Building a Defensive Blueprint for Ohio State: The Clemson Plan

Might Bud Foster use a strategy similar to the one he used to slow down Clemson against Ohio State.

Bruce Taylor (51), Jack Tyler (58), and Michael Cole (2) charge and tackle Sammy Watkins (2) before he can breach Virginia Tech's line of defense. [Collegiate Times]

Editor's Note: French wrote this before Braxton Miller's season ending injury, but much of what was written is still applicable.

Last week I wrote about how Michigan State, which runs the same defensive alignment and similar pass coverage as Virginia Tech, held Ohio State to a season low of 24 points in the Big Ten Championship Game. I would expect that Foster, with four tremendous defensive backs, would be comfortable playing a quarters coverage while selling out his linebackers inside to create a six-man front.

However, Foster's linebackers are inexperienced and small. If they don't fit those inside gaps, the speedy Buckeye backs can gain huge chunks of yardage on simple read option dives. If Foster doesn't trust that his inexperienced defensive front can stop the run with a six-man gap fit, does he have a backup plan?

Clemson was the last team the Hokies played with dangerous offensive talent, and that utilized a spread scheme with both read option and single wing series. Virginia Tech played Clemson three times in a two year span, and despite having a defense that struggled early in the season, Foster put together a game plan that kept the Hokies in the game and beat up quarterback Tajh Boyd.

Foster held a supremely talented Clemson offense to under 300 yards of total offense in 2012, and he did it with a makeshift secondary. The lack of a true nickel corner forced Foster to play Detrick Bonner at nickel while Michael Cole played free safety. With so many question marks in the secondary, how did Foster stop an offense that featured NFLers like Nuke Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Andre Ellington?

Foster turned to his 46 defensive front, and a man underneath deep Cover 1 coverage approach to stop the Tigers. I have discussed the 46 front before. When the Hokies season seemed lost in 2012, Foster moved Alonzo Tweedy into the lineup against Florida State and played the 46 front with Bruce Taylor and Tweedy playing outside linebackers and Kyshoen Jarrett playing in a backer alignment next to Jack Tyler. Last season, Foster used a 46 front, but instead of playing a deep safety, he used a three-man triangle to the passing strength of the formation against spread teams.

Foster didn't fully commit to the 46 against Clemson, but he knew it could solve two big problems. First, it put Bruce Taylor, whose mobility was a problem following his Lisfranc sprain, in a contain alignment on the edge. This allowed Taylor to be an edge rusher and contain player without running east-west from the normal backer alignment (behind the defensive line to the boundary.) It also created a five-man defensive line where the defensive ends could play more aggressively on dive plays.

Behind Taylor, Kyshoen Jarrett moved forward into a linebacker alignment, creating a seven-man defensive front. When Clemson used a tight end, Jarrett always aligned across from the tight end. Clemson motioned their tight ends often and used them as trap blockers. Wherever the tight end went, Jarrett followed.

To the boundary, the corner either played press man or a deep third coverage. To the field side, the nickel or whip aligned on the slot receiver, and the field corner against the wide receiver. The free safety would line up about 10 yards or deeper to the field side.

In this alignment, Foster used one of three coverage concepts. He could uses a combination inverted zone, with the free safety coming forward to play a short zone and support the run while the nickel retreats deep to cover the middle deep third.

With the rover in the box and the free safety coming forward, the Hokies essentially have eight defenders to challenge the run even though Clemson is using a spread alignment.

Here is an example. Foster aligns the backer and rover to the boundary, baiting Clemson to run back to the field side. Clemson runs a inside zone with a quarterback option to keep the ball with a wham block by the H-Back. The defensive end crashes inside on the dive, but keeps outside shoulder leverage. Boyd reads keep, and goes outside expecting a big lane in the space vacated by the end, but to his surprise the Hokies stunted the mike linebacker outside of the end.

