After a 51-10 loss to Ohio State, Indiana will need to evaluate across the board all of the areas needed for improvement. We heard comments to the tune of “very disappointed” and “enough is enough” during Monday’s press conferences, and the general sentiment of concern pervaded through the coach-speak. In our Ohio State edition of the game tape rewind, we take a look at what exactly broke down for the Hoosiers and where they may emphasize during this week’s practices.
Special Teams Mishaps
Entering the Big Ten opener against Ohio State, computer models rated IU as the #1 special teams unit in the country, after impressive showings by kicker Logan Justus and punter Haydon Whitehead. On Saturday, special teams ended up being a disaster.
The issues began right away. Freshman CB Tiawan Mullen committed fair catch interference on OSU punt returner Demario McCall that put IU immediately behind the eight ball. As a result of this personal foul, Ohio State started their first drive at the IU 41, instead of in their own territory. If it weren’t for a drop in the end zone by RB JK Dobbins, OSU would have taken a 7-0 lead within two minutes.
The next blunder took place early in the 2nd quarter. Sophomore DB Devon Matthews made a mistake on punt protection.
“One of our guys in the shield blocked the interior guy in the A-gap and wasn’t supposed to and let his guy go. And to me, blocked punts are just –they just make me sick because you don’t win many games when you get a punt blocked. You can go back and look at the history; very rare that that happens.”Indiana HC Tom Allen after the game
OSU WR Chris Olave sped through and got a hand on the Whitehead punt. In fact, IU caught a minor break when the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone by inches. Nevertheless, special teams coach William Inge will want to make sure this gets cleaned up.
The blocked punt not only cost Indiana two points, but also led to another error a few minutes later. “(Whitehead) got flustered and shanked the next punt, which was not like him,” Allen said after the game.
However, the clip shows that things could have gone worse. OSU DE and surefire 2020 1st-round NFL draft pick Chase Young came in unblocked on Whitehead, and may have single-handedly stuffed the punt, had he sold out to do so. His presence certainly influenced Whitehead, however, and that led to the miscue.
Our special teams have been good the first two weeks. They’ve got to be big every week. They just can’t be most of the time, it’s got to be all the time.”Indiana HC Tom Allen
The most embarrassing of the smorgasbord of special teams missteps occurred just after halftime. After OSU QB Justin Fields completed a touchdown pass to RB JK Dobbins, IU was about to embark on their first offensive drive of the half. Allen would have likely spent halftime imploring his team to recover and refocus, and then this happened:
OSU kicker Blake Haubeil intentionally kicked it off short, in order to force the return. Freshman KR David Ellis and sophomore upman Ahrod Lloyd collided on the catch, forcing the offense to start at their own 15. While both players are inexperienced, a mistake like this cannot happen. Haubeil routinely kicked the ball short to coax a return, and it worked; other Big Ten teams might use this strategy in weeks to come.
Gaps in the Secondary
Indiana having trouble defending the pass played a part in the Buckeyes’ scoring clinic on Saturday. The lack of a pass rush led to defenders being left on an island in the secondary, giving Fields plenty of time to find open receivers. Fields’ receivers used their speed and acceleration to find holes in Indiana’s defense for long gains through the air. These plays below displayed gaps in the Hoosier’s secondary leading to big plays for the Ohio St. offense.
During this play, Indiana started with two high safeties and three linebackers dropping into zone coverage. Redshirt sophomore safety Juwan Burgess (5) drops down to the middle of the field into zone coverage at the snap. The linebackers drop back and split their coverage into each third of the field while the other safety and corners drop back into their deep pass coverage.
The key to defeating a zone defense is to find holes in the zones when route running. Buckeye receiver K.J. Hill (14, second receiver from the bottom of the screen) runs a skinny post rout where he starts vertical and breaks toward the goal post. Hill uses his acceleration to break on the route and find the gap between Burgess and the Indiana corner. With no pass rush from the defensive line, Fields gets the throw off in three seconds and finds Hill in stride for a 14-yard gain and a first down.
On this play in the second quarter, Ohio St. lines up in a three receiver bunch formation on the far side of the field. The three defenders on the right are in man-to-man coverage during then play where they are responsible for staying with their man and to not get beat behind.
Hill is the receiver on the far inside of the bunch and is the target of this play. At the snap, he takes off inside for five yards luring the defender, Devon Matthews (27) inside towards the middle of the field. Once Hill plants his foot, he breaks it to the corner of the end zone using his speed to create space between him and Matthews. The other two receivers run short inside routes leaving Matthews all alone in the one-on-one matchup with Hill.
Hill catches the ball with plenty of room between him and his defender for the score increasing the Buckeye margin to 19 points midway through the second quarter of play.
Kalen DeBoer’s Take on Tricks
The highlight for Indiana on Saturday was the 49-yard touchdown toss from receiver Donavan Hale to sophomore TE Peyton Hendershot. The touchdown was the first thrown by a receiver since this 5-yard dandy from Mitchell Paige to QB Richard Lagow in 2016.
Former IU OC Kevin Johns dialed up the Paige to Lagow TD; however, Tom Allen was on the staff as the defensive coordinator that year. Potentially, Allen saw this wrinkle as something to keep in the back pocket when the time comes.
On the TD from Hale to Hendershot, IU used pre-snap motion for both tight ends and Hale. Since no Buckeye moved along with any of those players, IU knew Ohio State was in a zone. After the snap, Hale drew five Buckeyes towards him, and let it fly to his open teammate.
Justin Fields Scrambles
Another obvious aspect of Indiana’s game that was lacking was their ability to put significant pressure on the QB, Justin Fields. This is both a testament of the ability of the Ohio State offensive line and Fields’ perception of the play and his agility; however, the Hoosiers needed to account for his ability to maneuver around the pocket and scramble when necessary.
In these first two clips, we see Fields in what seem to be designed scramble plays where he was going to keep the ball. Accounting for JK Dobbins was already a huge task for the Hoosiers, but in both these clips we see that Indiana ignored Fields’ ability to turn upfield, and especially in the goal line standoff, Indiana committed early on tackling Dobbins without paying attention to Fields.
These final clips show in designed pass plays that Fields is able to salvage the play without the Hoosiers taking advantage of no open receivers. More knowledge and experience in keeping the opposing QB pinned in the pocket will be essential to prevent agile QBs such as Fields from turning downfield or scrambling out to buy more time.