An Inside Look at How Ohio State’s Defense Stopped the Huskers’ Unexpected I-Back Attack

Ohio State Buckeyes Defense Nebraska

A lot can happen in two minutes. For instance, for about two minutes in Saturday’s night’s 48-7 win over Nebraska, the Buckeyes went back in time.

Late in the first quarter — with the score just 14-0 Buckeyes — Nebraska head coach Scott Frost dipped into the archives of Nebraska football and pulled out some of former NU head coach Tom Osborne’s I-formation option offense.

It has been over a decade since that form of triple option was alive and well in Lincoln, but on Saturday night, it was a significant part of the game plan — until two minutes later when it wasn’t.

Using the I-formation against the Buckeyes, Nebraska had rushes of 12, 5, 0, 8, and 12 yards ripped off all in a row. The Ohio State defense was on its heels. An answer was needed, so Buckeye head coach Ryan Day simply asked if his defensive coordinators needed a timeout to get this situation in order.

“That was one of the best defensive calls of the day and he called it,” said co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley. “He said, ‘Do you guys need a timeout?’ And how many offensive guys are going to give you their timeout. I’ve been around some offensive coaches where you don’t touch their timeouts.

“So it was awesome because that really let us slow things down. They came out with a really good play after that, but we were in a better situation for us because things were going fast and we got the pick. It changed the game too because we went rolling after that.”

That timeout — which lasted roughly two minutes — was enough time to get the right guys into the game and the right plan of action into play.

In previous seasons, defensive adjustments would have to wait until the half or until the next game. The quick answers it seemed would always have to wait.

This time, however, the players were sat down during a timeout and they were given a fix. And not only were they given the answer, they were able to execute the orders immediately.

What does that say about this defense?

“Smart guys who trust us and pay attention,” Hafley said. “The fact that they can adjust that fast is awesome. It’s a credit to the players because, again, we hadn’t seen it and hadn’t practiced it.”

Hafley is right to credit smart players who are able to execute new plans on the fly, and those smart players are also correct in putting the credit right back on those coaches.

“I think it’s just the identification of knowing what your job is on every single play,” senior safety — and Academic All-American — Jordan Fuller said. “And then when we address it on the sideline it’s never like a huge fix. I think it’s just a tribute to our coaches, really. Our players just take the adjustment from the sideline and bring it to the field.”

Rarely when scouting an opponent do you have to go back more than a decade into the archives, which is why Hafley didn’t. He expected the Huskers to do what they have shown the past two years, and when he saw them doing stuff from two decades ago, he wasn’t happy.

“Yeah, I didn’t see any of that,” he said with an audible shudder. “You should have been up in the booth hearing me on those. Thankfully we called a timeout and got the pick on that next play. It was awesome. Kind of settled in. Got the right personnel grouping on. Calmed down. Went over it.

“They didn’t go back to it much. We went over it again at halftime. We felt good about our plan. But credit to them. We hadn’t seen that at all. We would have had to go back and watch the old Nebraska wishbone stuff. That was probably the only thing we didn’t watch this week was going back and watching that stuff.”

Stopping the I-formation wasn’t something the Buckeyes prepared to do this week, but it was something they had worked on in the past. Rather than going back to Nebraska’s archives, Ohio State went to theirs.

“You used to always practice against I-backs and you used to practice against that offense,” said co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. “Well nobody runs that. Zero people. And we had this discussion early in the fall and we did it in the spring, but we haven’t touched it since then. But all we had to do was sit everybody down and say, ‘Remember, here’s how we’re going to handle this. Here’s what we’re going to do.’ And our guys did it.”

4 Responses

  1. Solid food for thought from WillyB, Gerd, & JB Mills… IMO.

    Facets of the never-ending, dynamic issue of “adjusting”.

    And among the many thoughts… is our proud history of quantifying [thus the dreaded ‘limiting’] what we ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ do…

    Even when our coaches… are much closer than the litany of our mantras… to ‘stepping up’… some ‘tomorrow’ to ‘adjust’.

    Yet if we make ‘an adjustment’ BEFORE they do… ‘the unexpected’…

    what is that?

    In the tacticians relational terms, it is called “exploiting the initiative”, ie changing BEFORE they adjust [stop] what you are doing now…

    so that…

    you are adding to their ‘unexpected’ list while they are ‘adjusting’ to what you are no longer doing….

    …so that now, they have 1 more thing… to adjust to.

    So that the harder they adjust… the further behind they become…. the more they help you… exploit the Initiative….


    p.s. nb. rest assured this was NOT ‘my idea’… but i sure wish it were! ;-{)}

  2. It seems to me they didn’t shut down the I formation. The interception was luck. Nebraska stopped running it for a while after that. When they went back to it, Mills tore them up… mostly backups by that point, but a message was sent. OSU never really stopped the I.

    1. WillyB … If they made an adjustment that eliminated the only thing that was working, then I think they stopped it. But Hafley did acknowledge the deficit soon got too great to run the ball.

  3. Refreshing watching the staff not stand around on the sideline and look for all the world like an alien had landed and was speaking their alien language, and not addressing it until halftime HOPING that they could translate and respond.

    Opponents last year knew that if they could have success early there would be no adjustments coming. The side effects of THEIR success is that it’s demoralizing and confidence draining for the players. After the half last year and the year before the Buckeye defense played much better, but still no as good as they could have. Had they gotten them adjustments in the first half, tweaks could have been made for any weak links in those adjustments on the fly.

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