The end slides back outside, and he and the mike linebacker form a wall to force Boyd to cut back into the teeth of the defense. The free safety is flying forward at the snap to fit into the hole, and the rover follows the H-Back when he pulls. The free safety and the rover are sitting in the cutback lane waiting on Tajh.

The second coverage that Foster uses with the rover in the box is a basic three deep. The free safety rotates over the top to play deep middle and shadow the slot receiver if he goes deep. The nickel crashes inside as the free hitting alley player in run support (then backpedals to the field flat if he reads pass).

This creates the 8-man box with the whip/nickel as the alley player to the field side. Here is a great example.

At the snap, Detrick Bonner (who spent the Clemson game playing as the nickel corner) reads the buck sweep and immediately forces the edge. Michael Cole at free safety has the deep middle and has to make sure that the quarterback has handed off before coming up in run support. Again, Bonner seals the back inside into the teeth of the defense (which has more defenders than Clemson has blockers).

Finally, Bud would use man coverage across with the free safety staying deep. We are familiar with this look. The field side receivers receive press coverage by the corner and nickel. The rover shadows the tight end and takes him in man coverage. And the boundary corner plays inside leverage man to the top of the screen. The free safety is deep middle (so deep that he isn't even in the screen at the snap.)

Up front, Foster has seven players in the box, and five (or six) could be coming. On this play, Jack Tyler blitzes, while Bruce Taylor drops into a short zone where he can spy the quarterback or trail the tailback. Once the tailback blocks Tyler, Taylor is in full spy mode on the quarterback. This look really could present a challenge to the Buckeyes on short passing downs. Ohio State's inexperienced offensive line likely could have trouble picking up stunts, and the Buckeye receivers are not very good at beating good man coverage. Most of their drop back passing game features Miller scrambling until his receivers get open. This puts Deon Clarke one-on-one with Braxton Miller as the spy. If Clarke can run with Miller, the Hokies third down defense will have a much better chance of being successful.

Potential Buckeye Counters to the Rover in the Box

Playing with the rover as a linebacker helped the Hokies stay in the game against Clemson, but the Tigers did find ways to attack Foster's scheme. First, taking the rover out of the secondary leaves the talented Hokie corners on an island all game long. When the free safety has deep middle, Foster almost always has the nickel corner press the slot receiver. In the cover three, the field corner has to take the deep outside. By keeping the slot receiver near the line of scrimmage in the flat, this coverage gives inside leverage to the split end, leaving the post route wide open on the outside. In this case, the slot receiver runs a slant to take the nickel out of the passing lane. The post is wide open.

The big question that Foster needs to answer is, does he feel that Miller, who is coming off off-season shoulder surgery, can consistently make this throw. He may play the percentages and bait Miller into reading this coverage, and then using a robber to jump the route.

The other option for the Buckeyes is merely to force the rover outside of the box by formation. When the Tigers took the tight end/H-Back out of the game and aligned a slot receiver to the boundary, the rover had to slide out on him. The balanced four receiver look limited Foster's coverage options to either running a quarters coverage or man coverage. Against this formation, the free safety becomes the alley player, but with a faster receiver against the rover (presumably your worst coverage guy in the secondary) it is incredibly risky to play the free safety in close run support. That left the Hokies with six defenders in the box, and Clemson had their best success running the football against that alignment. One effective play was a lead quarterback draw.

Miller's athleticism, coupled with a lead blocker to occupy a linebacker, makes this play a scary proposition should Urban Meyer adopt it against the Hokies.

Miller really is the wildcard in this game. Last season, the Hokies defensive game plans and execution were close to flawless week in and week out. The one bugaboo was mobile quarterbacks. Rakeem Cato exposed the weakness in the monsoon against Marshall (and he came into the game without the reputation as being much of a runner.) C.J. Brown burned the Hokies on broken plays. And Brett Hundley dropping back and scrambling was pretty much the only offense UCLA could muster for a half against Foster's defense. It was baffling; especially given how well five of the same defensive linemen/inside linebacker group performed against Denard Robinson in the Sugar Bowl. With a smaller, more athletic front seven, can the Hokies contain Miller, who may be the best running quarterback the Hokies have faced? Is Miller too good for Jarrett and the inexperienced front six to corral? Or, have the Hokies become so small that the Ohio State power running game dominates the game? The blueprint on how to slowdown the Buckeye offense is evident, and I think the Hokies have the personnel that can execute it. On September 6th, we will see if the Lunchpail defense can execute that blueprint.


so, I have to ask: how much do you expect anOSU's offensive strategy to change now that they won't have Miller?

