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MSU D: 4-3 Over Cover 4
OSU D: 4-3 Over Cover 4 on normal downs and distance
MSU O: Mostly 11 personnel; about 50-50 split of gun and under center
OSU Rush Offense vs MSU Rush Defense
OSU didn't spend a lot of time truly optioning off any of the DEs in this game. The MSU DL is very disciplined on how they handle reads, so OSU instead focused more on blocking the front and working to the 2nd level, where they had some success. They even pulled out the split zone, which sees the TE block the backside DE.
OSU started the game doing a really good job of sealing the box defenders inside. I was really impressed with how their OL moved in space and gave clear running lanes along the sideline early. MSU started with a lot of 7 man box formations, and after the first couple series switched to playing an apex LB to the field. Probably the biggest surprise to me was how OSU was able to run the ball on the interior immediately after that. Elliot had a very good game and saw his cutbacks very well. MSU is a fast flowing team, and with OSU's run schemes the backside LB wasn't really in position to shoot the backside and make a play in the backfield. This, for its part, really opened things up for Elliot to find those cutbacks when MSU was aggressive with their front.
Maybe even more impressive was the lead blocking from Elliot on several QB designed runs. This was an area where Hyde was flat out great last year, and Elliot probably had his best game as a blocker in this one. The was he was able to square up on defenders in the hole and allow the QB to have a 2-way threat was something that sprung a few of those runs.
At the end of the day, the OSU OTs were able to keep the DEs from crashing, and were able to get the MSU DTs flowing. Once the run game is effective, it sets up everything else.
OSU Pass Offense vs MSU Pass Defense
JT Barrett was on target this game. There were only a few instances where I didn't think he had a good read on what the defense was giving him (one clear instance of a wide open flare route, and a few instances where he froze in the pocket a bit), but for a RS FR he had very few issues. This goes to his coaching and preparation. Perhaps one of the big advantages OSU had in this instance is that this year they are going up against a similar Cover 4 defense throughout spring ball and fall camp. But Barrett was clearly comfortable with where to attack and the timing of his throws.
MSU had two weak points in the defensive backfield: Field Corner and Boundary Safety. OSU picked on both. OSU ran a ton of formations and route combinations in order to isolate Hicks at the field corner spot. They pulled out Drummond with a lot of post routes from the #2 and forced Hicks to play on an island, both over the top and underneath. Several times, Hicks actually had good position in his coverage, but he's still a little raw in his footwork, and that hampers his functional strength a little bit. With MSU's safety being cleared out, Hicks had to utilize his leverage very well. He would get the receiver set up on the outside and have his body in position, but didn't have the functional strength to maintain that position, and too often OSU was able to fight back inside (particularly with their bigger receivers like Michael Thomas) for some wide open inward breaking routes (particularly slants and post routes).
OSU also did some things to isolate the boundary safety, early on being Williamson and later being the true FR Nicholson. This is where OSU found a way to utilize their slots. Rarely did OSU even attempt to target the #1 to the boundary, who was covered by Waynes (I only remember it once), but they often times either held Waynes short with hitch routes or ran him off and ran corners, seams, and outs with the #2 to the boundary. On one TD, it looked like MSU had scouting for a smash concept and saw Williamson inexplicably jump outside the receiver early to attempt to wall him off. But all this did was allow for the receiver to adjust his route from a corner to a seam (this is a simple read for a receiver, who runs a corner if the safety is over top or inside, and runs a seam if there is a deep third defender). The receiver read it essentially as if it was cover 3 (because the safety was in an outside hang position) and was able to run right by him for a long TD.
And that was pretty much the game plan. OSU was surprisingly able to hit on some digs and such where Barrett did a great job stepping into throws under pressure, but for the most part they stuck with a gameplan.
MSU Run Offense vs OSU Rush Defense
MSU did some really nice things with their run game, particularly their interior run game. OSU, particularly in the first half, really struggled on the interior, both with the DTs and the LBs. The DTs were getting released a bit and they too often got way too deep into the backfield. MSU utilized some trap schemes to pin them upfield as well, and I thought the LBs were really slow in some of their reads and run fills. The Spartans have a lot of blocking schemes, so sometimes it's difficult, but I really thought they needed to be much quicker in their run fills in this game, even when some of the DT problems got fixed.
And the DT issues did get fixed a bit. I thought Bennett went from having a rough game early to a good game late. Some of this was due to how MSU was handling Bosa. MSU sent a lot of doubles his way. With the way OSU aligns, Bosa is almost always lined up on the offense's right side of the LOS, so MSU gave a lot of TE help and things of that nature to mitigate some of what Bosa could do. But I also think Bosa started to get a bit sloppy in technique because of that; maybe some frustration on being mitigated a bit, but I even saw him get handled a little by a TE. Either way though, his presence still opened up some one-on-one opportunities in the middle. Once the DTs stopped over running plays, MSU stopped getting huge chunks, though I thought they were able to run consistently between the tackles the whole night.
I like Bosa, I like Bennett. But the entire DL needs to be more consistent for OSU (including Bennett). MSU had a gameplan to marginalize Bosa, and while that left them a little undermanned on the inside, they were still able to scheme quite a bit of run success.
