Last year was obviously not a pretty one for the Michigan Wolverines when they faced their archrival, the Ohio State Buckeyes. It was the most embarrassing loss in the rivalry’s history as the Buckeyes slaughtered the Wolverines 62-39 at The Shoe.
The nations No. 1 ranked defense got out-played and out-coached by then offensive coordinator, now turned head coach, Ryan Day.
Day is going to be bringing a very similar system into the 2019 season and the Wolverines need to adjust, re-adjust, and adjust again in order to avoid the Buckeyes winning their eighth straight game in the match-up.
Here is the tale of the tape:
Whenever the Wolverines and Buckeyes faced off under Urban Meyer, the game plan was to win the line of scrimmage and get to the outside in any means possible. That would even mean running the read option with a pocket-passer like they did with Dwayne Haskins this past season.
Ohio State started running their schemes against Michigan a week prior against the Maryland Terrapins and it nearly cost them the game. This was the first time Haskins began to focus on running the football, and he did it 15 times gaining 59 yards and scoring three times on the ground.
Before the game against Maryland, Haskins ran for only 34 yards and one touchdown on 41 attempts. It is clear running the football with the quarterback was an extra-needed weapon for the Buckeyes to defeat the Wolverines in 2018.
Haskins numbers in The Game aren’t mind-boggling on the ground (he ran for 34 yards on seven attempts), but he added that component to the offense which opened up more opportunities to move the football for Ohio State.
This was the very first play from the Buckeyes offense in that game:
An easy 9-yard run for Haskins to open up this one as he kept the ball on the read-option fooling both Rashan Gary and Khaleke Hudson. Even Devin Bush took a step in towards the dangerous J.K. Dobbins in favor of Haskins. The result was an easy pick-up and immediate realization from the Michigan defense that the Buckeyes’ quarterback was a threat on the ground.
In the passing game, it was all about the crossing routes getting the ball to the Buckeyes’ quick wide receivers in space against the man-to-man defense from the Wolverines. The first instance of this was on the first drive of the game on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Haskins to Chris Olave:
This was such an easy play and touchdown. The Wolverines are in a man-to-man, their base defense. Bush is coming around the edge blitzing, leaving no one right in the middle of the field to cover a short crossing route by Olave.
This means Brandon Watson (who was picked on the entire game) was all alone in coverage. Watson lined up about five yards deep against a much faster player. All Olave had to do was run across the field just behind the Wolverines’ defensive line and no one was going to catch him.
Next drive, same thing. Another 24-yard reception for Olave on a very similar play:
Devin Gil is forced to move to the outside and cover Dobbins who went in motion to the sideline. Once again, Michigan is in a man-to-man defense and Haskins knows it. Another dump off pass across the middle (where Gil would have been) to Olave leads to another 24-yard pickup for Olave.
It wasn’t just crossing patterns, but any play in the middle of the field tripped up the Wolverines. Just watch the genius behind this play from Day:
Once again it is a motion to the sideline with Weber. Guess what kind of defense Michigan is playing? (Hint: it’s the same as the last two plays).
Bush has to cover Weber on the outside leaving the middle of the field wide open. The closest defender behind the defensive line is safety Tyree Kinnel 10 yards deep. It’s a make-shift screen play to Parris Campbell who breaks off for a 33-yard run.
So Michigan switches to a zone defense, and they clearly aren’t prepared. This is one of the first times they lined up in a zone on the day:
It’s a cover-2 zone and Kinnel doesn’t know where he is supposed to be. He bites on the crossing route towards the middle of the field (even though it is fully covered) when he should be deep waiting for something over the top. Johnnie Dixon runs a deep post and slips right behind Kinnel, leaving him 15 yards away from any Michigan defender and in the end zone for a touchdown.
That didn’t work, so the Wolverines reverted back to the man defense Brown loves, and Ohio State continued to take advantage:
This play was actually set up pretty well defensively by Brown. He has Kinnel playing safety over the top and Bush sitting underneath for some bonus help in coverage against the crossing routes.
However, Josh Metellus loses his man right away as he bites on the pump fake. That forces Bush to try and catch up to Campbell who is already flying right past him. Another 30+ yard reception and a red zone trip for Ohio State.
Day even ran the crossing patterns at the goal line:
Dixon runs a slant at the goal line; and after motioning, K.J. Hill runs back behind the line of scrimmage and out towards the sideline. Michigan’s safety (Metellus) runs into Dixon and Hill is left wide open as Noah Furbush is too slow to realize that Hill is going to score.
Michigan will once again have a tall task of taking down the Buckeyes in the final game of the season. Brown must get his players more prepared for the game by implementing different defensive schemes throughout the season.
It’s easy to run a man-to-man defense when your guys are bigger, faster and stronger. But when they meet players who are at a similar level in those three facets, there has to adjustments, and Brown made close to zero on the defensive side of the ball. Even the ones he did make, his team was not prepared to run them. How The Game plays out in 2019 will fall directly into his hands.