Jim Heacock: Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach, 11th season
Luke Fickell: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach, 5th season
Tim Beckman: Cornerbacks Coach, 2nd season
Paul Haynes: Safeties Coach, 2nd season
The Buckeye defense isn’t overly complex but it is very effective. The overall strategy is summed up by the cliché “bend don’t break”. The Buckeyes are a base 4-3 team that plays a variety fronts including 4-3 stack, 4-3 under and 4-3 over. A 4-3 under front is basically having the defensive line shifted to the weak side to provide a contain defender on the backside. The linebackers are shifted to the strong side with the strong side linebacker lined up in an outside shade in relation to the tight end. This is the more common of the front alignments. The Buckeyes do occasionally shift the over front, which is basically the exact opposite of the under front. The defensive line will now shift strong with the strong side defensive end lined up outside the tight end and the linebackers will be shifted to the weak side. In the 4-3 stack front the linebackers will not take a specific shade either way and are usually aligned behind a defensive lineman, (hence the term stack). The only other type of fronts that are run are 3-3-5 type packages with David Patterson playing the nose tackle along with Vernon Gholston and Jay Richardson manning the end positions.
On the defensive line, the Buckeyes have been more creative than in years past and it seems to be having a positive effect. Their favorite movement is running a stunt on both sides of the line, which has been effective in pass rush situations. Another thing you will notice is a defensive end, usually Vernon Gholston, playing in a standup position. He will either keep his normal alignment or align inside over the guard with Quinn Pitcock moving to defensive end. He can do a number of things from this position including work a line stunt inside (if he aligns inside then an outside stunt) in combination with a linebacker or cornerback blitz. Gholston could also bring on a straight rush or drop into coverage from this stance.
From a coverage standpoint you will almost always see a zone coverage deployed. The only time the coverage ever changes much is when the opponents are in the red zone, at which point some man concepts may be called. The Buckeyes run some form of cover 3 a very high percentage of the time. Here are some of the variations of the cover 3. In a straight cover 3 both cornerbacks gain depth before the snap and play the deep third to their side while a safety; almost always the free safety takes the deep middle third. The strong safety plays the curl/flat zone to one side while the weak side linebacker plays the curl to flat on the opposite side. The middle linebacker and strong side linebacker play middle zones. Ok, try to remember those concepts.
In cover 3 “cloud” the cornerback plays the flat zone while the strong safety plays the deep third behind him. This is what is called a rotating coverage. The benefit of this coverage is it can put three cover men on the star receiver. There is a cornerback covering him short in the flat, the strong side linebacker playing him on the inside curl zone and a safety rotating over the top to cover deep passes. The downside is the coverage is vulnerable to the backside of the rotation where the weak side linebacker is responsible for the flat and the cornerback is covering the deep third. In cover 3 “sky” coverage, the strong safety takes one of the underneath zones while the cornerback plays deep third. This is basically the same as a regular cover 3. The term sky is attached to indicate the safety usually lining up inside the box and having the potential to play the curl zone instead of the flat. If you didn’t follow all the jargon, in plain English the Buckeye defense plays a lot of zone of coverage, their favorite being a cover 3, or some variation of it.
I explained the coverage packages first because they go hand in hand with the blitz scheme. Ohio State is a zone blitz team, meaning that unlike other teams who play man coverage when blitzing, they play zone behind the blitz. That doesn’t mean every time that you have to drop a defensive lineman into coverage, but if you’re blitzing two or more linebackers/defensive backs, then you will likely see a defensive lineman drop out into cover of the underneath zones. From a blitz viewpoint, there are two evident concepts on film. One is to get James Laurinaitis free on the blitz inside. The second concept is tagging an outside blitz of the middle and strong side linebackers while dropping an end off on the opposite side. The team can also bring a safety or cornerback as the second rush man instead of a linebacker as well. The general concept on defense is to work the front so that the blitz man has an open hole to the quarterback or a match up with a running back to block him.
To account for added receivers, Ohio State makes a basic shift in the secondary to their nickel package. Antonio Smith, who is lined up as the boundary side cornerback in the base 4-3, moves over the slot and plays the curl zone underneath while Donald Washington subs in at boundary cornerback. Due to the large amount of zone that is played, the defense can also stay in base and align the strong side linebacker over the slot, but that is one of the less common adjustments that are made.
One last note in terms of strategy… if the past games are any indication, expect plenty of rotation up front in terms of substitutions. Joel Penton is the first defensive tackle off the bench while Lawrence Wilson is the first end substitution. Ross Homan seemingly plays as much as John Kerr does at weak side linebacker, and Curtis Terry has seen quite a bit of playing time as well. There isn’t as much substitution in the secondary because of depth. Youth and losing Anderson Russell for the year due to injury have somewhat limited them rotating there.