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

I'd expect them to lean on the non-QB running game even more (can't risk another injury). Anyone know what their RB depth is like with Hyde leaving last year?

For someone that didn't PLAY football growing up I have learnedso much about schemes and d-alignment from these posts over time. Has made me appreciate the game even more than I already do. THANK YOU FRENCH!

Great article French! Obviously this was written before the news of Miller out for the season. The backup QB, is he a mobile guy too? I haven't been able to watch any film on him yet. If Miller was the wildcard then I think our chances have drastically improved, right?

Barrett is mobile and has a live arm.
But he's not Braxton Miller.
To mis-quote Foster-'There may be Offensive Coaches that may know more about football than I do, but there aren't any freshman quarter backs that do.'

Yep, I finished this one last week. I have already completed an in-depth film review of JT Barrett that we will run during Buckeye game week.

Navy will be Barrett's first game action since his fifth game of his senior season (2012) where he shredded his leg. He ran the second team offense in the spring game, which was really thin due to injuries on OL. Barrett looked a little heavy (reports are that he is around 10lbs lighter now than in the spring) and he didn't look comfortable in the pocket at all. He is a low-line drive passer who is built a bit like Cory Holt was. He threw a bunch of balls into traffic and he also underthrew several deep balls, so I am skeptical of all the reports talking about how strong his arm is.

He isn't the big play threat that Miller was, but he executes the running game well and he is more of a threat to keep on the inside zone read. He will be a guy who can consistently get you 4-6 tough yards where Miller could go the distance or juke himself into a big loss.

He reminds me of a bigger version of Anthony Boone from Duke. The biggest dropoff will be in the drop back passing game. Barrett can move, but he isn't Tyrod-elusive like Miller was. Ohio State's receivers do a poor job of getting open downfield without the extra time that Miller's legs can buy. With Barrett, this becomes the Georgia Tech game for Bud. If the defense can get them into 3rd and long, this could be epic. If the Buckeye running game makes hay on first down, it could be a rough night with the lack of depth up front.

My biggest worry is the offense. Ohio Syate completely overhauled their defense in the off season and now runs a very aggressive Michigan State style 4-3 over front with Hokie-style quarter coverage in the secondary. And, even without Noah Spence playing, they will roll out two potential All Americans in Bosa and Bennett on defensive line. This will be one hell of a challenge for our young OL.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

This will be one hell of a challenge for our young OL.

I have absolutely no basis for this other than complete and utter speculation but I feel like Teller and Conte are gamers (especially Teller) and are going to maul.

"We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior" Stephen M.R. Covey

“When life knocks you down plan to land on your back, because if you can look up, you can get up, if you fall flat on your face it can kill your spirit” David Wilson

They're strong kids, but those are two elite defensive linemen they're going up against, in the second game for both of them if they do end up starting. That's a heck of a tall task for a young player.

If the defense can get them into 3rd and long, this could be epic.

This gets me excited!

Since the system is new I expect there to be blown assignments and mistakes we might exploit. It will be only their 2nd game under the new system and against a totally different offensive scheme than the first game.


That is, IF we have a quarterback who can quickly identify and take advantage of the missed assignments. Then it's run horses, run!

What's Important Now
The Lunchpail.
The Hammer.

He reminds me of a bigger version of Anthony Boone from Duke.

hopefully he can throw as many interceptions as Boone did against us as well

If you don't want to recruit clowns, don't run a clown show.

