After an uninspiring performance against Oregon the week before, it looked like the whole state of Ohio was focused on Buckeye’s defense on Saturday. Ryan Day promised “structural changes” would be made to a unit that was not only schematically beaten for the second time in three games, but simply failed to perform. at a basic level.

However, as Ohio State played against Tulsa, it was still unclear exactly what those changes might be. We quickly found out that Kerry Coombs and Matt Barnes switched positions, the former going up to the press box while the latter calling games from the sideline, but that alone doesn’t tell us anything about the product on the ground.

When the Golden Hurricane first got the ball, it was still not clear exactly what had changed. While TV advertisers have repeatedly mentioned the need for the Buckeyes to play with two deep safeties, that hasn’t actually happened.

Throughout this first Tulsa possession we’ve seen much of the same defense as Ohio State since 2019, as although free safety Bryson Shaw and bullet safety Ronnie Hickman all line up. both in a deep alignment, one often spins downward before the snap as the unit used a one-height and three-depth blanket.

Ohio State Cover 3-strong rotation

In Tulsa’s first practice of the game, which lasted 15 games and resulted in a field goal, the Buckeyes played an area of ​​coverage 3 on eight of those shots.

While Tulsa’s offense had yet to strike fear into an opponent’s heart in 2021, they had no trouble moving the ball like any other recent Buckeye opponent, securing the same covers he did. expected in the passing game.

However, there was a noticeable change at the start of the Golden Hurricane’s first two possessions. Whenever Tulsa was able to lead football, Barnes often asked his two inside linebackers to get through the A-gaps.

Ohio State 3-deep, 2-sub Zone Blitz

This Crossfire look was common in the state of Ohio, with the first linebacker intended to disrupt inside blocking combinations while the other sneaked into the backfield untouched. Behind it, the defense would employ common area-blitz cover, with the free security and the two corners playing three deep areas while the bullet and coverage of the inhabited areas along the hashes, keeping everything in front of them.

The result was noticeable on paper, as the Buckeyes kept Tulsa just 2.6 yards per carry, down from the 7.1 surrendered to Oregon the week before.

“I thought we stopped the race better and thought we mixed up some looks,” Day told reporters after the game. “I thought we had changed some things structurally.”

But those running blitzes also got linebackers out of the conflict in the RPO game, as the roles of the top six were demarcated from the bottom five in coverage. Tulsa isn’t a huge RPO team, but considering what they saw on the movie, it was clear she had to try and attack the Buckeyes this way.

Thanks to this adjustment, the Golden Hurricane has been far less successful in this department than recent OSU opponents. With either Hickman or Lathan Ransom clearly playing the pass in this 3-deep, 2-under area, Tulsa QB Davis Brin handed the ball over almost every RPO with little room for the ball carrier.

Likewise, the Buckeyes often bombarded those same linebackers when passing. Behind the pressure, however, the secondary man blanket employed with only one deep security, and more often than not the young cornerbacks and blanket securities seemed confident and comfortable playing in these high-impact situations. the sink.

Cam Martinez saw his first real time in high school, replacing the ball as an additional defender when Tulsa went with four wide receivers. He obviously caused a stir, combining with cornerbacks Cameron Brown and Denzel Burke to break Tulsa’s seven passes.

It’s a good thing the secondary proved capable, as Buckeye’s pass seemed largely non-existent, despite those extra rushers.

“I would love to see a bit more of the pass rush,” Day said, “We have to do a better job of making the quarterback feel uncomfortable.”

While many have focused on the lack of a global pass like the Bosas or Chase Young, Jonathon Cooper and Tommy Togiai’s absences from a year ago are still being felt up front. With Zach Harrison on the sidelines for this game, the Buckeyes were only able to record two sacks and four rushes on Tulsa’s 54 attempted passes.

But the Buckeyes came out of halftime and forced three consecutive punts in Tulsa using a new straightforward form of play, human cover with free safety behind it (Cover 1) on the first downs, before blitzing. on the third tests. However, the biggest schematic change happened at this point as well, as we saw some true two-depth blankets added to the mix.

