In reality, there are many variables that come into play when it comes to stopping offenses that spread the field. Because of the different natures of each spread offense, there are no ironclad, specific solutions to shutting down the spread that apply to each variation. Instead, there are general ideas that can extend across the spectrum.
There are some small adjustments are necessary on the drawing board when defenses face spread offenses. Safety Anderson Russell noted that the Buckeyes spent part of the spring working against the spread in their nickel and dime defensive formations, which the Buckeyes have used with prevalence the last two years to stop spread offenses.
Then there are the edits to the defensive line – which still often will have four down linemen – outlined by Doug Worthington during the spring.
"As a defensive tackle you have to get upfield," he said. "You have to push. You can't get skated. Defensive ends have a little bit more responsibility as far as looking to see where wide receivers are and see if anybody is going to crack them back and be able to play down and read that quarterback."
When it comes down to it, each unit is just as important as the others. Pressure provided by the defensive line always is a key to disrupting what opposing offenses are trying to do, and the spread is no different.
"The bottom line is still pressure (on the quarterback)," safeties coach Paul Haynes said. "Pressure kills everything. I wouldn't say there's more of an onus on the defensive backs. It's just we're more spread out. Bottom line, pressure is pressure."
When the defensive linemen can't get to the QB, the spread often puts a premium on the linebackers and secondary members who must be able to react quickly and tackle surely.
Still Just Football
But when it comes down to it, most of the players and coaches questioned didn't make the spread out to be an awe-inspiring phenomenon. Instead, it is simply just a football strategy impacted by a variety of factors, not the least of which is the talent employed to run the offense.
"It still comes down a little bit to how good you are," defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "If you have really good people you can probably run the two-back and be pretty good and run the spread and be pretty good."
The same truth applies on the other side of the ball. According to most of the Ohio State defensive coaches, the major secret to stopping the spread often is just having good players who make smart decisions.
"Having good football players helps," Haynes said. "The thing about it is you can't try to do too much. That's the key because it still comes down to our guys coming out there and playing and knowing what they're doing. A lot of times, to me, the spread offense is like the option offense. It's all gap responsibility and guys doing the right thing. Nine times out of 10, it's not about what they do; it's about what we do. When they get good plays, it's not because it's a great offensive play. We screwed up."
Safety Kurt Coleman said the message about not trying to do too much has been driven home to the Buckeyes during the spring. Heacock after the team's loss to LSU in the Bowl Championship Series title game noted that the team's defensive breakdowns had come when Ohio State's players had freelanced rather than sticking to the system. Some say that same flaw reared its head in the loss against the Fighting Illini as well.
"Really, it just comes down to everybody playing their own role, and that's kind of what we got away from in the Illinois game," Coleman said. "We're a veteran group and we're ready to step in and do that."