Ohio State's offense thrives on running the same base plays over and over again while forcing the defense to defend the whole field. Much like Georgia Tech, their passing game was not sophisticated and relied on play-action off an effective run game in order to make an impact. In order for the Hokies to defeat the Buckeyes, Tech's defensive front would need to take advantage of the inexperienced Ohio State offensive line and make their offensive attack one dimensional. Foster's defense effectively took the Buckeye running backs out of the football game. While J.T. Barrett made some plays, both he and his receivers couldn't execute well enough in the face of the Hokies pressure in order to win the football game.
However, Foster didn't use The Spartan Blueprint or the Clemson Plan to shut down the Buckeye running game. Instead, he utilized what I will call a 50 Stack (five men on the line of scrimmage) with the mike linebacker stacked behind the nose and two safeties up flanking him. Foster covered both guards and the center with a down lineman, then featured two stand up "ends" outside playing well outside the edge of the interior line. To the outside, Foster used his nickel corner and two cornerbacks in coverage. On most plays when Foster incorporated the look, the passing strength determined the specific alignment.
- To the weak side (away from the passing strength) Foster aligned a defensive end standing up in a nine-technique. That end aligned either on the outside shoulder of the tight end or two yards outside the offensive tackle if there wasn't a tight end.
- A defensive tackle to the weak side aligned as a three-technique (outside shoulder of the guard).
- The other defensive (nose) tackle aligned shaded over the center.
- To the strength, the other defensive end lined up in a three-point stance as a three-technique (outside shoulder of the guard).
- To the strength, Deon Clarke at backer lined up in a nine-technique standing up.
- The linebacker/safety alignment adjusted as the game went forward, but Chase Williams usually stacked several yards behind the nose tackle. Kyshoen Jarrett aligned at the same depth as Williams to whichever side Jeff Heuerman aligned as the tight end or H-Back. When Heuerman wasn't in the game, Jarrett aligned over the tackle to the boundary.
- Detrick Bonner started out the game mirroring Jarrett, aligning at linebacker depth to the opposite side of Jarrett when Foster expected run. As the game progressed, Bonner moved away from the line of scrimmage into more of a deep centerfield role.
- Chuck Clark aligned on the slot receiver opposite of Heuerman, while Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson played their normal boundary and field corner assignments.
If the formation was balanced (two eligible receivers to each side), Clarke as the backer aligned to the wide side of the field.
In his post-game interview Urban Meyer gave his take on Bud's scheme, "We were trying to adjust to a brand new... they played bear defense no deep. That's what Cal did us against a couple of years ago. Unique defense that you have to expose them in the throw game or it's going to be tough to run."
For lack of a better term, and until Bud Foster says otherwise, I am sticking with 50 Stack.
The 50 Stack went against numerous normal alignment tendencies of a Bud Foster defense. First and foremost, the backer sometimes played to the field side, where normally the backer usually plays to the boundary side, even when Foster uses his eight-man fronts. Jarrett at rover shadowed the H-Back, when normally he aligns to the boundary side. Bonner aligned as a linebacker to the opposite side of Jarrett had alley run support assignment with no coverage responsibility. The Hokie corners and nickels were on islands playing man coverage with no safety help. You can't underestimate how important it was to have seniors like Bonner, Williams, and Jarrett to get everybody lined up in the right place and communicate the correct defensive calls. Also, the younger inexperienced players did a terrific job of aligning properly and executing their assignments throughout the game.
Even though the alignment was radically different from those Foster traditionally has used, the core defensive concepts and assignments were not! With every base look that Bud Foster uses, there are two emphasis points for stopping the run.
Every interior gap was accounted for in order to limit the effectiveness of downhill runs like power, inside zone, and inside zone read. Rather than slanting four players and fitting with two linebackers to account for the gaps tackle to tackle, Foster used alignment to take away any running room between the tackles. The Hokie down linemen took away all the running room from guard to guard, and the Hokies' huge quickness and experience advantage allowed for the three-techniques to also essentially take away anything off tackle. Because the Buckeye linemen were dealing with Maddy, Marshall, and Dadi or Ekanem, Chase Williams spent most of the game unblocked.
