As a part of the 2012 season, the Buckeye Bloggers Network is pooling their expertise to give Ohio State fans the most in-depth coverage possible for Saturday’s game.
This week tBBC looks at the Buckeye passing game against the Cal Defense. Be sure to check out the rest of this series via the links at the bottom of this post!
Coach Herman is new to Ohio State, but I don’t get the sense that he’s one to lean on hyperbole.
So, when he tells his receiving corps that they will be challenged in ways that they have not yet seen, you’ve got to believe that this will absolutely be the case.
Much has been made of Cal’s “unique” defense- a Bear (seriously) look that emphasizes stopping the interior run game. It’s also been highlighted that this philosophy is dependent upon corners and safeties who have the ability to lock their men down for the evening. Given that Cal has been running this in a conference that can, at times, be a bit “pass happy”, it’s safe to assume that they might just know what they are doing.
And that’s just half the issue.
Coming into this season, one of the concerns that Ohio State fans and coaches each identified was the need for maturity and excellence from the receiving corps. Part of that was due to the issues that emerged last year- new coach, true freshman sharing time with a professional rocket launcher at quarterback, and an offensive philosophy that emphasize any number of plays as long as they were “Dave”. Losing their top playmaker for all but two games, and now losing him to graduation, it’s easy to understand why Coach Meyer came into the spring and fall looking to find out who would be the person he could count on.
I get the sense that, although we’re getting closer, they are still looking.
Last week, though, there began to be glimmers of what could be in the passing game. Braxton was, on several occasions, crisp and on target to open receivers who found their spots in the defensive formation. While much of it was the short, quick passing variety or plays off of rollouts and play action, it was distinctively different than what we witnessed against Miami. While everyone will remember The Catch (2012 version, so far), the stats remind us that Ohio State started pretty poorly in the passing game on opening weekend. While some of that can be attributed to jitters, there’s also the reality that Braxton is still a ways away from being, as Coach Meyer calls it “A quarterback and not an athlete playing quarterback”.
Luckily, weapons are developing- Corey Brown has been identified as someone that Ohio State wants to get the ball to frequently, and this was evident in some of the screens and reverses that were run against UCF. Jake Stoneburner has redeemed himself and found his home in the end zone following a Braxton scramble.
In addition, the Smith and Spencer tandem is growing, as is the staff’s trust in their tight ends; who were targeted last week in ways that were more than just “check down” passes. Even the running backs will need to find catches this week, given that their primary running lanes may be clogged due to a defensive alignment.
On Wednesday, Miller commented that getting Brown and Smith the ball would be key for Saturday’s game, and that they had been working on the passing game quite a bit this week. It seems as if everyone has taken the challenge laid before them by Cal’s defense, if Devin Smith’s comments are indicative of the team’s attitude:
I feel like for them wanting to press us, they don’t have any respect for us. They feel like receivers can’t get open, Braxton can’t throw the ball, and all Ohio State is, is run the ball, run the ball, run the ball.
Let’s take a look at the personnel of the Bear defense, a group that Coach Meyer described as “feast or famine” on Wednesday- pointing out that they have always been near the top of the nation in tackles for a loss, but have the tendency to give up the big play thus far in 2012.
While it would be tempting to start with the DBs or linebackers, the fact of the matter is that the defensive front will need to be accounted for if the aerial game is to be successful. Already this week, members of the defensive line have pointed to themselves as being more physical than the Buckeyes up front… and, given their youth, this is probably accurate. In addition, the defensive alignment prevents much “help” in the form of double teams- so our tackles will be on an island more often than not on Saturday. So far this season, they’ve managed 6 sacks, with J.P. Hurrell amassing half of those.
Behind the front are two experienced middle linebackers and two sophomores on the outside; behind them are two seniors and two juniors. While Marc Anthony leads the team with a 61 yard interception return for a score, it’s significant to note that the Bears’ opponents (Nevada and Southern Utah) are averaging over 250 yards per game in the air. It seems as if, looking at the “pass defended” stats, the Bears either have not seen an accurate quarterback as of yet or that they prefer a safer defensive style over an aggressive man-to-man coverage. The DBs are aggressive in run support, though, so play action may be a way to make an early mark against the Bears.
Ohio State can expect to see a lot of Cover 1, with a safety over the top, particularly when they are in their 4-5 wide sets… it might be possible to take advantage of a speed mismatch between a Buckeye speedster and one of the young outside linebackers. It’s also significant to note that Southern Utah had three red-zone touchdown passes last Saturday; certainly Coach Herman has identified similar tendencies for this week’s contest.
To be successful against Coach Tedford’s team on Saturday, Ohio State will need to make plays via the air. Given the lack of experience and injury situation in the backfield, as well as the fact that the Bears will certainly be looking to control Braxton’s running ability, the difference between a long afternoon in the ‘Shoe and moving on to 3-0 will certainly be no passing fancy
Be sure to check out the rest of the BBN for more on Saturday’s key matchups.