Ohio State Football Second Thoughts: Illinois

What did Ohio State do against Illinois to prepare for Michigan State? We take a closer look at the play of the quarterback, some schematic twists and more.

First, a confession: I only re-watched the first half. I suspect you won't mind, though. If this were almost any other week (Michigan also being an exception regardless of the year), going back to study what the youngsters did for Ohio State in the second half of the drubbing of Illinois would have been interesting, but we've seen this song and dance before from the starters and there are more important things to which to attend.

That said, the first half provided plenty of fodder worthy of review, and that starts with the quarterback of the Buckeyes.

J.T. Barrett's final passing line (15 for 24 for 167 yards and two touchdowns) was solid, and he finished with a flurry, going two for two on the final drive, but was that enough to answer questions about his knee and his readiness for Michigan State?

Tom Herman's explanation that his early high passes were a result of trying to get the ball over shallow defenders in Cover 3 is valid, but it doesn't cover everything.

Overall, though, this was a good effort for the Ohio State offense as it was able to protect Barrett pretty well most of the time he was in and execute some tendency-breaking plays from formations new and old.

Defensively, the Buckeyes played a clean game aside from the gadget play Illinois ran out of a funky formation. Perhaps that will turn out to be a good thing as far as preparation for this week because there's a good chance Ohio State was going to see a trick play or two from Michigan State anyway. They were certainly outflanked, so being shown they might be thankful to have been shown they need to rethink how they adjust to that formation.

Other notes and observations:

  • Without Armani Reeves, Ohio State's nickel package included Tyvis Powell at nickel and Cam Burrows in Powell's normal safety spot. Powell looked comfortable in his old spot, and Burrows never having his name called is probably not a bad sign for a safety.

  • On the second play of the game, Ohio State brought out a two-wide, double wing formation with one back. As Herman said Monday, it was Cover 3 from Illinois after they showed tight coverage from the corners. Tight end Jeff Heuerman came wide open behind one of the shallow defenders but Barrett missed him with a throw over his head. This would not be a play Illinois had seen on film. The high throw later to tight end Nick Vannett was in a tighter window and would have been a pretty incredible throw. It was basically where it needed to be, just a tick high. NFL-type play nearly pulled off but not quite. Barrett had to get it between the deep safety and the robber. He gets a pass on this one if I am grading.
  • The high throw that went over Wilson's head on an out pattern I think really was more of a matter of him not stepping into the throw. The window was pretty large here and his mechanics looked just a bit out of whack. I don't blame Ohio State for not wanting to confirm he was feeling the effects of the knee early -- if he was.
  • Barrett pretty much saved his best for last, hitting Dontre Wilson in a zone window on an out route on the first play of Ohio State's last possession of the second quarter and then making a very nice throw on the run to Devin Smith, who beat single coverage to the corner for a touchdown. He was rolling right on that play as opposed to to his left on the one he sailed high in the first quarter to Wilson.
  • Finishing with a flourish had to make Barrett and the coaches feel good, but it is fair to wonder which Barrett will show up in East Lansing. His struggles with accuracy went beyond the throws into Cover 3 early in the game. On Ohio State's next-to-last possession of the first half, he very nearly threw a 100-yard pick-6 on a late throw to Mike Thomas in the end zone. Thomas was open immediately, but the quarterback did not pull the trigger.
  • First touchdown of the night Ohio State came out in a basic three-wide receiver set with the tight end to the boundary. He (Jeff Heuerman) blocked down while the tackle and center pulled around to the outside to lead Curtis Samuel, who didn't need much help because the cornerback on that side mirrored the motion of the flanker, who then rocked the playside linebacker (never saw him). Darryl Baldwin picked up the frontside safety and the backside safety never got there because Illinois' safeties are really bad at supporting the run. The cornerback, V'Angelo Bentley, never did figure out who had the ball. He kept going away from the play after the handoff. This was a tendency breaker as motion often meant a jet sweep in previous weeks.
  • OSU ran the outside sweep out of multiple formations, both the basic three receiver set with the flanked and tight end to one side and the H and split end to the other ("Ace LT" or "Ace RT" depending on the tight end) and a trips set. The second time they ran it out of the Ace LT, the Illinois corner wasn't as anxious to pursue across the field, and he ended up making the tackle but not until a six-yard gain.
  • One of those subtle things on Ohio State's second play after Illinois missed a field goal: Barrett stepped into a throw and hit Thomas with a strike to the chest. Thomas showed his strength holding off the defender to make the throw. Again this is new for the Buckeyes this year, a wide receiver using strength to make a play instead of just straight speed.
  • The offensive line did a good job picking up a blitz and stunt on a deep out from Barrett to Marshall in the first quarter. Overall the line showed improvement in this area after struggling with it a lot earlier in the season, including against Penn State.
  • This makes sense because he's a sophomore now instead of a freshman, but I am very impressed with the development of Orrville's Mason Monheim. He's very sound and has shown some play-making ability after just kind of being "there" last season. Saw this in previous games of Illinois I watched as well. He seemed to have a good feel for what Ohio State was doing, never more than when he stuffed the Buckeyes' fourth-down shovel pass.
  • Barrett made a perfect throw to Devin Smith on the 32-yard TD pass. This was another play out of the newly unveiled double wing formation, and it included a wrinkle that helped Smith get open. He was a flanker and ran a fly pattern but it was very tight and the cornerback nearly ran into the outside linebacker. Smith beat him off the line (no jam) but got another step thanks to this minor interference. That was probably part of the design of the play. The CB might have thought he would have competent help from the safety, too, but I haven't seen anything in previous Illinois games to indicate why that would be the case.
  • I thought during the game it was not wise to run a fourth-down play out of an empty formation (because it's easier to send more guys than the offense can block), but they had it blocked up if Heuerman and had made the correct read, as Chris Spielman pointed out on the broadcast.
  • Really nice play by Steve Miller taking out a screen after dropping into zone coverage. Good open-field tackle. Add that to the building resumé.
  • Something small but possibly of note: Illinois ran a bootleg late in the second quarter that Ohio State handled very well. Steve Miller kept the quarterback in his sights while Joshua Perry picked up the tight end in the flat, something that could not always be said about a play like this in in the past. Perry also did a nice job picking up the tight end on a play-action rollout toward him when Illinois was deep inside its own territory late in the second quarter.
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