One defender was assigned edge responsibility, and his assignment was communicated with the alley player to each side. If the edge player (either the stand-up end, the backer, or the nickel) had force responsibility, he stayed wide and played contain. A force call signals the alley player (either Bonner, Jarrett, or Clark) to attack the alley. The alley is the space formed between the edge player's contain fit and the inside-out pursuit of the defensive line and mike linebacker. A spill call designates the edge player to crash the inside in order to make the run bounce wide. The alley player knows he has to come up in the alley that forms outside of the spill defender. This is critically important to defend any kind of option, as a spill call means the edge defender will take the inside runner on an option, and the alley player has to take the outside running threat.
Forcing and Spilling on the Edge
Here is the typical execution of the force call. The edge defender plays with outside leverage to turn the runner back to the inside. The alley player fills the lane to the inside.
Here is the typical execution of a spill call. The edge defender crashes hard to the inside to force the runner to "spill" out wide. Because the safety does not have to worry about the dive, he heads straight to the outside to make the tackle.
Right from the beginning of the game, it was clear that Bud Foster wanted to take away any interior runs through formation, and then use force and spill calls on the edge to confuse J.T. Barrett and take away Dontrell Wilson on sweeps. On the first snap of the game, Meyer called the quarterback counter trey.
Corey Marshall gets terrific penetration from his nose tackle spot to rattle Barrett. Deon Clarke plays a stand up defensive end and uses the force technique to contain Barrett back to the inside. Jarrett, who aligns shadowing Heuerman at H-Back, fills the alley inside of Clarke. With all the chaos created by Marshall and Ekanem inside, the offensive line can't slide off their down blocks to seal Chase Williams inside. Williams scrapes across, and Barrett finds himself in a box with Hokies on three sides. If you watch the play a second time, you will see Dadi Nicolas as the stand-up end. Dadi executes a spill call with Bonner, with Dadi crashing inside and Bonner going outside if the play comes back to their side. On every single defensive play with the Hokies using this alignment, there is a spill or a force call on both sides of the defensive alignment.
The 50 Stack and force/spill concepts were especially effective at taking Dontre Wilson and the other scatbacks out of the offense. Those scatbacks excel at jet sweeps, the shuffle pass jet sweep, and the two-back set power read. Most of the time, when Urban Meyer went two backs or used jet sweep motion, the Hokie ends made a force call. By forcing the scat back to cut back inside instead of getting to the edge, Wilson's speed was negated.
The Buckeyes align in a two back formation, with scatback Jaylin Marshall motioning to the left of Barrett. Clarke, as the end man to the side where the power read with Wilson would likely go, made a force call. Clarke gets up field and wide, but not too far as to leave too much space for the alley player to cover. Barrett can't give the ball to Marshall, and the alley player, in this case Detrick Bonner is waiting for Barrett right in the hole. Barrett cuts back and gets hit hard by Chuck Clark. This is textbook execution by Clarke and Bonner.
Early in the game, the Hokies had a couple of hiccups executing their force calls because the young edge players were sometimes too eager to pursue. On this play Ken Ekanem has a force call, but when Barrett appears to be cutting inside, Ekanem tries to cross the face of the blocker to the inside.
Jarrett however is in perfect position to the inside to nail Barrett. But, once Ekanem loses outside leverage, Barrett bounces the run to the outside. With Jarrett committed to the inside, there is no help on the edge. Fortunately for the Hokies, after the Buckeyes first touchdown drive, Ekanem, Clarke, and Dadi were outstanding in executing their assignments on force calls.
Against the pistol alignment, the defense seemed to utilize more spill calls. The pistol indicated inside zone, power, speed option, or a play-action pass. The spill lets the edge defenders crash into the backfield while the alley players rotate to take the least dangerous threat (the quarterback on the inside zone and the pitchman on the speed option) on the outside. While the spill calls had some very impressive moments, there were mixed results.
Let's watch the Hokies execute a spill call. Ohio State runs a speed option with three receivers (trips) to the boundary.
