SchellGame: Beware the Empire – Completely Overlooking This Week’s Game to Focus on the OSU Dark Side
Today we explore the offensive capabilities of Darth Meyer’s Empire. A few weeks ago, we all watched as Heisman favorite Braxton Miller went down with a horrific looking leg injury. Would the loss of Braxton prove a key strategic weakness in Darth Meyer’s death star offense? Could Cal(deraan)’s heroic speedster X-wing receivers penetrate the defenses of the Ohio State juggernaut?
In a word, “no.”
“Now, witness the power of this fully operational battle station [offense].” – Urban Darth Meyer
Kenny Guiton demonstrated the true power of the dark side of the force against Cal(deraan). Behold:
Here, OSU comes out in twins right, tight left, with a tailback right, tight end left and sole wideout left. This formation allows for any number of pass or run options.
The run threat is enhanced, as we shall see, by the very strong blocking tight ends of Ohio State, especially Nick Vannett and Jeff Heurman. These tight ends do not catch many balls (nine and eight receptions in 2012, respectively), but as the OSU blog Eleven Warriors notes: “every catch seemed to be an important one.” A dominant run blocking tight end dares linebackers to take on blocks more aggressively, sacrificing vital pass coverage. When the tight end releases, after setting up the run repeatedly, the LBs and Safeties risk getting blown by. “Only at the end do you realize the power of the Dark Side.” Therefore, though the Empire’s TEs catch the ball infrequently, those infrequent catches typically lead to big, important gains. Keep an eye on the TE position of the Empire, both for the powerful run blocking and for the occasional big TE reception.
Defensively, Cal(deraan) sets up in a 4-3 defense, similar to our own. Notably, the right cornerback (bottom of the image) dares the weak side receiver, who faces press coverage, to beat him. Given the down and distance situation, I would guess a Cover Two look here. In Cover Two, usually CBs have flats responsibility while safeties have deep halves.
I worry that NU simply does not have the talent to press cover OSU’s outstanding wide out Devin Smith. Even in a Cover Two zone look, the weak side corner (in NU’s case, likely Dwight White) would sometimes need to leave flats coverage to catch up with and cover a streaking deep receiver if the safety is occupied with another deep receiver. For NU, I believe it better to shut down the rushing attack, keep the OSU receivers in front and execute tackles on the perimeter. This means backing off NU’s corners to their usual 8-yard cushion against OSU.
Let’s see how how the play unfolds:
I have tried to depict the leverage/momentum of the defense with arrows. Note the MLB and the WLB both taking steps to their right, biting on the run fake. The right safety also appears to step right with the fake. The SLB stays home possibly expecting the read option (in case the Q keeps the ball on a run).
Continuing the theme of the outstanding TE play of OSU, that Cal’s right defensive end gets blown back by a strong side run block. This, mind you, on a bump-and-run block, as the TE explodes past the DE and proceeds on a deep route. Be forewarned: the OSU tight ends are fully capable of blowing an average-to-good defensive lineman back two yards off of the ball. This strong TE run blocking will set things up later on for OSU in the passing game. This particularly worrisome feature of OSU’s offense will pose a threat unlike any that NU has faced this year. The run possibilities opened by OSU’s TEs demand special attention, which for NU’s sake, cannot detract from the attention required of them in the passing game. I believe that OSU will attempt, as they have time after time, to dominate the line of scrimmage with a powerful run game (of which the talented TEs of the Empire will play a major part). Will NU be ready?
“For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi [defensive ends]. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one [Tyler Scott], a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was [in the backfield]. …Hmm? On what he was doing [eating quarterbacks].” – Yoda Hankwitz, the NU Defensive Coordinator
NU’s young Jedi defensive front features such prodigies such as Jedi Tyler Scott, whose combination of talent, strength and speed far exceeds that which OSU faced during the Cal matchup. He, along with our other defensive front seven, must consistently pressure Ohio State quarterback, whoever it is, and execute tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Use the force, Tyler. Use the force.
Ok several things to look at here. First, note that Cal’s right DE is one step behind everyone else after a strong block and release by the OSU TE. (On a bump-and-run block! Yikes.) The OSU TE now is picked up by the Cal safety.
OSU QB Guiton has a man open for the spot screen on the perimeter and an eternity to throw. He squares his shoulder to the right receiver (top of graphic). Note the Cal SLB and CB drawn in by this move maneuvering into position to make a play on the WR screen. If indeed it is Cover 2, look for the CB to cover the flat and the SLB to cover hook-to-curl.
Key takeaway here: absolutely zero pressure on QB Guiton. NU cannot allow this scenario to happen and expect to win the game.
Fortunately, NU’s defensive front seven is significantly better than the Cal defensive front.
“…STAY ON TARGET…”
Help over the top? Not so much. If you look at image 3 versus image 4, you will see that Cal’s left safety also stepped up to make a play on the screen. Unfortunately, the safety is tasked with deep coverage in what appears to be a Cover 2 look.
He now has to turn and catch up to the receiver. Not a good position to be in.
Meanwhile, the look to the outside receiver by Guiton has incited the CB and the SLB of Cal to place themselves roughly 3 yards apart (near the ten yard line, top of image), both covering the flats, against one receiver who will not catch the ball. Not a good position for those two Cal players. On the other side (closer to the bottom of the image), look at the CB release from the press/flat coverage and pick up the streaking WR. Good thing, as the TE gets picked up by the safety on that side. This, of course, leaves the flats open for the backside RB to occupy on a swing route.
Fortunately, Yoga Hankwitz often deploys NU’s defensive ends to cover the backside flats, which should help in such a scenario. More worrisome would be the prospect of one-on-one coverage by NU’s corners against OSU’s talented receivers.
“…you are unwise to lower your defenses!”
In mid-ball-flight, we can see that the Cal safety over the top cannot catch up to the WR, after his gaffe to step up and cover the run. Literally one wrong step, to attack the spot screen fake given by QB Guiton, placed him into a bad position to cover his deep responsibility, the deep halves.
Lesson to be learned here: discipline is of paramount importance. Had the safety not stepped up and bit on the screen fake, he would likely have caught up to the play.
A second lesson here is the speed of the OSU tight end. That dude is fast. He has blown by Cal’s strong safety.
Finally, though we cannot see it here, the OSU RB on the swing has to be wide open. The only possible option for coverage would be the defensive end, who looked to be rushing the quarterback. NU does regularly drop its defensive ends into coverage, which may help in this circumstance.
Pew pew pew.
So, if NU gives Guiton any appreciable amount of time to throw the ball, he has proven the ability to create consequences. If NU’s defensive backs have even the slightest breakdown in discipline to bite on any fakes, expect OSU to make big plays.
It is therefore critical for:
1. NU to get pressure on the quarterback, and
2. NU’s defensive backs to not bite on fakes – whether to the RB or a QB headfake.
“Hmm! Adventure. Hmmpf! Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things. [Explosion Plays.]” – Pat Skywalker Fitzgerald
Next week we shall explore whether Cal’s Jedi Raid offense made a dent in the Empire’s defense.
Rough game against a ranked opponent in a higher division. I’ll leave it at that. We will return to successfully deploying the NU-styled no huddle offense against a more matched opponent, fellow 3A school Denver-Lincoln High, this week.
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