Film Review: 2017 OSU vs Indiana - Fade, Back Shoulder, and a Coverage Adjustment

AP Photo/ Darron Cummings

For nearly a half of play, the Indiana Hoosiers looked poised to make the Buckeyes sweat out a potential early season massive upset. It wouldn't be the first time a team came out with a great gameplan earlier in the year and caught an opponent looking ahead to the supposed bigger challenge.

With the Ohio State on defense, the Buckeyes wanted to come out in a lot of single-high defensive looks, predominately Cover 1, put bodies near the LOS, and out athlete Indiana. In the battle of the DL vs OL, OSU dominated. But on the outside, despite relatively good position from defensive backs, Indiana executed nearly perfectly. One could argue that the execution was bound to wane, but repeatedly throwing one of two throws - a fade or a back shoulder fade to the boundary - allowed IU QB Richard Lagow to find an easily repeatable rhythm, particularly with big bodied and sure-handed WR Simmie Cobbs.

In this article (and the next) we will look at the basic gameplans going into the game and how the Buckeyes made adjustments to turn a close fought game into a 2nd half blowout.

OSU Defense vs Indiana Offense
The Buckeyes were adamant about threatening pressure with their LBs and playing press on the outside with a single high safety. The first few snaps of the game they came out in a 3-3 nickel look:

Here they could send pressure off both edges with straight man elsewhere, blitz from the MIKE and play a funnel coverage between the two OLBs and the RB, or drop one or two LBs into the hole or curl zones to take away short routes underneath. All of these are various Cover 1 techniques with the LBs.

They would revert to more of their traditional 4 man fronts with a variety of looks from the DL, but the concept in coverage remained the same

The OSU changeup in the first half consisted mostly of throwing out a Cover 3 wrinkle or bringing pressure from the LBs (I'll touch on this in a second). In this case they used a Safety Robber and inverted their safeties late.

But this, for the most part, left the Buckeyes susceptible to the same Indiana attack, with one read, and one of two throws.

So let's take a look closer.

OSU in Cover 1

While in the box OSU is threatening various LBs at the LOS, the coverage is not hidden at all. The Buckeyes are daring Indiana with this coverage and don't care if IU knows what they are running. This is Cover 1, press on the outside, athlete vs athlete.

We see a CB that is in decent position, basically even to slightly behind the WR, but in a spot where he can basically control the WR with his hands and potentially make a play on any throw behind the receiver. So a fade is thrown. Because of the positioning of the CB - shoulders square to the WR - he is in a better position to defend the back shoulder throw but in a difficult position to get in-phase with the WR, control him with his body, and be able to make a play on a fade without PI.

The ball is a little under thrown, and the receiver makes a great play. Solid coverage, not perfect, and that leaves a little opening for a receiver to make a play and a CB unable to locate the football.

A little later, again in the 3-3 defense, and again, no question about the coverage.

At the throw, the WR has a step on the defender, shields him with his off hand, and the CB can't catch up after his turn the WR running vertically immediately at the snap.

Ok, we ain't hiding anything here.

The CB gets over the top of the WR pretty well, so the back shoulder throw is the read. But here the CB times his hands and eyes with the WR's motion to make a catch and is able to break up the pass.

And more of the same

So you're starting to get the idea

That's not bad coverage, but still, a completion. IU knows what's coming. Different formations, more of the same coverage from OSU, and IU picks up some key gains with rub routes (man beater) vs Cover 1. They could mix high percentage plays with their base attack vs what they knew they were going to get down-by-down from the Buckeyes

How OSU Planned on Stopping IU's Rhythm
I previously said two ways that Greg Shiano wanted to run as curveballs to the Cover 1 fastball: LB blitzing and Cover 3.

The LB blitzing didn't make sense in this game for two reasons. The purpose for blitzing is to get guy's in the QB's face and move him off his launch pad. Essentially, it breaks his rhythm by getting hits, hurrying up his footwork, or forcing him to move and not easily go through his progressions. However, 1) IU was running three step drops (with a fade, back shoulder, or a pick play attached, so the ball got out quick) so that the blitz never really got home in the 1st half; 2) The OSU DL was whooping IU's OL by themselves and getting pressure by themselves if the ball didn't get out. There was no need to add defenders to the pass rush that was already getting home quickly, they should have been added to the coverage.