Dwayne Alford is now in as the edge player for the Hokies. He executes a spill call and takes the quarterback. To the boundary, the Hokies have a four player box to defend the three receivers. Three are in man coverage, and the unaccounted for player is the alley defender. Ohio State has no way of knowing which defender will drop into coverage and which will come up in run support. Bonner has the alley assignment, but in the confusion Chuck Clark is unblocked. Clark, who had been picked on a bit up to that point, absolutely rocks the Buckeye runner as Bonner comes over just behind him.
The spill wasn't utilized exclusively against the pistol. Mixing up the calls prevented the Buckeyes from getting comfortable. Here, Barrett runs the power read with two running backs. Clarke and Bonner execute the spill call beautifully.
Clarke spills the play and takes Barrett on the quarterback dive. Barrett meshes with the running back and sees Clarke crashing, so he hands the ball off. Bonner (again, freed up from needing to support the run on the inside) flies up to the outside to make a beautiful tackle on the sweep.
During the broadcast Todd Blackledge often repeated that Bud Foster designed the defense as if the Hokies were playing Georgia Tech. I am not so sure that Foster will use this look against Paul Johnson. The B-Backs are Georgia Tech's most dangerous playmakers, which are most often utilized as the pitchman on the triple option. The spill calls were not effective in stopping the speed option in the third quarter when Ohio State stopped faking screens and instead ran their receivers right into Tech's corners. This forced the corners to turn and run as if the Buckeyes were running vertical pass routes. By meeting their coverage responsibility, there were several plays where those corners served as barriers preventing the alley players from coming up in run support.
Above, the Buckeyes run the speed option to their right. Clarke spills hard and rocks Barrett, but Barrett executes the pitch. The Buckeye receivers push off Kendall Fuller with the threat of a vertical route. Kyshoen Jarrett is cut-blocked by the tight end, and Detrick Bonner gets across to the alley late because he gets sort of picked by Fuller. Fortunately for the Hokies, Nigel Williams busts his tail to pursue the play, and he finishes the back off after Bonner knocks him off balance.
Pressure From All Angles
As Ohio State was forced to pass more, Foster started utilizing other formations, including the 30 package and his base nickel look. But regardless of which alignment that Foster was using, the Hokies almost always brought one or more blitzing defenders to make life miserable for the Buckeye offensive linemen.
Foster used the 50 Stack look regularly on first and second downs when it was likely that Ohio State would try to run the football. As I noted above, the interior down linemen, especially Dadi Nicolas and Corey Marshall, abused Ohio State's guards and center. Their rush came directly in Barrett's face, limiting his view downfield. On the edge, the stand-up defensive ends and Clarke stayed on their path angled in to the quarterback, effectively containing the inside. Chase Williams would scrape to find the ball, and when it was clear that the play is a pass, he identified any soft spots where the quarterback could find a running seam up the middle like Maryland's C.J. Brown exploited last season. Behind this six-man wall, the Hokies played press man coverage to take away quick easy throws. Jarrett and Bonner moved forward into their alley responsibility at the snap and then identifying any backs leaking out of the backfield. Dadi Nicolas blows by the Ohio State right tackle to chase Barrett forward in the pocket, and Williams correctly identified the only Barrett escape route to cut him off.
Against this pressure and coverage, Barrett had three general options, and all had limited opportunity for success: 1) Force a deep, low percentage pass and hope his receivers make a play; 2) Try to find a seam to scramble inside the tackles and hope that Chase Williams would miss the tackle; or 3) throw the ball away. Barrett made several very nice throws against tremendous pressure (despite the Ohio State media's narrative, I thought Barrett and Michael Thomas were Ohio State's best players on offense) and his receivers couldn't make the play.
Until the last few minutes of the game, when Ohio State faced a clear passing down, Foster turned to the 30 stack look that I discussed back in the spring, with DiNardo replacing one of the defensive linemen. Interestingly, Foster's pressures from this look were a bit less exotic, but the Hokies clear advantage over the Buckeye offensive line made complex pressures unnecessary. Here, Foster brings a four man pressure from a combination of Ekanem, Nigel Williams, Nicolas, and DiNardo from the 3-3 Stack.
