Film Study: Utah Brings Exactly Kind Of Offense The State Of Ohio Was Hoping To Avoid In The Rose Bowl


In its two losses this season, the Ohio State defense was the culprit on which the blame was rightly placed. But while Oregon and Michigan kept the Buckeyes on their heels by disguising various racing games that opened up RPOs and game passes, it was the unit’s general passivity that took fans the most. off guard, having rarely seen the scarlet and the gray get pushed around so easily.

While Utah doesn’t appear to be the kind of program capable of beating the state of Ohio on the surface, Kyle Wittingham’s team are bringing in exactly the kind of physique Ryan Day probably hoped to avoid before officially relinquishing the reins. to new coordinator Jim Knowles this offseason.

Much like the Buckeyes’ newest opponent and biggest rival, the Utes use a pro-style system that incorporates a heavy dose of spreading patterns and often uses two or three tight ends on the field at a time. Not only does this create a mass wall to run behind, but Utah’s offensive line executes its missions with a nasty edge, as does the right guard firing while ejecting a defender blitz on this point. Counter player:

It certainly helps that the main running back behind that robust front is Tavion Thomas, a 6’2 “221lb Ohio native who has tallied 71% of his 1,041 rushing yards this season after contact (according to Pro Football Focus) Many readers will remember the Dayton native of his time as a rookie, ultimately choosing to join Luke Fickell in Cincinnati after the Buckeyes withdrew his offer late in the process.

After running nearly 700 yards in 14 games as a Bearcat, Thomas transferred to Independence Community College in 2020 before landing in Salt Lake City last fall. Although he saw very little of the pitch during a September streak that saw the Utes drop back-to-back games against BYU and San Diego State, Thomas helped resuscitate Utah’s offense by facing all his opponents in October and November.

With excellent vision to go along with his tall figure, Thomas excelled in the system of former Wisconsin coordinator Andy Ludwig, which included countless subtleties. Instead of just lining up and trying to smash their opponents into submission, the Utes add lots of little wrinkles, such as grouping three tight ends together on one side on one. Duo play and have the outside player (# 80) fall back inside to guide Thomas through the hole as a fullback.

Thomas’ emergence coincided with that of quarterback Cameron Rising, himself a transfer from a former OSU assistant, having initially signed up with Tom Herman in Texas. After spending a year wearing red shirts in Austin, Rising transferred to Utah and saw his first college playing time in 2020, taking just nine shots against USC before sustaining an injury to the USC. end of season shoulder which also prevented him from training in the spring.

Rising failed to land the starting job outside of fall camp, with Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer taking the snaps on opening day after starting for four years at Waco. But the offense never froze with Brewer under center, struggling to move the ball against BYU and in the first half of the game in San Diego State. Although he wasn’t able to lead a second-half comeback against the Aztecs, Rising never returned the job after spelling Brewer in the third quarter of that game.

Part of the reason the offense improved with Rising at QB was due to his ability to lead football. Like his running back, the 230lb Californian does most of his damage between tackles, often dragging defenders for extra distance.

With two very comfortable running backs on the inside, Ludwig adds a handful of restraint plays to each week’s game plan to keep the defense from charging on the inside. It could come in the form of handing the returning man Britain star Covey on an ending behind what looks like a counter blocking diagram going in the other direction:

… or by loading 13 staff (1 running back, 3 tight ends) and handing one of those tight ends onto a jet sweep:

… or by performing a flicker fleas off what initially looks like an internal transfer to 4th & short:

But not all of Ludwig’s wrinkles come in the form of gimmicky games. Some are much more common, like performing an “access” or “leverage” screen at Covey instead of skipping the called running game, simply because the cornerbacks gave the pad too big a cushion. ‘outside.

Ludwig will also give Rising post-instant reads, such as reading an unblocked defensive end for a transfer or a quick bubble screen from a group look:

Yes, again it’s a tight end that catches the ball to make a play in space. While Covey is Utah’s best-known wide receiver and leads the team in receptions, tight ends are the most productive members of Ludwig’s passing game.

Brant Kuithe (# 80) and Dalton Kincaid (# 86) never seem to come off the pitch, but the Utes will line them up all over the place to take advantage of their varied skills and create lags. Kincaid, the bigger of the two, will often line up in the Y position in the line but is still able to make catches in the field and in traffic.

Kuithe (# 80) is truly the queen on Ludwig’s chessboard, filling a variety of roles from game to game and in many ways resembling Kyle Juszczyk of the San Francisco 49ers. We’ve seen him act like a head blocker, execute a sweep roll, and catch a screen pass in this room before, but he’s also the Utes’ most polite receiver on the pitch.

Ludwig will call out concepts intended to open up Kuithe below as a primary target, like that old West Coast classic known as the Texas concept:

Kuithe became Rising’s favorite target this fall, acting as a safety blanket capable of finding seams in an area. As such, Ludwig has started to line it up in the lunge like a traditional receiver, and is often the QB’s first read in clear passing situations:

What the Utes lack in Explosive Playbreakers on the roster is made up for by the scheme. Other than Covey, there aren’t many players who can turn a 5-yard catch into 50. Yet they’ve averaged 6.58 yards per game in games Rising started in QB, a rate that Would have placed them 15th nationally and more effective than any opponent in Ohio State this season.

When all the pieces are assembled – a physical ground game established; enter and exit games of gadgets and screens to stretch the defense horizontally; finally adding a downfield receiving a threat from the tight end point – life becomes very difficult for opposing defenses.

With so much to watch and both the breadth and depth of the field to protect, defenders are forced to slow down and think, rather than reacting quickly to what they see. When these defenders are caught watching, the Utes are more than happy to hit defenders on the back, literally and figuratively.

That was the exact scenario in Ohio State’s two losses this season. Oregon attacked the edges with a variety of RPOs that undermined the basic structure of Kerry Coombs’ defense and left linebackers in winless situations all afternoon. 10 weeks later, Michigan put together a diverse running game with enough dress up to force those same linebackers to take a break long enough for Wolverine’s blockers to hit level two and take them out of the game.

In order to avoid another embarrassment on national television, the Buckeyes must win on the first downs and force the 3rd and long situations. Day insisted on this both at halftime and after the loss to Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines always seemed to be in 2nd and 5th or 3rd and short situations, allowing them to trigger their brutal running game to keep chains in motion.

“They stayed on schedule the whole time and that was the recipe, I’m sure they had to win the game, and we couldn’t stop that, and it’s really, really disappointing,” Day said. after the Michigan game. “Especially when you know they’re going to do it.”

For Utah, such a scenario will absolutely be the goal. With many already focusing on the Knowles era and the changes it will make to the Ohio State defense in 2022, the Buckeyes must brace themselves for an attack that will attempt to expose the most points once again. lowest of the unit on January 1.

About Dianne Stinson

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