The first thing to know is that this team pulls out all the stops: trick plays, going for it on 4th down, and special teams intrigue. In a rivalry game at home with nothing left to lose, I’d expect some pretty wacky stuff.
The star of the offense — deservedly so — is freshman #22 RB Jefferson. There’s a good mix of efficient and explosive rushing here, and against two pretty good defenses in the last couple weeks they went for 20 successful rushes vs 15 failed prior to garbage time, better than I was expecting to see. There’s some nice play design in this attack and Jefferson is more than good enough to take advantage when the blocking works out:
The first play has a couple of nice power blocks and Stanford’s best linebacker gets pulled out to the trips, but Jefferson is really making this play with his impressive acceleration out of the handoff and then running over the free safety for extra yardage … the LT misses the strong safety but at least has the presence of mind to turn and seal off the WILL. On the second play (at :09), the MIKE hesitates in engaging (as is typical of this defense) and gives Jefferson two lanes to choose from around the RG’s block, he chooses correctly and runs through the tackle. On the third play (at :17), Jefferson is reading blitz and picks the D gap between the TEs; all he needs is a bit of a block at the second level to get him past the sticks.
But just as often the blocking collapses, and I saw a lot of tackles for loss. I think the biggest blind spot in this offense is probably the off-tackle power run, which they run about a third of the time and usually gets blown up:
On the first play, the center has the backside responsibility for the 5-tech (whom I’ve written about before and don’t think is that fast), but can’t get to him before he can chase down the play from behind. On the second play (at :07), just about everybody is blocking poorly, from the bad cut from the RG that hardly slows the DE down, to the center getting wrecked by the DT, to the TE completely losing the OLB, to the LT stumbling and missing the ILB. The last play (at :12) is painful to watch - even double-teaming him they can’t contain the nose tackle, and the OLB takes the pulling LG’s hit and pushes back so hard it knocks him and the LT into the ballcarrier.
What the run game has obscured in the media, however, is that with the return of #6 QB Luton from injury, OSU has become a pass-first offense. He dropped back to throw the ball downfield seven more times than they rushed in the last two weeks (and this was prior to garbage time), and were 50/50 in those attempts. He’s got all the arm talent you could ask for and has a decisive, accurate delivery. But I’m even more impressed with the receiving corps for making some really tough catches - #8 WR Bradford, #18 WR Hernandez, and #17 WR Hodgins:
On the first play, Hodgins is facing press man coverage from I think the best CB in the conference and comes down with an impressive back shoulder catch. On the second play (at :15), it looks like several receivers might be getting open but Luton takes the quick comeback and Hodgins survives getting hit in the back as he’s making the catch, something most receivers haven’t been able to do against this CB. On the last play (at :22), Bradford beats the DB streaking down the field and secures the catch just before the safety can hit him.
The problem is that they can’t often take advantage of deep routes because, as with the rushing game, the offensive line just can’t hold up in pass protection long enough for them to develop. On a quarter of all dropbacks I watched the pocket collapsed within two seconds of the snap, and because Luton is not particularly elusive, I never saw them succeed on a play in which even a little pressure got through. Here are some examples which I trust don’t need much explanation, showing that even with a very deep drop Luton just can’t accomplish much without a clean pocket:
Nobody would confuse the rushing defense with the strength of the team. I watched them succeed on only 14 plays compared to 29 failures ... and even then the per-play number is deceptive: they gave up seven runs of 30+ yards in just the two games I watched prior to garbage time, an eighth if you count a QB scramble for nearly 30.
But that said, I actually think it’s a fairly well coached unit all things considered - on more than half of all run plays I thought they had read it correctly and were getting to the right spots. It’s just that even when they do, they’re simply lacking raw talent in most positions and most of the time they just weren’t fast or strong enough to beat the block or make the tackle. Some examples of how the rush defense looks:
On the first play, the defense is flowing pretty well with this sweep - the OLB gets into the backfield and alters the RB’s course, the ILB reads the play the whole way and gets off the H-back’s block at the end to wrap up the ballcarrier, the safety runs the width of the field to contain the cutback, and the force man wins his fight with the TE to seal the edge at the end of the run … but none of that matters, because the RB is too fast, strong, and elusive for any of them to stop. On the second play (at :17), the boundary ILB stays disciplined despite reading the stretch run (watch his feet, he’s inching in but not overcommiting), the DT occupies two linemen long enough to free up that backer from a hit so he can contain the backside cutback, and the safety comes down fast to clog the hole then pursues to help with the tackle. On the last play (at :24), the first two backers clog their lanes properly, both the B-gap the fullback is leading and the immediate cut into the A-gap … the SAM almost completes the defense but at the last second he loses discipline and goes inside, and he’s just not fast or strong enough to recover against a back who’s this talented.
Passing defense is even worse, 13 successes vs 33 failures, and the scary thing is that more than half of those successes were really the offense beating themselves. Now, some of the pass defense breakdowns were what you’d expect given the teams they were playing - against the Trees they gave up some jumpballs and had a hard time bringing down their huge receivers, and against the Huskies they let Browning extend several plays with his legs.
But by far the majority were coverage breakdowns. First of all, there’s not much of a pass rush to speak of - they only got any kind of QB pressure seven times of those 46 plays, and twice let Costello (of all people) step out of pressure. Second, the DBs are pretty frequently breaking down in coverage. Some examples:
On the first play, the CB has pretty clearly gotten beat down the sideline (and I don’t think this receiver is particularly speedy), and only an underthrown ball lets him catch up to get the breakup. The second play (at :18) is pretty clearly a miscommunication in zone coverage that doesn’t require belaboring, but look at this play at a talent level - the DBs weren’t fast enough to deal with the comeback on the sideline or the releasing TE on the post route, either. On the last play (at :32), the CB does a lousy job of both disguising and committing to this blitz, and the QB has a pretty easy time throwing against that blitz as the boundary ILB has four bogeys in his zone within the space of a second.