Monday, July 10, 2006

Four Plays, Part I: the Bomb | by Jay

Let's talk defense. Specifically: the Fiesta Bowl. That game featured four long touchdown plays by the Buckeyes that had our defense bumbling around like the Keystone Kops. We've got most of the same crew coming back on defense, so if ND is going to make a run at the title this year we're going to have to figure out how to stop plays like these.

For starters, there was Teddy Ginn's 56-yard TD catch early in the first quarter. After the Irish scored on their opening drive, we were feeling pretty confident -- and then lightning struck. I remember sitting in the ND section of the stadium, and when when Ginn got behind the secondary, so completely wide open and alone, there was an audible gasp from the crowd around me, a collective uh oh, it's gonna be a looong day. Let's take a closer look at the play and see if we can't figure out what went wrong. If you can bear it, we'll also look at the other "long burns" in the Fiesta Bowl over a few more posts. Think of it as cathartic therapy...or masochism. Whichever works for you. So fire up your telestrator and let's break this down.

Situation: ND is up 7 to 0, 10:02 left in the first quarter. The Buckeyes are still on their first drive of the ballgame. Here's what's happened on this drive up until now:

1-10 O18 OHIO STATE drive start at 12:59 (1st).
1-10 O18 Pittman rush for 1 yard to the OSU19 (HOYTE;CRUM JR.).
2-9 O19 Smith pass incomplete to Ginn.
3-9 O19 Smith rush for 15 yards to the OSU34, 1ST DOWN OSU.
1-10 O34 Smith rush for 6 yards to the OSU40 (MAYS;ZBIKOWSKI).
2-4 O40 Pittman rush for loss of 2 yards to the OSU38 (MAYS).
3-6 O38 Smith pass complete to Holmes for 6 yards to the OSU44,
Troy Smith has burned us for a couple of runs and the Buckeyes have converted two crucial third downs already, one on the previous play. It's first down Buckeyes on their own 44.

Ohio State breaks the huddle and lines up with three wide and a single back. Holmes is in the slot, and Ginn is split wide left. We have our nickel package in, as evidenced by the presence of Ferrine at the top covering Gonzalez. Pittman is the lone setback.
Here's a wider shot of the field, pre-snap. Holmes is going to run an out from the slot, while Ginn runs a fly straight down the field.

Hard to tell, but it looks like a combo coverage for us, with Ferrine and Richardson in man and Wooden and the safeties playing zone. It could be full zone, though.
The ball is snapped and Ginn takes off.
Here you can see Holmes about to make his cut. Ndukwe is clearly focused on Holmes, ignoring Ginn. Wooden is still looking back.

Pittman has stayed in to block, so this was meant to be a deep pass all the way. Our two linebackers don't blitz.
Wooden is eyeing the quarterback and/or Holmes, more evidence that he's in zone coverage, covering the flat. Ginn sprints past him.
Smith is pretty much locked onto Ginn the entire way. Here we see Richardson coming across trailing Holmes, but Smith is clearly looking at Ginn downfield.

We're only rushing our four DL, and against seven blockers we aren't getting any pressure.

Holmes makes his out cut, and the defense breaks down. Ndukwe is still keyed on Holmes. Ginn is already past Wooden with Wooden still looking back at the QB.

Wooden hesitates briefly when Holmes makes his cut.

The big question: why did Ndukwe not come over to help? There's no WR in the middle of the field for him to be worried about.
The ball is in the air. Ndukwe finally turns, and Wooden starts sprinting to catch up, but it's too late.
Touchdown Buckeyes.

And here's the video.

Keith from BuckeyeCommentary tells us that Ohio State scored a TD earlier in the year against Illinois on that same exact play. This was the perfect play to call against the defense and situation we were in. We rarely blitzed on first down all year. Furthermore, Ohio State kept their RB in to block for maximum protection.

Holmes' route is designed to make Wooden hesitate since Ohio State knows that he has flat responsibility. I'm not sure what Ndukwe is supposed to what point would Richardson pass Holmes off to him, and at what point would he pick up Ginn? This could be one of those "communication" issues that Weis mentioned in spring practice ("I think we're going to spend a large amount of time with a veteran secondary working on communication. I think there are too many times where we had communication problems and it's going to be an area we're going to emphasize this spring.")

Again, this was a prescient call by Tressel, a perfect play against no blitz, zone coverage on the left. The key to stopping this play -- which is designed to attack a 2-deep zone -- is to get pressure on the QB so he can't make the throw. We couldn't do that. It's not really a lack of speed in the secondary on this one, despite the tremendous acceleration of Ginn and the poor coverage by our secondary. It's really a pass rush issue. Whether or not Ginn was open, Smith, with max protect from his line and runningback, had plenty of time to set up and throw the bomb. You have to play better coverage, and letting Ginn get so wide open is embarrassing, but even so a little bit of pressure might have disrupted the touchdown here.