From the 3-3 stack, Di Nardo and Clarke are jumping in and out of gaps on the left side of the offensive line. At the snap, the Hokies execute a simple five-man pressure, with the three defensive linemen slanting hard to the right of the offensive and Clark and Di Nardo blitzing off the left side. The Buckeye right tackle is beaten badly at the snap by Nicolas, but Barrett makes a nice play to step up in the pocket while Dadi runs behind him. Barrett rolls to his right, but Di Nardo chases him down from the blindside to score a huge fourth quarter sack when the Buckeyes still had an opportunity to win the game.
Barrett's blind side was very much in Foster's mind on next Buckeye series. Throughout the game, the Buckeyes repeatedly found themselves passing with Barrett's blind side facing the boundary. Those who have watched Foster over the years know how much he loves to blitz the boundary corner, especially against option teams that are being forced to pass.
Foster reverted back to his normal nickel alignment for this series, with four down linemen, and he dialed up the same corner blitz concept that the Hokies ran versus William & Mary. The Hokie defensive line slanted hard to the field side, with the field side defensive end dropping into short zone coverage. The slant draws the attention of the offensive line away, leaving a tight end or running back to protect Barrett's blind side. Then, Foster blitzes his backer to the inside of the blocker, and the boundary corner to the outside. The blocker has to pick one, and the other has a blindside shot at the quarterback. Meanwhile, the rover rotates over the top to take the deep sideline away from the boundary receiver.
Here, Fuller and Clarke blitz from the top of the screen. The defensive line slants hard to their right, and Ekanem drops into short zone coverage. The back takes Clarke (as he should), but Barrett can't find anyone immediately open. He holds on to the ball, and that gives Fuller time to deliver a crushing sack.
Shortly after, Fuller went out of the game with what seemed to be muscle cramps (Beamer said Kendall was fine in his press conference today). Donovan Riley came in at boundary corner, but Foster continued to attack with the corner blitz. This time, the back takes Riley, and Clarke gets freed up to drop the hammer.
The key play here is by defensive end Seth Dooley (No. 43). Seth crosses the left tackle's face with conviction on his slant to the inside. This pulls the tackle inside, eliminating any help for the back against two blitzers. Without Dooley sacrificing his own opportunity for a sack, Clarke may not get the clear shot at Barrett. It just proves how critical player buy-in is to successful defense.
It's just September, and the win over Ohio State doesn't mean a trip to the ACC championship game is imminent. The Hokies roster is littered with young, inexperienced players and a lack of depth at key spots, and it appears that several Coastal team will present significant challenges. East Carolina has always played the Hokies tough. Coming off this emotional high coupled with a noon kickoff against a team that has a dangerous passing game and absolutely no fear of Lane Stadium, Saturday screams trap game. But, for a program desperately in need of a signature road win in front of a nationwide television audience, with critically important infrastructure hinging on revitalizing fundraising, and with elite recruits on hand to watch, the Hokies win over Ohio State was critically important. There were so many unsung heroes. Kids were making plays on defense in very limited work like Alford, Baron, Williams, Dooley, Riley, Di Nardo, and Desmond Frye. Two guys who had some struggles last week made huge plays on offense. David Wang had a great block on Marshawn Williams' touchdown run, and had a pancake on Shai McKenzie's run. Darius Redman did his best Wayne Ward impersonation by de-cleating a Buckeye defensive end on Sam Rogers' huge fourth quarter run. Sean Huelskamp had a great tackle in space on special teams, and who can forget freshman kicker Joey Slye delivering a patriot missile to a Buckeye return man on a kickoff. Michael Brewer was calm and bounced back after a rough turnover and numerous big hits. The offensive line, which was outmatched by a defensive line that at some times may have had four NFL'ers on the field, competed the entire night in the face of major adversity. Injured Trey Edmunds threw a beautiful cut block to spring Deon Newsome in the fourth quarter. Ryan Malleck getting those stick routes working moved the chains at critical moments. I mean, there just isn't enough type to hand out all the kudos that should be handed out today. Enjoy folks, because these kinds of wins just do not happen very often.