Ohio State football: Communication key to protecting Justin Fields

Perusing Ohio State football stats this season an obvious theme arises.

The third-ranked Buckeyes are among the nation’s leaders in almost everything.

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Of the dozen-and-a-half rankings the sports information department dubs important enough to list in its weekly release, Ohio State is 11th or better nationally in 14, including top five in scoring, scoring defense, first downs, rushing yards, passing yards allowed, total offense, total defense, turnover margin, third down offense, third down defense and red zone defense.

The worst ranking of the group is 67th in sacks allowed, something that could come into focus this week with No. 13 Wisconsin coming to Columbus.

The Badgers are seventh in the country in sacks per game (3.86), and getting to Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields figures to be the quickest way to short-circuit the Buckeyes on offense.

This is not news to Ryan Day, of course.

“They’ve got really good rushers on the edge,” Day said of the Badgers. “(Linebacker Zack) Baun does a great job in one-on-one situations. He’s very active, powerful, especially in third down. Those linebackers do a great job adding on or blitzing in different situations, but the secondary is very talented as well. You have to hang onto the ball maybe a little bit longer than you want to, but it goes back to personnel and scheme. When you combine the two of those things, you get what you see in terms of the statistics.”

Chris Orr, another linebacker in Wisconsin’s 3-4 set, leads the Badgers with eight sacks while Baun has 6.5 and linebacker Jack Sanborn has 3.5.

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Holding onto the ball is something that has contributed to Ohio State’s allowing two sacks per game, though it’s not all bad.

With the mobile Fields calling the signals, sometimes extending the play can lead to explosive gains.

“He works through his reads, then there’s times where he wants to extend and create. That’s okay, too. It’s not the end of the world,” Day said, though he also noted, “There are some things we have to clean up in protection as well.”

The offensive line doesn’t like giving up sacks, of course, but Branden Bowen said the members of the front understand the give and take.

“We say here a play is 4-6 seconds, so say he holds the ball for longer than 4-6 seconds: I guess, tough deal. You’ve gotta deal with it,” Bowen said. “You’ve gotta strain and stay on your blocks as best you can.”

Like many 3-4 teams, Wisconsin thrives by creating pressure with different blitz packages. Sometimes the key to getting to the quarterback can be confusing the opposing blocking scheme.

Although Ohio State has first-year starters at quarterback and center (Miamisburg native Josh Myers), Day said the unit has had few issues identifying where opposing rushers are coming from this season.

That’s no accident.

“As soon as I got here coach Day emphasized the protections, so I worked on that really hard and I think the O-line and I are on the same page and we see defenses well and see who’s coming and who’s not,” said Fields, who arrived in Columbus in January after transferring from Georgia. “As long as me and those guys are on the same page and I know who they’re blocking and who I have to account for we should be good going into the future.”

Day concurred.

“We spend a lot of time on protection, making sure we’re identifying where the pressure is coming from,” Day said. “Those guys have done an excellent job, in my opinion, of communicating the protection. We’ve held onto the ball a little bit longer this year. That’s by design.”

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Bowen went further, saying Myers has done “an amazing job” making sure the line is on the same page every play.

“I can’t believe how well he’s done it,” Bowen said. “For a first-year center to come in and take over an offense like he does, the communication between him and Justin is the biggest thing, and they’re on the same page all the time making sure they make the right calls.”

Although 3-4 fronts such as Wisconsin’s are less common than 4-3 defenses in college football, Fields said he does not anticipate that being an issue.

“The fronts that we’ve seen (of Wisconsin on film) are not really anything new. We should be ready for it,” Fields said. “They do a lot of things on defense, but the coaches have taught us well. We feel like we have a pretty good feel for what they do, but of course playing new teams and as big of a game as this is going to be, they’re definitely going to mix in some new things.”


Wisconsin at Ohio State, Noon, Fox, 1410

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