The second curveball is a common one for Cover 1 teams, because at the snap it can easily look the same.

But here IU runs a comeback route to the sideline, so it's a similar throw for Lagow. It doesn't really give any help to the outside CB once the route structure takes form, so it doesn't really impact the QB reads.

Two High Safeties
So the Buckeyes come out in the same ol' same, right?

Well... they do a good job disguising it, but OSU is actually going to play Cover 2 (Red) down near the red zone, and it's going to result in an Interception.

There are some subtle hints (look at the outside-to-even alignment of the outside CBs on the WRs, the depth of the field safety, the width of the boundary safety, to name the most obvious but still subtle).

At the snap, look how quickly both safeties bail to their halves coverage, and also note how both CBs open up inside (allowing inside releases, they want their eyes on the QB).

As Lagow sees his WR to the boundary get over the top of the CB, he immediately wants to throw the fade. But now there is a safety over the top that he sees at the last second and hitches his throw. Toward the middle of the field, you have your zone beating concept. In this case, it's a crash concept. And it's open. Wide open. Even with sloppy routes. But Lagow never even looks, he's predetermined what throw he wants to make.

By the time he throws, this is his window

That's a CB sitting underneath and a safety right over the top, and a possibility of two defenders getting an INT with a ball thrown directly at the WR. The CB tips, the safety gets the pick, and crisis diverted for the Buckeyes.

Making the Adjustment
Now, I said all that, because OSU ran a Cover 2 scheme in the second quarter. But they didn't adjust the gameplan yet, that was just a curveball. They went back to their Cover 1 gameplan and continued to get torn up with the fade/back shoulder throw. This resulted in one TD drive and another that was nearing it until they returned to two high coverages (Cover 4 in this case just before IU could get into FG range). In the final two minute drive, IU again completed a back shoulder throw against Cover 1. So the full time adjustment didn't really take hold until the second half.

In the second half, OSU relied heavily on two high defenses, both Cover 2 and Cover 4. And their safeties hit the sideline hard, providing over the top help to their CBs and allowing the outside WRs to be bracketed.

This change forced Lagow to actually read the defense. It made his drops longer and made him stay in the pocket against an onslaught of pass rushers that were getting home. And when Single-High coverage was used behind a blitz, Lagow couldn't immediately turn and fire the fade or back shoulder throw, because it was no longer a foregone conclusion that it would be open. Once OSU made a change to a two high base, the Hoosiers quit moving the ball with sustained success. IU did have one drive where they completed back-to-back passes against Cover 2, but the success was few and far between.

Now, a couple things. Why didn't Schiano adjust earlier when it seemed obvious that his CBs were getting torn up on the outside? There are a few reasons: 1) OSU likely wants their base coverage to be Cover 1, it's likely what they repped most, it's likely what they feel is most adaptable to other teams on the schedule, and they have a young team; 2) Because of that youth, quickly adjusting the gameplan can lead to busts (and there were a couple coverage busts in the game) because guys aren't on the same page with what they are being asked to do. It's not just the coverage basics, but the details of techniques that often need to be reiterated to young players so that they execute the new scheme sufficiently; 3) The Buckeye's CBs weren't actually doing that bad, and as such, the Hoosier success could have been seen by Schiano as unsustainable. IU did sustain it for much of the half however, and the OSU change ups weren't working, so it became obvious at half that something needed to happen different.

The Ohio State coaching staff knows their team the best, they know their gameplan the best, and they know what and how they want to execute going forward. So it's easy to say they waited to long, but the reality is that is arm chair coaching.

There isn't likely to be another team on OSU's schedule that can execute this scheme quite as well. Oklahoma has a dangerous passing attack, but it's quite different. Many other teams on the schedule may be able to hold up against OSU's DL better than IU did (OSU's DL is the real deal though), and that may force OSU out of just running basic Cover 2 (and may be part of why they want to run Cover 1).

There are a lot of factors that go into game planning and season planning, but at the end of the day, Indiana did well to take advantage of the Buckeye's gameplan going into the game, but OSU was able to adjust and shut down the IU offense in the second half.