Built To Stop 'Bama?

Ohio State players are confident in their ability to stop a zone run offense like Alabama's.

When Ohio State faces Alabama Thursday it will have to contend with the Crimson Tide’s zone running game.

That scheme is a staple of the Alabama offense and has allowed the Tide to amass nearly 210 yards a game on the ground behind a pair of physical running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.

Despite the success the Tide has had, Ohio State defensive lineman Michael Bennett said that Alabama’s scheme plays right into the Buckeyes strengths.

“They love their zone plays,” he said. "There hasn’t been a zone team that’s been able to handle us so far this season.

“Our defense is built on speed and that’s how you stop zone offenses, speed and penetration. That’s our game that we love to play.”

To a large degree, he’s correct. Players like Bennett, Joey Bosa and Darron Lee have good speed for their position and Buckeye fans have grown accustomed to seeing them in the opposition’s backfield this season. That type of disruptive play is necessary against most any offense, but as Bennett said that penetration is the focal point in disrupting a zone run offense.

The Buckeyes have had success against zone offenses this season and nearly every team on the schedule uses some form of that attack. Ohio State’s poorest defensive outputs in terms of total yardage this season have come against Michigan State, a power team, Navy’s triple option, a Cincinnati team that threw the ball on 63.5 percent of their plays against the Buckeyes, and Indiana’s outside zone.

While the Hoosiers had some success with their zone offense against Ohio State, the Buckeyes more recently shut down the zone scheme of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game, adding to the confidence the team has in disrupting that style of running attack.

“Just the way that we play, the personnel that we have and the amount of time that we spent against zone offenses,” linebacker Joshua Perry said when asked why the defense was good against that scheme. “Going in in the spring we installed our defense all we saw was what our offense had to offer so it was a lot of those things. We became pretty good at it.

“Alabama will do some things and they’ve got some personnel that make it pretty tough just to say we’re going to go out there and stop them. We’ve had experience in it and we’ve got personnel too so I think we can be successful.”

There is a roadmap to success against the Tide’s running game. Alabama has been held under 150 yards rushing in three games this season. The Crimson Tide were able to win all those contests – games against Arkansas, LSU and Mississippi State – but won by an average margin of less than five points. They were also three of Alabama’s four lowest scoring outputs this season.

While the Tide has a dangerous passing game built around a Heisman finalist receiver in Amari Cooper, the offense is predicated on the ground game and that means the zone run.

“This is a zone offense,” Bennett said. “They’ve got other weapons, but this is primarily a zone offense. We’re pretty confident at stopping zone offenses.”

The Buckeyes have good reason to be. But considering that Alabama is the No. 1 team in the country, it’s not surprising that its version of the offense is a different animal. Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said as much.

“I don’t know that we’ve seen an offense like this,” he said.

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