No. 2 Ohio State and No. 8 Wisconsin engaged in a classic overtime battle at Camp Randall Stadium last weekend in Madison, and OSU’s dominant defense ultimately won the day.
Sure, the defense gave up 450 yards to Wisconsin and allowed running back Corey Clement to rush for 164 yards on 25 carries (6.6 yards per touch), but when it mattered the most on fourth and goal in overtime, Urban Meyer’s defense came to play.
Again, give credit to Ohio State’s offense and quarterback J.T. Barrett for snagging what was ultimately the game-winning touchdown in overtime, and Barrett himself did have a great game. Ohio State’s Heisman contender threw for 226 yards and a touchdown (he did throw an interception) and he rushed for 92 yards and two touchdowns.
Still, every good offense needs a defense that can shut the door, and that’s exactly what the Buckeyes were able to get out of their defensive unit on Saturday night. There’s a reason OSU’s defense is ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten in total defense (giving up only 278.8 yards per game) and No. 6 nationally in the same metric.
It’s because of plays like the one we’re about to break down below. It’s because the Buckeyes come up big on defense.
On fourth down and goal from the Ohio State 4, Wisconsin had to score a touchdown. A field goal wouldn’t cut it because the Buckeyes scored a touchdown to start off the overtime period, so the game was literally on the line. The Badgers came out with three wide receivers to the right, one alone on the left numbers and a running back in the backfield shaded to the left. The back actually flared out to the left to try to get open for a pass, so in reality, this was a 2-by-3 empty set for Wisconsin when all was said and done.
Defensively, there are two schools of thought in this situation.
1) Ohio State could have brought the pressure via the blitz. The quarterback was already facing a big-time pressure situation, so why not add some more? The problem with that theory is that the blitz may lead to a hot-read pass and an easy touchdown, which is why…
2) Play tough coverage, lock up on the receivers and make the quarterback beat you. Strategy No. 2 was the option Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell went with, and it ultimately proved to be the right call.
The Buckeyes came out in a man-free coverage, which meant the receivers were locked up man-to-man, the running back in the backfield was locked up by the right outside linebacker and the middle linebacker and free safety played zone coverage:
The ball was snapped and as you can see below, Ohio State immediately bodied up on the wide receivers, making it hard for them to get a free release. Let’s go next level now and talk about a few things the casual observer may not notice. One, it can’t be stressed enough how important it was for the outside linebacker to key in on the running back coming out of the backfield. Especially in a man-on-man situation, knowing who has the running back leaking out of the backfield is vital, especially this close to the end zone. Had OSU’s OLB forgotten about checking the running back, that could have been an easy check-down touchdown for the Badgers.
Also notice OSU’s pass rush. Because the Buckeyes went man-up, they decided to rely on just a four-man rush. Sometimes that’s not effective, but look at the push OSU’s front line was getting — especially on the left side — and notice the leverage the defensive line was playing with. It was a beautiful pass rush from OSU, and that technique combined with the locked on coverage led to the game-winning sack:
The tight coverage forced Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook to pump the ball, and that was all the time OSU needed to reach him with the four-man rush. Junior defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis came away with the game-winning sack, his fourth of the year for the Buckeyes.
The beautiful thing about defensive football is that it works in tandem when its working well. The pass rush normally can’t succeed without good coverage and there are few cover-men who can succeed without the front line getting a good pass rush on the quarterback.
Ohio State brought that all together against Wisconsin and won the game because of it.
Note: Screen grabs courtesy of the Big Ten Network on Twitter. Markings are my own.