Eliminating The Demon

A look into how Ohio State was able to solve Oregon's tempo.

It started with a number.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and his staff knew Oregon’s fast-paced offense fires off a play roughly every 16 seconds, and OSU’s coaches let it be known throughout the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in early January.

“We challenged them and we had '16' signs everywhere,” Meyer said. “Every time our players went to get something to eat we had one of those big signs that lights up, and we thought if we could eliminate the fatigue factor and make them block us and make them play football that we'd be in pretty good shape, and that's what we did, even after all those turnovers.”

Meyer referred to the 16-second count as the demon his team faced and said Monday’s contest – and the preparation leading up to it – was all about learning how to eliminate the demon.

To prepare its players for the constant onslaught of Oregon plays, Ohio State put its defense up against two offenses that would run back to back. The goal of the offenses was to get the plays off within 16 seconds, and the defense focused on making sure it got back into position.

“You get two huddles going. Two huddles running at us,” junior linebacker Joshua Perry said. “You put the clock up there and try to get it running as fast as possible. It’s trained us to make the play and get up and save the celebration for when we get off the field. You turn right to the sideline, get the call and then look at what’s going on on the field.”

The first drive of the game looked to be trouble for the Buckeyes, as Oregon marched 75 yards over 11 plays and 2:39 while never facing a third-down situation. However, the Ohio State defense rebounded to force four punts and a turnover on downs during Oregon’s next five possessions.

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One of the ways they were able to do that, aside from an increased fitness level, was by hurrying back quickly enough to be able to change up looks as Oregon got set. After the game, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said the things Ohio State did were familiar, but the way and the amount that they used different schemes threw off the Ducks.

“They're an outstanding defense,” he said. “We knew that coming in, and they did some different things, both on (the first) drive and throughout. Not different things completely schematically, but by kind of percentage of what they had done to that point.”

Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell backed up that assertion after the game, saying his players were able to break some tendencies while forcing Oregon into a dilemma – take more time to run the offense or conduct it at the normal pace and give themselves less time to react to different looks.

“I know they had a plan and we messed it up,” Fickell said. “We didn’t do the same thing more than once probably. We mixed from man to Cover 2 to Cover 3, from pressure to not pressuring and our guys believed in it. You know what, when you do a lot of those different things, those guys have a lot of things on their shoulders and we knew they could handle it and they did a great job of it.”

It was a winning plan. Consider the demon eliminated.

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