If speed kills, then that means the slower team is the victim.
Last season, the Ohio State defense was victimized for more points per game than any other Buckeye team before it. Now, that number gets a bit skewed because of OSU’s pace on offense and the need for the opponent to keep up, but any time a record is set, it has some meaning.
Ohio State gave up 12 plays from scrimmage of 50 or more yards last year, which placed them 113th in the nation in that category. Only two teams in the nation gave up more 70-yard plays than Ohio State, and nobody gave up more 80- and 90-yard plays than the Buckeyes.
Speed killed Ohio State last year, and that shouldn’t happen. The Buckeye roster was loaded with speed, and it is again this year, but the coaches still have to be able to get fast players to become fast defenders.
In college, there aren’t enough hours in the day to teach every possible variation of every conceivable package, so things must be simplified.
Last year, there was very little that was simple about the Buckeyes’ defense.
“That’s a very important part about coordinating a defense,” OSU co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said this week. “You’d love to get very, very skilled players a chance to play, but at the same time you have to be very very simple in that you don’t want a young man to not play as well as he can because of confusion.”
Coaches work 16-20 hours a day, so they have time to devise and revise, but too much time can become unproductive because it’s still going to come down to getting the players to understand what they are being asked to do.
“Coaches have all this time to sit and look at things and you say ‘Oh that’s a great defense. We should do that.’ Then you look at it and all of a sudden they’re building up and there are a bunch more things,” Mattison explained. “You’ve got to be really really conscious of what’s going to allow Chase Young to play the best he can play? What is that call? If you have three other guys like him up front, or two deep of guys like that, what’s going to allow them to play the best they can play?”
With as crafty and multiple as offenses are nowadays, defensive coaches are constantly having to come up with new ways to slow teams down. Adding too many bells and whistles to the defense, however, can sometimes slow down the wrong side of the ball. Mattison and co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley are working hard to guard against that.
“I mean, if we paralyze a guy because they have to think and we make them less of a player, then we are not doing our job as coaches,” Hafley said.
“If it’s five defenses instead of 10, then you play five” Mattison echoed. “There’s also the part where you’d like to get that young freshman or young sophomore that’s really starting to prove himself without having to do everything, plug him into one or two defenses where you have a better athlete running the stuff.”
There is also the thought that Ohio State has enough talent on hand that simpler should still be good enough to win in most cases, and good enough to at least limit the number of big plays seen last year.
Then, as those “five defenses” are worked and work and worked, things become second nature for the players and there isn’t the amount of thinking there was last season. Players can then simply play and do it with fewer processes going on.
“You have to make sure when you have very talented athletes that you don’t give them so much that you slow them down,” Mattison said. “That’s happened to a lot of people where you know a lot of football and you try to put all that football in and pretty soon that 4.6 becomes a 4.8 and that’s not good coaching.”
If Ohio State can just get their 4.6 guys back to playing 4.6, that would solve plenty of issues. It will also cause plenty of problems for opposing offenses.