"I want to punch people from UVA right in the neck." - Colin Cowherd

We never played duke with Boone.

By the way, do you like Peanuts?

Um, he was the starter last fall. He threw a bunch of INTs and ran for a touchdown on the only meaningful snap that Ekanem had all year.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN



Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Duke player's face...

Curious..who won that game last year??

The lack of starting experience in our Front 7 is a concern, but I still expect Bud to have them ready. He can be even more creative now for this game.

If we can keep the game close and the offense and special teams carry their own weight, anything can happen.

It's all about The VPISU
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Fracking hard in Bakken.
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There is a lack of game experience, but I'm not all that worried.

- C. Williams has been in the system for a while and it sounds like he has had a great camp.
- Maddy and Marshall at DT should be very solid
- Ekanem is starting for the first time but is healthy, was a big recruit, and has had a great camp
- Dadi is a freak and a potential game changer. His concern is playing every down.
- Secondary is one of the best in the country.
- Bud is coaching them. He puts players in a position to succeed.

Agreed on every front, but I'm worried about health. I know there has been a lot of talk about minor injuries and preventative measures the last few days for the defensive starters but my hope is that they are exactly that, preventative. Dadi and Maddy have been singled out for signs of significant injuries but stating they're 'not that serious'.

He's no good to me dead.

Depth is an issue for sure. Especially at defensive end. I think Woody Baron being back helps a lot for the DL. Marshall could move to DE in an emergency situation.

I also didn't mention RVD. Hopefully he can be healthy this year and show why the coaches have been so excited about him.

Sometimes I wonder if French has been coached by Bud Foster. His defensive analysis is so in depth.

Bud is the master. I learn something new from him every film review.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

First of all, great article

Secondly, there's just something wrong about putting Clemson and 'defensive blueprint' in the same sentence

"Some days you’re a horse and some days you’re a horse’s ass. I’ve been a horse’s ass for a little while." - Roy Halladay

We're going to miss Jack Tyler.

Our greatest strength in the rebuilt starting Dline is also our greatest weakness.

Fast crew, but undersized. So my biggest concern isn't stopping OSU's power run game if that's what they decide to go with, but being able to stop it after the 2nd quarter.

We need to be able to shut them down quickly, and we need our offense to be able to have enough success that our D can keep their wind.

I don't doubt the by the middle of the season, our 2-deep on DLine will be fine. But we know that by the second game, the skillset for the backups is likely just not going to be able to handle everything Meyer would throw at them.

To me, one of the important things for our D will be our offense's ability to put W&M away quickly, and allow for heavy substitutions on the Dline in that game that will give the backups some game-speed snaps with room for error.

Delivery for Wasp...French 60 Wasp! Getcha legs heeya!
leg delivery
Seriously, that was awesome. And very encouraging.
Just one question: What was Collins doing in video #3?

A picture is worth a thousand words. A gif is worth a million.

It looks like he stunted inside with Tyler going outside. He got picked up and it looked like he thought the ball was thrown and he turned his head downfield. I think the camera just caught him at an awkward moment.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Our Inverted Cover 3 Nickel will be deadly this year with the speed that we have on defense.

Looking forward seeing to Fuller doing Fuller things, Maddy, Dadi and Marshall, In your Facyson, and crew!

I bet we see more of the Michigan State approach because Bonner is a better cover guy than Cole was. The biggest weakness of the inverted cover 3 is the cover 3 as a matchup to Ohio State's use of their big tight end as a slot receiver running vertical routes. If the tight end can get in the seam between the deep field corner and whichever player has deep middle, there is all kinds of big play potential. Quarters may be safer against the pass, but gives Bud fewer angles to create change up run blitzes up front.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Agreed - Quarters would be safer against the pass, given the athletic ability of the TE at OSU.

Per Urban Meyer on Mike and Mike this morning, without Miller - OSU will go to more passes that yield a higher completion rate or "maintenance passes" from what he called them. I'm assuming the TE routes would fall into that category, since he can line up slot, run shorter routes to pockets in the defense, and is rather versatile.

