Film Review: OSU vs PSU - 4th and 5 to Stay Alive

Twitter is a mean place. It's a place full of hot takes. It's a place, where if you mess up or are wrong, you're going to get killed for it. And on Saturday night, James Franklin and Ricky Rohne were wrong. They went against convention and decided to run the football on 4th and 5, and got stopped for a loss. So not only did they break convention and not succeed, they tried their best and failed miserably; the lesson is never try.

But, here's the thing, it's not that there isn't logic to the PSU play call. There is. And, in fact, I find it odd that if there wasn't logic to it, if it was so stupid to in fact be beyond reason and rationale, that Greg Schiano and the Ohio State Buckees would just go happen to dial up the perfect defense to stop it. "Huh?" you say. Yes, the RPO play call was in fact so logical, that OSU dialed up a play almost specifically to stop it. Better put: Schiano drank a delicious Penn State Berkey Creamery Milkshake. And oh goodness, was it ever, ever so delicious.


Prior to the shift, the Buckeyes come out looking like this. The coverage isn't disguised, it's Cover 1. That means man coverage which can effectively defend anything. It's likely going to take away your RPO scheme because there is no "read" defender (one of my biggest complaints about teams that rely heavily on RPOs is that at times, it can allow the defense to dictate what you do; this is one of those times it dictates run).

The front is an overload front, it is the definition of an "exotic". The LBs are, for the most part, up. They are shaded to strength, meaning there are different ways they can handle coverage on the TE, by matching him with either LB or bracketing him with both. Or, in fact, sending both LBs and dropping down the FS late (and playing Cover 0, although I anticipate the FS's depth and position on the field makes this unlikely, as he is off the screen and likely couldn't hold down any quicker route, particularly breaking outside). It means you won't be able to sustain doubles, but it also means if you can get someone out of their gap (like, say, a LB on an OG) that you're going to have running room. Given the overload, you could even base block the BSDE and be 2 on 2 and with the QB option or RB cut back. Lot's here to like from an RPO perspective. Sounds pretty bait-y, because then OSU shifts late right before the snap to this

Now they're a bit more balanced: 3 defenders backside and 4 defender front side. This means 7 in the box vs 6 blockers. The shift weak by the LBs also signals that the SAM is in man against the TE, likely with some inside help from the FS as the SAM is playing with outside leverage. Based on formation, you should be confident that a DL is going to move into the C-gap. Given the down and distance, PSU likely assumes that is the DE, as the TE is likely to go out into a route and this allows the SAM to maintain outside leverage.

The LBs are tight to the LOS, this mitigates any doubles, making it difficult for the OL to generate movement. It also means that any stunts or games can be performed tight to the LOS, this can make these games occur very quickly as they do not have to come from distance. From a defensive perspective, it also is going to force the OL straight out to the LBs and reduce the amount of time they can adjust to any twists.

This is what the formation is telling us.

Inside Zone Killer: TEX Stunt
If there is one stunt that tends to destroy inside zone blocking, it's the TEX stunt (Tackle 1st, DE Second). Let's take a look at what this means.

Now, even with LBs at typical depth, how can you expect the defense to react? 

Well, both tackles are going to attack the B gaps vertically, attempting to turn the OGs and pick off the OTs. To the playside, the DT is working the OG's zone, so the OG is going to work with him and likely attempt to seal him outside. The OT, seeing the DE loop inside two gaps, isn't going to follow him, as he is moving outside his zone. But furthermore, the DT penetrating vertically in the B gap is going to pick off the OT, ensuring that he can't immediately get out vertically to inhibit the stunt.

Further inside, both DTs have moved out into the B gaps. This means the Center's job is well defined: he has a free release directly out to the MIKE. But this is a curse in disguise. This ensure he is moving out immediately and not delayed by a combo, meaning he will be too far down field by the time the DE loops inside. This results in a free hitter right at the point of attack. Uh oh.

On the backside of the play, the DE can also loop inside. With the DT working into the backside B gap, it isn't difficult for the OG to pass him off to the OT and for the OG to release into the twisting backside DE. Because of this, as the backside DE sees flow away, he should give ground and attempt to flow with the play to handle the RB cut back or the QB keep.

An added benefit to all this is that it means the DTs have B-gap responsibility, and the DEs have A-gap responsibility. This leaves the LBs to handle the C and D gaps (and if PSU wanted to have success, the spot they needed to get to was the playside C-gap where the MIKE was out of position).

To the playside, because the Tackle is moving outside a gap, the Center is almost certainly going to work directly to the MIKE. But that free release to the MIKE is a curse in disguise. That's because, to the playside, the DT is taking the OG further playside, and also picking off the OT at the same time. Because the DE works inside several gaps, the OT no longer maintains block responsibility on him. But the DT has turned the OG and penetrated up field

Combining Formation with Double TEX Stunt

As I noted, the Double TEX stunt allows the OLBs to the outside and maintain outside leverage. This will help them in the pass as the WILL can more easily flow with any RB release toward alignment and the SAM can maintain outside leverage for any TE release, and they can do this and still fairly easily maintain their run fits. 

The MIKE, playing tight to the LOS, is going to require zero hesitation from the Center. The formation demands that the Center move directly to the MIKE. It also demands, on the backside, that either the BST is able to scoop the BSDT to allow the BSG to move directly to the WILL, or it requires the BST to release fast to get to the WILL before he can theoretically crash down. 

Aside: It's important to note that this formation only has a single A-gap defender by alignment: the MIKE; the OL knows someone is responsible for the backside A gap, and the two most likely candidates are the backside DT or the WILL. That means either the BSG needs to cut off the DT and allow the BST to release fast up to the WILL, or it requires the BST to scoop the DT so the OG can release up, either way, the reaction needs to be hard play side, and immediately up field.

Penn State, knowing they are running IZ, believes it easier to scoop on the backside and make sure the WILL's flow is cut off with the OG. But ultimately the formation has dictated that these things happen quickly, which ultimately prevents them from blocking both DEs.

Both DTs work vertically and hard. On the playside, this means the DT attacks the OG's B-gap shoulder and drives upfield. While the OG may think he can drive him out of the play, what the DT is effectively doing is cutting off the outside (this protects the MIKE, who has C-gap responsibility). The TE releases straight to the SAM, as he should with the DE going inside. The PST doesn't get vertical quick enough to cut off the loop, and once that happens, the B-gap defender picks him off and he can't recover on the DE, meaning he's blocking air.

On the backside, because the DT is working vertically, the BST can easily cross his face but it is difficult to actually block him without allowing him upfield. This means the DT is in good position on the QB. As is the WILL who has C gap responsibility. The BSG actually releases upfield (again, this is likely a function of the formation with the tight LB alignment), expecting the WILL to flow, and ends up blocking air. This means the backside DE is another free hitter in the backside A gap and the WILL is another free hitter in the backside B gap. And suddenly all run options are bad, and because it's Cover 1, there is no read defender to even start with the pass option (by the way, this WILL can also sit underneath a slant RPO).

So for my money: Schiano actually anticipated an Inside Zone RPO, putting more emphasis on this being a great defensive play call than a bad offensive play call.

Here we are at the snap with where the offense thinks their assignments are going and what the defense is doing. No doubles, the LBs close to the LOS require immediate releases. The OT is likely going to have to step out a bit to handle the DE, as the TE is releasing immediately to the SAM.

At the snap, the playside DE gets a great jump inside. Combined with the OT being aware that he will likely have to step out to effectively block the DE, and combined with the DT working vertical, this prevents the OT from immediately getting vertical and cutting off the looping DE, and he can't recover because there are bodies in his path that he has to work around. 

On the backside, you see the BST win play side but lose contact with the DT because he's working hard to get lateral and doesn't anticipate the upfield move. The BSG has started his release to no body in the second level, and you can tell by his eyes he's looking for a second level player to hit, but no one shows.

And here we are at last, a free hitter in the hole, the backside DT preventing anything out the back of the play, and two free hitters in the backside A gap. That's three free hitters and a boxed in play.

Could PSU Still Make it Work
There are really two ways that PSU could still make this work, and both would require an OL to make a great play.

1) The PSG could do two things. He could either cutoff any penetration by the playside DT, but this would require him to quickly get lateral and have the strength to do that, and would also expose him to the risk of getting beat inside rather easily with the knowledge his Center is releasing straight to the MIKE (so that's a bad option). More likely, he could more effectively wash the DT down using the DT's hard charging momentum against him. This would be a great play as that is quite atypical on an Inside Zone play from an interior OL to execute that. But by washing him down, the MIKE is unable to flow because of his tight alignment and the Center releasing directly to him. Even with the DE free hitter, if the DT is washed down enough, there is a chance the RB can bounce this and get to the C-gap.

2) The OT could get vertical immediately and cuts off the DE looping. Again, the DE gets a great jump and there is a lot going against the OT here. But if he was able to get vertical, to get a punch on the inside shoulder of the DE, the DE is not in a position to withstand a punch without giving up ground. The Center releasing directly to the MIKE would open a fairly massive bubble in the playside A gap, and if there was enough movement between the Center and the MIKE, this could result in a churned out first down (it would also require that the backside A gap doesn't get a free hitter from the backside DE, and this should be the case if the BSG plays this correctly, which he doesn't).

Alas, either of those things would be fairly difficult. If one of these two things could be done, there would be a shot at a big play. If both were done (or point 1 is executed and the PST can at least make contact with the looping DE to prevent a free hitter in the backfield) by way of phenomenal execution, then it would almost certainly be a RB 1v1 a FS to stop a TD. That's the risk reward of this play call (especially with the safety angles we've seen from OSU this year). But that's a lot to ask.

I'm counting this as additional rationale for why PSU ran the play they did. I believe the OSU coaches thought Inside Zone RPO was a likely option. The TEX stunts, while potentially effective against the pass, are not really known as great pass stunts, particularly against running QBs with Cover 1 behind it. That's because the edges become soft edges. The OLBs get trapped in man coverage and you rely on the DTs to be able to get vertical enough to prevent an outside escape route for the QB (and for a DT to be able to re-direct and move well enough in space). It limits your interior push, and unless the DE gets in clean, limits most of what makes DEs more effective pass rushers (ability to speed rush and counter based on that speed in more space).

The biggest pass rush benefit of a TEX stunt is 1) that it's a stunt instead of rushing straight up; 2) it's a stunt that allows the coverage not to conflict with gap responsibility by allowing the OLBs to have outside gaps. But otherwise, it's not a particular well suited stunt for a pass given the down and distance. This very much has the appearance of a run stunt.