CJ Bacher
Sunday Morning Quarterback:
Poor Discipline by Ohio State’s Secondary Leads to 21 Points for the Spartans

It was a seesaw battle between the Buckeyes and the Spartans in the B1G Championship on Saturday Night. Michigan State withstood 24 unanswered points by the Buckeyes to win the game 34-24. I could praise a lot of great things that the Spartans did, including the phenomenal play by the youngster, Connor Cook, but that's not the theme of Sunday Morning Quarterback.


Instead I will write about the reason why Ohio State gave up 34 points to Michigan State which all really boils down to three words: Lack of Discipline. Throughout the entire game, breakdowns in coverage, poor coverage angles, and missed assignments plagued the Bucks. In fact, all three touchdown passes by Cook can be attributed to lack of discipline. Let's take a look at those three touchdown passes.


Touchdown #1: 72-Yard TD Pass from Connor Cook to Keith Mumphery



On this first play of Quarter #2, Ohio State lines up in a Cover 2 pre-snap look. As I indicate with arrows, the Safety who is lined up well inside the hash to the field is responsible for covering the deep half of the field and the Corner is responsible for covering the flat. These are fundamental principles of Cover 2.


Michigan State has a great play called to beat a Cover 2 defense. To the field they have a corner route by the Wide Receiver and a swing route by the running back. Away from that concept, they have a Tight End and a Fullback running crossing routes, designed to open the play up for the Wide Receiver dragging towards the Corner-Swing concept.


Pre-snap, Cook sees the coverage, knows that he has a great concept to the field. His read progression is to go from the Corner-Swing route concept to the Wide Receiver drag coming across the field. The way that you read a Corner-Swing (or a Corner Flat) route concept is High-to-Low (Meaning he wants to look for the High route – corner route – then if that is covered down to the Low route – swing route – hence "high-to-low”). Then if both are covered he works his way through his progression to the receiver dragging across the field and into his vision.



The swing route, run by the running back is designed to hold the Corner up in the flat so that you can throw the corner-route to the Wide Receiver in the hole between the Safety and the Cornerback. If the Cornerback gets too much depth and makes that throw tough, then you throw the ball to the swing route, who is in effect wide-open.


In the image, you can also tell that the Wide Receiver is doing a great job of stemming his defender. If he rolls into his corner route, it is easy for the Safety to under-cut the route, but stemming him 10-12 yards in a direct line down the field allows the receiver to retain the option to go inside on a post or outside on a corner, therefore the safety has to hold his ground to cover both.



In a Cover 2 Defense, your most important rule as a Safety is not to get beat deep. Take a look at this image above. There is no way that the Safety should allow the receiver to be on a deeper tangent/angle than he is on. As you can see, the Safety takes a horrendous angle.



Connor Cook throws a great ball and the Safety who took the poor angle has no shot of catching a receiver with a 5 yard head-start and more downfield momentum.


Touchdown #2: 33-Yard TD Pass from Connor Cook to Tony Lippett



Fast forward to just over 9-minutes left in the same Quarter. Michigan State is faced with a 1st and 10 at the 33-Yard Line. On this play, Connor Cook comes to the line and sees the alignment above. His first key every time that he walks up to the line of scrimmage is to identify and take a look at the backside safety, whom I have circled in the image.


Unlike on other plays, the Safety is lined up 3-4 yards outside the hash, a strong indicator that Ohio State might bring the Corner Blitz.



As you can see above, the Corner does in fact blitz. On a Corner Blitz the Quarterback and the Receiver have to be aware of if they have a blocking scheme called that will pick up the Corner blitz. If not, he and the Receiver will have a "hot-route” that is game-planned each week.


The rule is typically either to run a Now route (where the receiver just shows his #s to the Quarterback and the QB throws it "now”) or a Go route to try to get over the top of a more aggressive Safety (aggressiveness of the safety is what you gameplan the now or go off of).


In this case, as you can see in the image above, Michigan State has enough bodies in their blocking scheme to pick up the blitz, so Cook can get into his progression without having to worry about the blitz.



In this coverage that is the result of the Corner Blitz, the Safety is responsible for covering his deep third, meaning that he can't let any receivers behind him in his third of the field. Again, he takes a horrible angle and the result is this touchdown catch leading to a 17-0 Michigan State lead that Ohio State had to fight back from the next 2 Quarters.


Touchdown #3: 9-Yard TD Pass from Connor Cook to Josiah Price



The final Touchdown pass that I want to analyze includes another great call by the Michigan State coaching staff. The routes are diagrammed above. The key route on this play is a delayed Over-and-Up route by the Tight End. This is a great route against man or zone.


Against a man defense the Tight End is one-on-one against a linebacker. Linebackers tend to be aggressive in pass coverage, especially on the goal-line. Therefore the crossing route is designed for him to bite on the over allowing for the up to come wide-open for a safe throw to the back corner of the end zone. Against Zone, the hope is that the play action fake to the boundary will hold the Cornerback up into the flat which will allow the up-route to get behind him.



At the snap of the ball, it is obvious that the Ohio State secondary has no idea what coverage they are in. The Strong Safety (SS), the Linebacker (LB) and the Cornerback (who is off the screen) take Zone drops, while the Cornerback to the Boundary is playing man as is indicated by his eyes being on the receiver and his chasing of the receiver across the field.


There are a lot of goal-line defensive coverages that combine man and zone, but I will show you in the last diagram how I knew that this was a blown coverage.



As the Tight End runs the "up” portion of the over-and-up route, the Strong Safety, who is stepping up to cover the Running Back, completely lets the Tight End go. This indicates to me that he was expecting help over the top from the Cornerback. But, this next image is the best indicator that he was expecting this help.



Immediately after the ball is caught for a Touchdown (Cook's 3rd of the Night), the Strong Safety looks for the Cornerback, as if to say "Where the heck were you?!” This is as clear an indicator as there is that the SS and the Cornerback were not on the same page.


Ohio State had gotten away all season with undisciplined coverage by Defensive Backs with all the talent in the world. Last night, it all caught up to them. You can potentially recover from poor discipline accounting for 1 TD, maybe even 2, but 3 Touchdowns resulting from poor discipline is almost impossible to recover from. If Ohio State wants to make a statement for the Big Ten and for their football team this bowl season, it is imperative that they force the opposing offense to make great plays and beat them, instead of giftwrapping 21 points.


And that wraps-up this edition of Sunday Morning Quarterback. I hope that you join me next week, as I will be covering those who cover games for you. In addition to Sunday Morning Quarterbacking all of the misinformation that is provided to Fans/Viewers, I will break down my Top 5 College Football Commentators that know what they're talking about. See you next Sunday! Also, check out the other Expert Blog Segments, How-To Segments, and Podcast Segments, all featuring former College Football Players.



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Comments (4)

  • Great points. Even the interception by CJ Barnett for tOSU was a big gamble. I cant find the replay, but there was a WIDE open WR over the top for MSU.
    Michael Anderson
  • Agreed. Urban Meyer must have been furious with his DBs! This has been happening to OSU all season but MSU was finally able to really capitalize on it!
    CJ Bacher
  • CJ great feature. If Ohio St. had to do it all over again what do you think they would have done differently on defense? Besides just being assignment sound.
    Zac Lee
  • I think they would have coached their Defensive Backs to stay discipline and remain the deepest guy in their zone. I'm sure that coming into the game the Coaching staff had no idea that Michigan State would take so many deep shots. What are your thoughts, Zac?
    CJ Bacher