#50 Vernon Gholston 6-4, 260, So.
Stats: 40 Tackles (18 solo), 14 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, one interception
Gholston has come on as a top playmaker this year for the Buckeyes. Gholston is the most athletic of the Ohio State defensive ends and he is used in a variety of ways. As we talked about above, he will play in a stand up position and has been very effective in the stunts and blitzes that are run off this look. The former Detroit Cass Tech standout is at his best slanting down the line and made a lot of plays in pursuit. Gholston is a good, not great straight up pass rusher. His size and overall athleticism allows him to get some pressure, but he hasn’t yet developed into a great outside pass rusher. He needs to develop a second move to get separation more often when rushing the passer. In the running game Gholston is adequate when defending plays right at him, but shines in pursuit. He could play with better balance, and for having such a massive upper body, he gets pushed around more that you would expect. Overall, Gholston is at his best when being used in some type of line movement that takes advantage of his athletic ability, but he is still developing his straight on game. His alignment is varying. Both he and Jay Richardson line up on either side of the line so he will face both Michigan offensive tackles throughout the day.
#78 Alex Barrow 6-5, 275, So.
Stats: seven tackles, one tackle for loss
Barrow is more of a run stopping defensive end that has the size to give tackles match-up problems from time to time. He has decent athletic ability for his size but he is not much of a threat as a pass rusher.
#99 Jay Richardson 6-6, 276, Sr.
Stats: 23 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, six pass breakups
Richardson has stepped up his game as a senior after being inconsistent in past years. At 6-6, 275+ he brings excellent size to the position. He gets his hands in the face of the quarterback and is tied for the team lead in pass breakups. Richardson is more of straight line athlete than a change of direction guy, but his athleticism is not bad for his size. Like many players of his stature he plays too high at times, which makes it harder for him to anchor against the run and get off double teams. He uses his arm length well and is able to gain separation because of it. Like Gholston, working down the line in pursuit is one of his strong suits. He has improved on reading the screen play and is one of the quicker linemen to react to it. Richardson isn’t an overly quick or talented pass rusher, but his relentlessness and fluidity produce some results for him. Lack of quickness off the line of scrimmage hurts him rushing the passer though. Overall, Richardson is having a solid senior campaign thanks to his tough size match up and motor for the ball. He isn’t a great pass rusher but don’t discount what he can do on the field.
#87 Lawrence Wilson 6-6, 270, So.
Stats: 11 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks
Wilson has really bulked up since he first hit the scene last year as a true freshman. He plays way too high and needs to improve on some technical aspects of his game, but he has proven to be a difficult match-up in spot situations.
True freshman Robert Rose is very advanced physically for a freshman and has shown some glimpses of what is to come in the future. He most likely will not play against Michigan but Rose has already tallied three and a half sacks in limited action so far. 6-7 Doug Worthington is another possible reserve.
#97 David Patterson 6-3, 285, Sr.
Stats: 16 tackles, three tackles for loss, no sacks
Patterson moved from defensive end to tackle prior to the 2006 season and has adjusted very well. Although his numbers aren’t impressive, Patterson has still been a factor for the Buckeye defense. He is used in a number of alignments, from an outside shade on the offensive guard to a one technique on the center. He brings ideal athleticism to the position and he is at his best pursuing the ball east and west. He isn’t nearly the anchor that teammate Quinn Pitcock is against the double team. He doesn’t have great playing strength, but it is not always required in his role. Patterson had minor knee surgery and missed time in October, but seems to have made a full recovery.
#98 Joel Penton 6-5, 290, Sr.
Stats: 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack
A poor man’s Quinn Pitcock. Doesn’t give much ground against the double team but isn’t a great athlete. Penton will rotate in quite often but he does his best work keeping bodies off the linebackers.
#90 Quinn Pitcock 6-3, 295, Sr.
Stats: 33 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, eight sacks
Pitcock is a space eater that is very tough to move even with a double team. He plays with a wide, powerful base and can stack the point well against the run. Pitcock is a naturally strong player that can collapse the pocket with his strength. He is a high intensity player who will never take a play off. Pitcock plays his best at the one technique position over the nose guard. His ability to keep blockers off the linebackers has benefited the team immensely. Pitcock isn’t overly athletic and his change of direction skills are marginal. He sometimes takes himself out of plays by being too aggressive. He doesn’t have much in the arsenal in terms of pass rush moves, but his strength and motor are often enough to get in the backfield. Overall, Pitcock’s numbers speak for themselves. He isn’t blessed with the greatest tools in the world, but his relentless plays and strength allow him to be a force on the line.
#92 Todd Denlinger 6-3, 280, RS Fr.
Stats: four tackles, two tackles for loss
Denlinger is a developing player inside who is able to contribute because of
his size and toughness but is limited athletically.