OSU also just has to tackle better, both against the pass and against the run. Way too many missed tackles, poor angles to make some tackles harder, etc.
MSU Pass Offense vs OSU Pass Defense
I thought MSU exposed the OSU Pass Defense quite a bit. Conklin was as solid as he's always been at the LT position, and MSU was able to provide Clark with enough help to really pick up most of OSU's pressure. That's not to say OSU's front didn't have an affect on the game.
All season MSU has been able to help out their OL a bit, which I think has a bit misleading sack numbers. They rolled the pocket a bit, where Cook continues to struggle getting his feet set. Early on, Cook stepped into the pressure nicely to step into throws, but he started fading more late (almost leading to a pick 6). So the pressure was completely negated, but it was reduced, particularly against a pretty dang good front 4 for OSU in the pass rush department.
But the coverage just had a lot of issues. I though early in the season some teams exposed OSU's LBs in coverage quite a bit, as they often failed when attempting to wall receivers. But almost every MSU receiver was able to get clean inside and the OSU DBs took angles that left them stuck on the receiver's back (they never cut in front and they rarely got underneath). MSU had a ton of success going to the middle of the field on inward breaking routes. Conley had himself a bad night. Apple was up and down. And while Lippett was held in check, Mumphery, Burbridge, etc.
I think this is still a defense that doesn't fully understand it's coverage and how to adjust (not in terms of bigger picture things, but things like leverage and eye discipline and footwork) to certain looks, etc. The clear example was on a late MSU TD to a TE, where OSU had a bracket coverage with an OLB and a safety on the TE. The TE was alone on that side, so there was no threat from the outside. The OLB is running with the TE in the seam, then the TE stems into a post. The OSU safety bites down heavily on the post despite having underneath help; he doesn't need to jump the route. Well, this leaves the post-corner route wide, wide open. So there are still some problems back there.
Bigger Picture for MSU
This is one of those things that you can look at both ways. Some teams are very multiple in their defense, others focus more on mastering one thing. MSU is absolutely the latter. And this is what happens when you run that Cover 4 defense and the other team is in a rhythm and can run and the QB is accurate and on time and comfortable with his reads. You just don't have many adjustments you can make to your coverage to help everywhere or confuse the opponent. And then things tend to blow up on you. It happens. It won't happen every week, it shouldn't happen to this extent again this year, but it's one of those concessions you make to try to be so good in the Cover 4. In the case for Hicks, for example, there just isn't much you can do for him. It's trial by fire. The next guy up isn't necessarily better, you can try some MOD coverage (they did) to help him, but that leaves other things open. It's a tough position.
On offense, they are good. I was critical of MSU's interior OL early in the season. I still think they aren't great, but they are good. They are getting more comfortable with their run schemes and they are improving. Cook, for as good as he looks at times, still has room to improve. If I were an NFL GM I'd urge him to come back. I would not have a 1st round draft grade for him like some do. He needs to get better at stepping into throws and making better decisions under pressure. He too often fades in the pocket and when he isn't yet good enough to be accurate when relying solely on his arm. He has an asset of being a plus athlete for the QB position, but he still really struggles with his footwork on the move.
That said, Langford is probably a mid-round draft pick. He just does every really well. He's patient, he has good footwork, he keeps his feet moving, good speed in the open field, finish runs, blocks well, etc.
Bigger Picture for OSU
So this team improved really quickly. The OL looked to be in shambles early on this season, but had a hell of a game against MSU. But still, I look for some areas of improvement from them, particularly in pass protection where they get leaning a little bit or misidentify some blitzers. Elliot has really improved between the tackles over the course of the year. He came into the season as a much better outside runner, despite his size, but his vision between the tackles has really improved. And I still want to see how Barrett plays against a more multiple defense. Barrett looked really comfortable with what he was seeing against MSU's Cover 4, but a multiple coverage defense may give him some issues yet. PSU was probably the closest thing they've seen this season, and it may stay that way. Nebraska and Wisconsin will throw some different coverages (Nebraska probably a little more so, but a little less effectively), but the most likely to see how this turns out is in the bowl game.
As for the defense: they just need to be smarter. The front needs to understand what an offense is trying to do to them so they are better across the DL and more consistent. The LBs need to be better in their reads and reactions and actually get into their run fits. They need to improve at all levels with their leverage and assignments and how to play different situations.
Don't get it wrong, OSU played very well in this game and this was a very good win against a very good team. But there is plenty of room for improvement still, whether they make it to the playoff or not.
- OSU started by attacking the edge, and when MSU adjusted with a OLB in an apex position, they were great between the tackles. Elliot was good with his vision and with blocking for the QB.
- OSU schemed a lot of ways to isolate the field CB (Hicks) and boundary safety (Williamson/Nicholson) in coverage. MSU struggled maintaining leverage and OSU took advantage
- MSU really won the battle up front in the run game. I thought they gave some help on Bosa and played some games with the OSU DTs successfully, especially early. OSU LBs need to be much better in their run fits, both in discipline and in how quick they fill.
- OSU coverage has some issues at all levels. Just seems like they don't yet fully understand the nuances of the coverage in different situations against different looks and concepts.