This week’s Coaches Corner is written by Matt Dunn, FCL Defensive Director, 2016 graduate of University of Maryland, current assistant coach at Loyola Blakefield and member of PLL Whipsnakes LC.
It was exciting to watch Ohio State’s defense on Saturday. From game plan to execution, the unit showed they had the ability to operate with different looks and schemes, but consistent principles as their organization, communication, and urgency stood out.
Let’s take a look at OSU’s game plan:
OSU strategically utilized a mixture of man and zone defense throughout the game. If a defense is comfortable enough executing a zone, this is a great strategy to keep an offense from getting into rhythm (particularly given JHU’s limited off-season time together). OSU was able to consistently force JHU into contested outside looks.
OSU’s zone utilized poles on the corners (i.e., low bases and wings) and shorties in the middle (i.e., crease and top center). The 5 perimeter players are working together to pass players between zones and rotate into shooters when needed. The shorty on the crease is responsible for ball side interior players. The 2 base defenders attempt to “mirror” whenever possible, meaning if one is covering the ball across X, the other fills inside to the crease and recovers to the base away from the ball side (i.e., “mirroring” the other base, or flipping spots). If there are 2 players in the crease, one of the 5 perimeter players will fill in to help (usually the opposite base if low).
This zone set of poles on the perimeter allows a defense to use its length to pass players between zones and contest shots on the perimeter. Many of the shots OSU gave up from their zone were contested shots from the outside. We can see here how the length on the perimeter allows the low pole to get a piece of the shooter’s hands on this shot.
In an ideal zone scenario, players can always snap back to their set spots after passing an offensive player off to the next zone; however, this is not always the case. Even with “set spots” to start, zones are often forced to rotate. Here we can see Terefenko (#34) on OSU ending up as the low base after OSU is forced to rotate twice. Notice how he starts top center, then rotates to the top left wing of the zone, and then finally has to crash back pipe to cover up the cutter. When a player gets dragged to the far side of his zone, and an adjacent offensive player tries to fill the gap in the zone before the player can recover, the defense is forced to rotate. OSU moves well together here and plays through in their new positions.
Man to Man
When OSU switched to man, they carried many of the same principles. They more than held their own on individual match-up’s, but their ability to support their teammates when needed without getting lost was impressive. Notice the adjacent hedges and check as the dodger approaches the island.
You can consistently hear OSU’s defense communicate throughout these possessions. At the end of this clip you hear “turn him, turn him” right as the OSU defender goes to backside double.
A great sign of the cohesion of a defensive unit is how they handle the unexpected. Ohio State beautifully navigates a 6 v 5 scramble here by working together. In these unexpected situations, a unit has to fall back on principles and instinct rather than predetermined slide packages.
One thing that is great about this film is how clearly you can hear a top defensive unit communicate. Listen as the defenders communicate throughout this pick at X. Early and consistent conversation. Even a phrase like “you’re good” as the pick slips away permits the on-ball defender to focus on the ball.
Man Down Defense
Even when OSU went man down, they did a great job of flowing with the ball and assessing relative threats on the field, leaving the least dangerous players open. Notice how the inside player here takes the ball side cutter, as the backside fill crashes to back pipe cut. This is very similar to the zone principles of the shorty inside taking the ball side cutter, and teammates help to support any backside cuts.
We hope you enjoyed this thread, and are excited to keep watching the Buckeyes are other top offenses and defenses this spring!
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