Ohio State will look to show off their new defense against a creative Rutgers offense and the offense will try to make some big plays against an old friend.
Welcome back for another film preview, this week we are looking at the Rutgers Scarlet Knights led by our old friend Greg Schiano.
As we get ready for the game in Piscataway, N.J. on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. ET, we are going to be looking at what Rutgers does on both sides of the ball and how Ohio State can take advantage of it. Schiano has elevated the stature of the program in his first two seasons back at the helm, and recently played that school up north in a close, seven-point game. As Ohio State fans, we also not so fondly remember that Schiano coached the worst defense in school history until four seasons ago, but we are going to look at how much Schiano has changed on defense since that rocky 2018 campaign.
Schiano has stepped up his game after a short time away from the college ranks, where he worked for his friend Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Rutgers has utilized the portal to gain an influx of talented defensive players, which has garnered them immediately improved results.
Schematically, Schiano has stayed true to his roots as a defensive play-caller utilizing one high safety looks and a lot of press-man on the outside. We’re also going to look at how he uses pre-snap safety movement to disguise his coverages and how he has his linebackers showing blitzes to create confusion pre-snap.
Offensively, Rutgers runs a lot of modern concepts with a good mix of RPOs and they utilize a lot of pre-snap motion as well to create confusion. Once you get past a lot of the window dressing with play fakes and motions, this offense is an extremely matchup based attack that tries to get their best playmakers in one-on-one matchups out in space. Under offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson, Rutgers had more 20-point games last year than they did in the previous five combined. The Buckeyes will need to be well-prepared, to make adjustments as the game progresses, and mostly be ready for a team that has shown no quit early on.
Rutgers has had an offensive identity shift over the last two seasons; that shift being actually finding an offensive identity. Gleeson loves for his quarterback to diagnose matchups pre-snap by looking at numbers on each side; this is the basis of any offense that relies on RPOs/Zone Reads. This allows QB Noah Vedral to make multiple decisions at the line of scrimmage before the play starts. For Ohio State, this is when the pre-snap deception with hiding coverage looks and rolling safeties becomes very important.
After they get the run game going, Rutgers mostly relies on RPOs and hard play-action fakes to make the passing game work. Throughout the game against TTUN last weekend, Rutgers used pre-snap shifts and motions on what I would estimate to be about 70% of their offensive snaps.
The Knights utilized a lot of jet sweeps and throughout the game they would use the motion to set up pass plays. In the below example, Gleeson and his staff noticed that a linebacker was responsible for setting the edge on the sweeps, thus vacating open space behind him. This allowed Rutgers to use it as a play action pass and sneak a receiver in the area to replace the LB. This leads to an easy throw and touchdown.
For Ohio State to avoid this, they need to remain disciplined in their assignments and reading of their keys, or else they will look like this, and looking like those winged-helmet fools is never a good thing.
Rutgers does not only use motions for pre-snap identification purposes, they also shift their running backs regularly. When they shift their RB, this is this allows the quarterback to get a clear look at assignments.
In the example below, we get a play where the quarterback has two matchups to decide on. QB Vedral (No. 0) shifts the RB to his right, and the safety — No. 6 on Michigan — rolls down, showing that he is responsible for the running back in the passing game. This gives away man coverage, which means Vedral has a one-on-one matchup with his receiver.
The Knights will be able to identify Ohio State’s coverages using shifts, so the Buckeyes will need to be prepared for what to expect in the certain matchups. This play for Rutgers is designed to attack a certain coverage on each side. and if the Buckeyes show a certain look one way or the other, it could go to either the receiver in the quick game or the running back screen.
Overall, Rutgers’ run game relies on a lot of horizontal angles, and the QB factors heavily into that equation. Isaiah Pacheco is an elusive back and has a knack for making what should be zero-yard gains, into five-yard gains.