Ohio State Tampa 2

Barnes started calling Cover 2 from the first downs, expecting Tulsa to throw the ball underneath. While cover has traditionally been vulnerable against running (especially against spreading formations), the Golden Hurricane had largely given up on trying to do so at this point, making him a safe bet.

While the look isn’t new, the simple change alone seemed to create some indecision for Brin instead of releasing the ball quickly.

But Philip Montgomery is a good coach, and he started to recognize some patterns in Barnes’ play calls as the afternoon wore on. When Martinez entered the game against four wide sets, the Buckeyes played almost exclusively against men, giving Tulsa an opportunity.

By grouping two or three receivers on one side, it ensured that at least one would get a clean release from the line. But these grouped trainings also gave Tulsa the opportunity to make legal choices.

Tulsa’s first touchdown came near the end of the third quarter after a Buckeye fumble gave them the ball into OSU territory. On the play, Ransom’s man ran straight into Martinez’s path, knocking out two defenders while Martinez’s man opened wide across the pitch.

Despite playing with different staff and sending out a blitz, Montgomery knew that ultimately the Buckeyes would end up in a men’s blanket with their backs to their own goal line, just like they did against the Oregon the week before. While the Ducks used that knowledge to set up several crack sweeps around the left edge with two-for-one blocks, Tulsa did the same in the passing game to free the receivers.

As the Golden Hurricane approached the red zone on their next possession, Montgomery had another batsman ready. This time, the middle catcher of the three-man field was the one who “made a choice” by performing a simple hitch route at the same depth as Ransom.

While Ransom was able to avoid contact with the receiver, his roundabout path created enough space for his man to free up to the top and gave Brin another open target before the pass arrived.

Thanks to a monster performance from Treveyon Henderson, the Buckeyes were able to maintain their lead throughout the second half and force Tulsa to play more aggressively than they would have liked. Eventually the barrage broke and Martinez was able to recover a late interception for six points, cementing the OSU victory.

Ohio State Defensive Appeals Against Tulsa


% of shots

Cover 1 (Male)


Cover 3 (Zone)


Blitz man


Zone blitz


Cover 2 (Zone)


2-Man (Man + Zone)


“We’re going to watch the movie, evaluate it and go back to it,” Day said of the defense’s overall performance. “But I think the way things went today was pretty smooth, and hopefully we can take advantage of that.”

There is, indeed, something to lean on, even if the score of the box does not show it.

Yes, the Buckeyes have surrendered 501 offensive yards to an unranked group-five streak that is still winless this season. But it was the most diverse pattern we’ve seen from the Ohio State defense in years, with a variety of covers making their way onto the take-off sheet in the second half.

Plus, the Unity is still largely a work in progress, but it has at least some semblance of an identity that everything can build on. The outside cornerbacks have been formidable in three games, with the opposing QBs only passing 40% of their passes targeting Brown and Burke this season.

With these two taking out the outside, defensive staff can continue to experiment with ways to win passes between numbers and avoid getting beaten by group sets. While the inside linebacker blitz in every game can be a step too far, Barnes, Coombs and co. now have several ways to make opponents guess the first downs instead of sitting in a static alignment at a high each time.

This unit was never going to give up the basic structure of relying on one high cover in mid-season, and frankly, they never have to. The basic philosophy of what Day wants to achieve is by no means the wrong one to remember.

Removing indoor running and deep outside passing is a proven recipe for winning football games, and the Buckeyes can still hope to achieve. But there is still a lot of work to be done.

Whether it’s finding the right combination of rushing passes or continuing to mix up new blitzes, the Buckeyes need to find a way to build pressure more effectively. Plus, whoever calls the coins has to work to avoid settling into predictable trends that can be exploited later.

The state of Ohio has shown enough of a schematic point of view to hint at the infractions, knowing that its best bet is to get some human cover and rely on its talented corners to make a play. where and when other concepts are called upon will go a long way in determining how successful this defense can be.

The Buckeyes are champions