For the Ohio State football team, the "Bear" defense got them against Virginia Tech. The Hokies used the Bear – an alignment, also known as the “double eagle,” in which three defensive linemen line up right across from the two guards and center, preventing those interior linemen from working double teams – to totally take Ohio State’s running game out of their marquee nonconference matchup. That forced OSU to throw against exotic blitzes and VT’s standout secondary, a combination that led to the Hokies’ big win in Ohio Stadium.
The Golden Flashes didn’t have the athletes Virginia Tech had and it showed, but it’s also fair to say the crash course in that middle-clogging defense helped Ohio State as it will likely face similar alignments until it proves it can beat them throughout the rest of the season.
“We all looked at each other like, ‘Yeah, we know what to do against this now,’ ” guard Patrick Elflein said after the Buckeyes racked up 33 first downs and 66 points in the win vs. Kent State.
Head coach Urban Meyer said after the loss to Virginia Tech – in which Ohio State ran for 108 net yards, the lowest total in Meyer’s tenure – that the team practiced against the Bear look in the days before the Kent State game.
In other words, the Buckeyes knew that in football, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and sure enough, Kent State obliged early in the contest. There were some key differences, of course, as the Golden Flashes didn’t play the risky zero-safety defense Virginia Tech threw out the week prior, but Kent knew that if it was going to have any chance in Ohio Stadium, it was going to try to take away the Buckeyes’ running game and make J.T. Barrett beat them.
“You can I’m sure from this day forward somebody’s gonna have some variety of that, and to answer your next question I assume is coming I think we had a better plan than last week,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “I think their approach coverage-wise was a little bit different, too. They weren’t gonna sit there and play Cover-0 the entire game.
“They’ve got a little different athlete than Virginia Tech has, but our plan was better and our execution of the plan was better. There’s no one place to point the finger last week just like there’s no one place to reap the praise this week. I think it was definitely a collective effort to make sure we had success.”
The Bear defense, so named for the 1985 Chicago Bears team that utilized the stacked front and a number of impressive athletes all over the field to dominate the NFL on the way to the Super Bowl championship, is suited in some ways to limit the Ohio State offense because of the running game’s dependence on double teams and the guards getting to the next level, something that becomes much harder when facing a man on each play.
Cal – nicknamed the Golden Bears – famously lined up in a Bear defense as its standard defense, then ran it on and off when it visited Ohio Stadium in 2012 in what was a close win for the Buckeyes. Purdue also used a similar plan to keep the OSU running game in check in 2012’s close game in Ohio Stadium.
The way to beat the Bear, according to experts, is to make plays on the edge or throw the ball, something Virginia Tech’s talented secondary made tough to do. But against Kent State, the Buckeyes were able to distribute the ball around to 11 different receivers, with a number of catches in the flat or just a few yards up the field as the team chose to go with empty backfields to clear the picture for Barrett.
“Yeah when they do that Bear they really didn’t have anyone to cover the flat in the boundary,” said tight end Nick Vannett, who snagged a career-high four balls. “That’s when I had my catches, so we saw that early and took advantage of it.”
And the offensive line had a better day, one week after Virginia Tech finished with seven sacks, six in the fourth quarter.
“We knew coming into that game that we could expect Bear because we knew they were going to watch the Virginia Tech film,” Elflein said. “We practiced it, got more reps at it, got more efficient at it and knew how to block it.”
Time will tell how many more days the Buckeyes have to battle the defense, but it appears they’ve done their work to make sure they get the Bear, not the other way around.