In the last play we are going to look at offensively, Pacheco gets a stretch handoff and turns what should be a tackle for loss into a first down. In the video, Vedral and the offense have numbers to the trips side. They check at the line of scrimmage and move Pacheco over to Vedral’s right. This handoff is used to get Pacheco outside, Michigan actually sets an edge here, but Pacheco chooses to bounce around it.
Once Pacheco breaks contain, he is able to create a big gain and this is really the basis of RU’s run game; find blocking numbers and attack them.
Schiano’s defense has not changed much since his time at Ohio State, but the few minor detail adjustments that he has made have been relatively successful. The linebackers still play uncomfortably close to the LOS and the defensive backs still press an obscene amount. Schiano’s D still gives up big plays, but a lot of their risk comes with reward as well. We’re going to examine their coverage looks and how they bring pressure against opposing offenses.
In the first play we are going to look at, the Rutgers defense is showing blitz — the linebackers are literally at the line of scrimmage. Michigan stays disciplined up front and, after the motion of the tight end, has a hat-on-a-hat. This means that Michigan has the numbers needed to run their play.
The linebackers get lost in the mess in the trenches and Michigan’s running back is able to get to the second level and get a first down. This is the type of alignment that Ohio State can take advantage of, but they need to be careful, because Schiano can show a blitz and then have his LBs jump into passing windows late.
This used to give Ohio State fans migraines, and I’m sure Rutgers fans have felt that way at times as well.
In coverage, Schiano is a press-man purist, and he mixes in some coverages like Cover-2 and Cover-3 on occasion mostly to keep his pre-snap disguises in play. They run a variety of zones, but most of their defense is one-high defensive looks. In the play below, Michigan is in an 11-personnel empty set (one tight end, no running back) which is something Ohio State runs often.
Rutgers is in man across the board and has a single high safety. Rutgers, like any solid man-to-man centric team, does a good job of having their DBs align at different levels to avoid rubs. This is where Ohio State will need to win one-on-one matchups and use routes that cross in order to create conflict at mesh points. Michigan runs a slot fade and it is ineffective because of the fundamental man coverage being played by Rutgers.
The last play that we are going to look at is the combo coverage that Schiano likes to use against trips, or when the offense is on a hash mark. Rutgers shows a two-high safety look here, and in this scenario, they have a lot of options. They can roll down the short side safety to play Cover-3, they can run a quarters look, or they can run a combo look.
In this play, Rutgers runs a Cover-3 look to field side towards the trips receivers and a Cover-2 look against the short side of the field. This allows for the defense to get favorable matchups on each side. Ohio State likes to sneak a running back out into the flats and this coverage eliminates that option and still provides coverage over top.
Rutgers is a feisty football team on both sides of the ball, but to them, it is all about having a numbers advantage. Both the offense and defense do everything that they can to eliminate mismatches or possible holes. Schiano and the staff do a good job of coaching out the mistakes, but when you play as much man as they do — as well as bringing pressure as often as they do — there tends to be big play opportunities for opposing offenses.
Ohio State will need to establish the run game, so that Rutgers cannot get comfortable enough to sit in their variety of zones and force returning OSU starting QB C.J. Stroud to beat them. If the Knights are playing their linebackers close to the LOS, freshmen phenom running back TreVeyon Henderson can turn a crease into a touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, the Buckeye defense will need to remain disciplined at all times; they need to read their keys and play their responsibilities. Rutgers’ goal is to create confusion, and we’ve seen motion give Ohio State a ton of trouble early on this season. Setting the edge and playing assignment football will win the game for the OSU defense.
If you just look at the name and the jerseys, Buckeye fans may take this game lightly, but Schiano has a team of passionate football players who are hungry to prove themselves to the world. They will not quit, so this game will come down to execution over all four quarters. Ohio State will get to test out their new defense and see if it can hold up against a team that can get very creative offensively.
In Piscataway, we will get to see just how far Ohio State has come since the mistake-filled Oregon game, and the Buckeyes will finally get a real chance to show who they are.