too far outside for Garyn Prater. Incompletion.

So of Fields’ nine incompletions, two were drops, two others hit receivers’ hands, and one was caught just out of bounds. None were intercepted. He threw four uncatchable balls — and two of those were because they were tipped at the line of scrimmage. The offensive line was also an issue, but I’d chalk the 4-of-13 up to it being spring ball and nothing else.

In terms of the running back success, it was mostly the Scarlet squad that was making waves, and they were going against the No. 2 defense. In the postgame podcast, Tom Orr and I talked about how the successful running game was surprising for a spring game because that’s not always how it goes. Perhaps it was better because a defense can’t really be as aggressive as they’d like. What’s the point of running downhill as a defense if you have to stop before you get there and politely wait to be invited to tackle the ball?

As to the gray-colored glasses, the fans aren’t much different than the coaches. Coaches always talk about the difficulty of being happy or upset in games like this.

Did Brendon White play the hybrid safety Saturday? And where did Shaun Wade line up? — @Allen_740

Going back and rewatching the first quarter, they didn’t utilize the Bullet on Saturday. Brendon White and Jahsen Wint came in the game at safety mainly on nickel downs. I’m guessing they felt no need to tip their defensive hands regarding the Bullet. Shaun Wade was in the slot at strong safety with the ones, while Isaiah Pryor was the lone deep man at free safety. On nickel downs, Wade generally stays in the slot and White comes in to give the Buckeyes two deep safeties with Pryor.

4 Responses

  1. Recall 2018 Spring Game QB Combined Stats:

    Martell 5-16-1 28 yards, 0 TD
    Haskins 9-19-0 120 yards, 1 TD
    Burrow 15-22-0 238 yard, 2 TD

    Lots of people screamed to have Burrow be the starter, and we all saw how that turned out.

  2. OSU’s back 7 on D lacked key fundamentals and were gouged mainly by big plays rather than constant long drives mostly due to poor angles. As was said, we have better talent, but more importantly, MI never faced a top tier passing game until the revenge tour got cancelled at OSU, hence they were exposed with no time to correct.

  3. OSU’s defense was terrible in 2018, and average in 2017. Making change was needed on defense. Good moves on that side of the field, so far.

  4. In answer to the article title, the OSU defense HAS had scum’s problems the past 2 years- and others. The idea is to fix it. I don’t want the 2019 defense to look anything like the UM or OSU disasters from the past 2 years- whether that be overrated due to competition, underperforming due to scheme, etc. The best answer is that the defense go back to looking like the Silver Bullet D that had been the pride of the team for a couple decades.

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