As much as defensive coaches study video and trends in preparation for an opponent, in the heat of the moment it often comes to a hunch.
So it was last Saturday at Penn State for Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and his staff. With the Buckeyes having rallied to a 27-26 lead, the defense had to make just one more stop. It was fourth-and-5 for the Nittany Lions at the OSU 43-yard line. It was a tailor-made pass-or-run opportunity for quarterback Trace McSorley, who already had set the Penn State record for total offense in a game.
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But for Schiano, the hunch was Penn State was going to run a zone-read option. The Nittany Lions already had tried a stand-up flip pass on fourth down, which defensive end Chase Young had batted away.
The defensive call wound up being a twist and stunt that covered the waterfront and set loose the defensive linemen. It’s already known that Young tackled running back Miles Sanders for a 2-yard loss.
But watch again — Ohio State, with nickel personnel on the field, had tackles Jashon Cornell and Dre’Mont Jones line up in the B gaps (between the guards and tackles) with ends Young and Jonathon Cooper outside the tackles. Linebacker Pete Werner slid into the middle to occupy the center. Cornerback Jeffrey Okudah stepped up to cover the tight end deployed to the right of the offense. It was man coverage on the three wideouts to the left.
At the snap, Cornell attacked the B gap on the offense’s right side, drawing the guard’s attention. Young twisted behind Cornell and shot through the A gap unfettered to tackle Sanders just a blink after he took the handoff. Game over.