OSU Defense In Mood To Man Up

Ohio State players were buzzing about the defensive game plan after it put them in position to stymie Purdue last week. BuckeyeSports.com tells you why and if fans can expect to see more of the same this weekend in East Lansing.

A palpable excitement reverberated from some Ohio State defensive players during and after the 16-3 win over Purdue last week. Perhaps they were reveling in their newfound freedom.

The usual statistics did not show it, but the Buckeyes brought a more aggressive game plan into the contest with the Boilermakers, and it worked like a charm.

Despite sacking Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter just twice, the Buckeyes derailed the Purdue passing game for nearly all of the contest.

Painter went over 10,000 yards passing in his career, but he completed only 23 of 51 passes for 228 yards and no touchdowns. He threw an interception, but the more glaring statistic was one that can sometimes go overlooked: pass breakups.

The Buckeyes recorded eight of those against Purdue after just 16 in the first six games of the year. Last season, Ohio State broke up 40 passes in 13 games, an average of just more than three per game.

What was the secret to the Buckeyes' success? Not timing but rather attacking.

"We were singled in the secondary and it allowed us to blitz some people and get some pressure on the quarterback," explained Ohio State safety Anderson Russell.

Since Jim Tressel took over as head coach at Ohio State in 2001, Ohio State has made its living as a zone-pressure team. The Buckeyes want to get after the quarterback but would prefer to do it without having to sacrifice the safety of a zone.

This season, however, more man-to-man has cropped into the equation.

Both Russell and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said that makes for more fun on the field.

"I think mainly as the weeks have gone on we've played more and more man as the coaches get more comfortable and guys get more and more comfortable in the scheme," Jenkins said. "Whenever you can man up on some receivers, it always helps the defense out because you can put more guys in the box to stop the run and get more pressure on the quarterback.

"I think that's one thing they'll try to keep doing as long as we continue to match up well."

Jenkins had an interception, batted down another pass and had four tackles (all solos) against Purdue. Fellow cornerback Chimdi Chekwa knocked down two passes and had four solo tackles of his own while safety Kurt Coleman had three solo tackles and a pass breakup. Russel had a solo stop as well.

Pass breakups were not limited to the secondary, however. Linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman combined for three while also making 19 tackles between them.

More man-to-man for the secondary alters how the linebackers have to play as well.

"Sometimes it puts you man-to-man on a receiver, but it helps the linebackers out a lot because we can blitz if we have the confidence that our secondary can go man-to-man," Freeman said. "I think it helps the whole defense out if you have confidence your secondary can do that."

The last part of the successful equation against the Boilermakers was simply better play from the front four, too.

"We were blitzing, but we blitz a lot every week," Freeman said. "I think they just had their mindset that, ‘Hey, we're not going to be an average D-line. We want to be a great D-line.' And their first step was last week."

Jenkins noticed that as well.

"I told them they made it easy on us in the back end," Jenkins said. We were able to just sit back and jump some routes. Whenever you've got pressure making the quarterback throw quick it's really easy on the guys in the secondary."

The overall boost in production from the defense was a combination of a more aggressive game plan and simple better play.

"We changed up some calls and guys executed," Jenkins said. "They made some plays. Hopefully we can continue to do that."

Ohio State safeties coach Paul Haynes also found the difference in how aggressive the Buckeyes were to be both mental and physical.

"I think when you talk about being more aggressive mentally you start to try to do it physically," Haynes said. "Like I said, it was something that we just stressed and keep stressing. Our game plan was that, so it allowed them to do that.

An emphasis was placed all week on being aggressive, especially up front, where the defensive linemen had to do a better job of getting off blocks whether a blitz was in the works or not. That was key to allowing the team to play more man, Haynes said.

But what does the future hold? Was this foray into extensive man coverage a one-week phenomenon brought out for Purdue or is it something to look for more of as the season progresses.

"I think it could be a trend for us," Haynes said. "When you can do some things with your edge guys, it allows you to do some different things as far as bringing more pressure and doing that. Their personnel will depend on all of that."


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