Quarters would be safer, and my bet is we'll see it more on 3rd downs, but Foster's #1 priority is always to stop the run. For that reason, I think we see less quarters coverage on early downs, so Foster can do all kinds of fun stuff to confuse those young blockers and QB into missed blocks, bad reads, and ultimately unfavorable down and distance situations.

I bet when Foster heard the unfortunate news about Braxton Miller, he was like 'Oh, I got this!'
Confuse the QB and the young O-line, and then hope and pray: 1. VT holds onto the ball. 2. VT scores.

Foster can do all kinds of fun stuff to confuse those young blockers and QB into missed blocks, bad reads, and ultimately unfavorable down and distance situations.


OSU will go to more passes that yield a higher completion rate or "maintenance passes" from what he called them

To me, this reads as "expect more WR screens/RB swing passess" than it does west coast short timing routes... two things which Bud Foster and Torrian Gray always have their corners very well prepared for. Few teams defend WR screens better than Tech over the past five years.

Very true- DB's and LB's seem to recognize the screen/swing pass extremely well and are very quick to react. Kyle Fuller always seemed like he was inside the other teams' huddle when they attempted screen plays to his side of the field.

True - though Kyle Fuller was also Kyle Fuller.

Kyle Fuller always seemed like he was inside the other teams' huddle when they attempted screen plays to his side of the field.

... and against Georgia Tech, Kyle seemed to come out of the huddle with the backfield.

"Our job as coaches is to influence young people's lives for the better in terms of fundamental skills, work ethic, and doing the right thing. Every now and again, a player actually has that effect on the coaching staff." Justin Fuente on Sam Rogers

So didn't Loeffler work for Urban Meyer at Florida? Does anyone else think that we should have the inside info on how Meyer's offense will work?

If Loeffler can supply covert information to Foster, I'd think that'd be a good way to go.

To be honest, Loeffler won't be able to tell Foster anything that he doesn't already know. Meyer has been doing his thing for a while now, and he may throw in a wrinkle or to every now and then but it's concepts are fairly well studied by modern college coaches.

Meyer's offense works so well because he has great athletes and he does a better job at coaching his offense than most defensive coordinators do coaching their defense.

Talent + Execution > Scheme.

Yep, Meyer doesn't have "surprise plays." He has a small number of running plays that he has success with by not being predictable when each is called. Each play has multiple options with the same general action. He emphasizes execution.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

I've got to respect that. It's Lombardi-like and that's my kind of coach.

What's Important Now
The Lunchpail.
The Hammer.

Well, to the injury concerns, we don't open with GT or Navy this year...


-What we do is, if we need that extra push, you know what we do? -Put it up to fully dipped? -Fully dipped. Exactly. It's dork magic.

How 24 hours can change things...

OSU's gameplan has changed, no way it hasn't. Lets not forget though, this is the coach that won two championships with Tebow, and his lack of a passing ability was well documented. I don't think this game is a gimme. In Bud We Trust.

OSU's gameplan is going to be pretty much the same, mostly because the offense has been run by the two backups since the spring. It's going to be exactly what French talked about in his earlier posts, just with less of an emphasis on the QB running it himself. There's still plenty of talent on that team.

Tebow may not have been an NFL QB in the end, but as a college QB he was well above average as a passer. As said earlier...talent and execution>scheme.

So, my first thought when I saw the title was that I didn't think French thought that the Clemson win against OSU would really be very instructive as to how we scheme against them. Then after reading I was like

Very instructive analysis, French. Regarding the OSU switch to a defense more like ours, does it give our O any kind of advantage to have to rep against our D?

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

I am not sure as of yet. It probably helps in the passing game, although Facyson and Fuller are more experienced in this scheme than the Buckeye DBs are.

Up front, Ohio State uses a very similar formation to what the Hokies use, but conceptually I expect that their defensive line will look to take on and shed blocks where Foster's group will shoot gaps and stunt.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN