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Defense: 4-3 Over Cover 4, Cover 3 behind blitz package
Disclaimer: I watched the 4th quarter live after a full day of watching football that had just seen Michigan get curbstomped and MSU fade late. So my 4th quarter recollection is more of a haze outside high level stuff. I did DVR it, and went back and watched the DVR, but the broadcast was intended to be "3 hours", which basically was the first three quarters.
Virginia Tech deployed the Double Eagle defense (and the occasional 46 defense) to really disrupt a lot of the things OSU wanted to do. By lining up 3T, 0T, 3T for the DL, have your MIKE 3 yards off the ball and correcting the NT, and having two stand up OLB outside the EMOL, you make it very, very difficult to run the football. VT also utilized a walk down safety and another box LB to fast flow to the football and cover the C gaps. This left them almost exclusively in Cover 1 or Cover 0.
The problem this presents for OSU is that it makes it extremely difficult to pull and OGs. It allows the LBs to also play extremely quick and downhill (the OLB funnel everything inside) so getting out on blocks is extremely difficult, particularly because you can't combo on the inside. The defense almost immediately has every gap filled. The only way to regain any numbers is to run option plays, speed option being a great equalizer. But OSU struggled to seal the LBs inside, and that often got blown up as well. Probably the worst part of this long-term is that, beside the veer play which doesn't suit OSU as well without Hyde, most plays have the RB threaten the edge and the QB threaten between the tackles. This lead to a lot of QB designed runs and took the ball out of the hand of some of their best playmakers.
This was a risk for VT, but a risk that worked out. If OSU would have been able to block up front, OSU could have gotten some easy quick strikes against the DBs that boosted Barrett's confidence and gave them a easier win. But, as I said, the risk worked out as they intended it to.
OSU ran midline once on their first TD drive where they read the 3T on the zone read rather than a DE. They should have gone back to it more often, as you read the three tech and kick out the standup OLB and you open up a huge C gap running lane. It also allows your OG to actually quickly release to the LB level (the 3T is the read, he doesn't need to maintain a block on him), so you get a huge gap and get the quick reaction from VT's 2nd level blocked.
It is a harder read for QB though because it's closer to him and less defined with his read keys, but it was successful early and is a great change of pace against a Double Eagle defense. Along with the speed option, you now stress the EMOL and the 3T DTs on the defense, making them play a little slower.
There were many instances of poor pass protection, and it only got worse late. That isn't entirely unexpected. Most teams start blitzing more late to generate pass rush from outside a tired DL. And once a defense sees an obvious weakness (pass protection), they tend to attack it. So what was exactly the problem for OSU's pass protection? Well, it was multiple things that crept up at different times. That's what makes pass protection hard, is if one person does one thing incorrectly at any one time against pressure, it can result in a free run at the QB. Here is what I saw:
- Poor eye discipline - Depending on the pass protection schemes, often times linemen will double on a "Big" (DL) and then work off to a second level player. In a gap scheme, they will slide into a gap and take anyone that tries to come through their gap. In both cases, there were instances where the linemen didn't have their eyes on the correct second level target or understanding of where the risk was coming from.
- Understanding of leverage with called protection - Typically you never want to get beat inside. It is important to maintain inside leverage, as inside is the shortest route to the QB and you also want your QB to be able to step up and through the pocket to alleviate pressure. But partially because they were late identifying the second target (see above) or because they chased in their slide protection (something that will leave an opening in the OL exposed) they didn't adequately leverage the defense.
- Not getting out to the 2nd level quick enough - This went beyond pass protection, and is also explained a bit from the above points, but as an OL you need to understand the threat and the offensive playcall. In instances like the Speed options, the combo must work off the first level defenders quickly to seal the LBs back inside. The first level, as long as they aren't clean, is less of a concern. Your QB and RB are both quicker than the DL, they can get outside of them as long as the OL wins playside of the DL. They can easily be wing blocked as you work to the 2nd level. But the OL failed to reach the LBs repeatedly because they were stuck on the first level and VT was fast flowing.
One of the easiest ways to be an aggressive Double Eagle defense is to max protect from a play action protection scheme that simulates the run game. This doesn't have to be the deep pass (though it can be, and OSU went deep a lot), but can also help clear out the underneath coverage by sucking up the 2nd level. This allows for a lot of open space for receivers to work quick routes underneath. Quick routes are generally easier passes for QBs to complete, and with OSU's athletes outside, it allows them to get the ball in their hands in space. But OSU seemed unable to generate a good play action pass game with protection that looks like run blocking. Partially because of double eagle, partially because of the pass protection issues above.
Lack or bunch concept/rub routes
One of the most common elements of today's offenses in regards to man-to-man beaters have to do with bunch concepts and rub routes. In the first half, I believe I only saw this predominately once. Obviously there are pluses and minuses to everything. Meyer has typically preferred to spread defenses out completely and win one-on-one matchups rather than utilizes bunch routes (he'll utilize trips a lot, but not bunch concepts). Bunch concepts can, in some ways, be squeezed our contained with proper defensive communication, so in some ways they can take away some of the "spread" theory. But they are a good change of pace and they can help offenses define a defensive coverage, even their match-up man structure. In my opinion, there was too much reliance on deep routes to win one-on-one against tight coverage. Rub routes can give you easier passes to open up underneath and get Barrett feeling more comfortable. I think going to that well could have threatened more underneath, therefore allowing the receivers to get open over the top more often, and also to begin opening up run lanes as the underneath defense began looking for underneath routes to undercut.
Barrett late on some underneath throws
OSU did try to run some quick hitting double moves while running half roles, mostly to the outside (which makes sense, it's easier reads for a young QB and away from the majority of the defenders). This decreases VT's ability to get pressure and opens up underneath. Too often, Barrett was late on his throws though, waiting for the WR being open rather than seeing the coverage and throwing as he gets open. This lateness put his receivers into the sideline or allowed DBs to recover and limit the run after catch..
OSU needs PA off of speed option
Couple times VT was running Cover 0 and OSU went speed option against the Double Eagle look. Great call IMO. But then VT started playing a hang coverage over #2 to keep eyes in the backfield and jumped down on it to defend the RB. And speed option look play action would see a wide open receiver downfield when he slips his block.
Curtis Grant abused in coverage in 3x1 sets
In the first half at least, one of VT's main methods of attacking OSU's Cover 4 was to put 3x1 sets that forced the MIKE to cover the #3. VT has some good TEs, but Grant got abused in coverage and was often picked on. He did a poor job understanding his leverage in coverage, he didn't do a good job with his body, and he couldn't consistently keep up with the TEs. His job is to wall off the middle of the field and force the play to break outside, in the direction his body is facing, so that he can break on that route which is already a hard throw at a difficult angle.
Field LB splitting out wide but not getting much reroute
This was more an observation. There is nothing wrong with the field LB splitting out to a point that is on the inside shoulder of #2. There are really three ways of doing it: keeping the OLB in the box and having the safety immediately pick up #2, have the OLB run an Apex, which helps him maintain some run support but also wall off the inside, or split him out wide and allow the safety to come down a little harder because you can reroute. But the OLB's eyes were in backfield on the QB. He didn't wall off inward routes consistently, he didn't break quickly outside on #2 out routes, and didn't reroute consistently. This left him too often playing in no man's land simply spying the QB's eyes or forcing a long run back inside for run support. It also tipped some of their blitz package as he'd start from a different split.
It's all right for the front side safety to be a bit aggressive, particularly on the jet sweep motion, but the backside safety has to react in unison to then get over the top. OSU almost got burned on this, but the backside safety then worked down to the LB level rather than understanding the scheme and getting over the top. Likewise, the safeties did not accurately get their keys on a TE corner route working vertical. The OLB didn't do a great job rerouting, but the safety needs to understand when a #2 declares vertical and break down on him. Eye discipline from the safeties is likely the most important aspect of the Cover 4 defense, and when it fails the defense can be exposed. It's still early for OSU running Cover 4 regularly, so this should improve, but the coaches certainly have some film to go over with these guys.
Too much reliance on blitz package on defense
Defense got gashed several times when OSU blitzed, particularly in the first half. Some DL/LB stunts got them out of gap assignments, and on early downs, VT could run away from blitz, crash down the DL, and widen running lanes. I didn't understand this much. OSU's DL was regularly disruptive at the point of attack. Guys like Curtis Grant, who struggled a bit in coverage, are good at fast flowing to the football. The early down blitz package showed a lack of trust in the front 4 to get pressure and be disruptive in the run game, and it wasn't warranted I believe they went away from it after getting gashed on a couple drives and held it until their 3-3-5 third down package, but that's where they should have started IMO. You want to blitz on early downs occasionally to change up looks and OL blocking assignments, but a team like OSU, with their DL, should never feel reliant on it.
CBs Not doing well with leverage after snap
OSU was fine prior to the snap, but several times got beat on inward stemming routes that went back outside (snag route, post-corner). The receiver getting inside of you is fine, play your hang coverage, you have inside help. But the CBs need to get body between man and sideline and not let him cross you back over. CBs tried to cheat over the top to jump some slants, but you have inside help from the OLB there, they'll jump the route. That's a Cover 1 type cheat and not an understanding of the coverage. In another instance, the CB let the receiver back outside on a deep out when the safety was playing a deep half (didn't have a vertical threat), understand your coverage. Have to know where your help is and how to use your leverage.