The game of tight ends leads to red zone success

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In the second quarter of Ohio State’s win over Clemson in the college football playoff semifinals, quarterback Justin Fields came out of the pocket to his left.

Switching from one set of hash marks to the next, Fields drew most defenders with him.

The move created an opening on the right side of the pitch, leaving Jeremy Ruckert alone in the cover. Fields returned a pass to the 6-foot-5 tight end, who waltzed into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown to give the Buckeyes the lead for good.

It was one of many streaks from last week’s Sugar Bowl when the Buckeyes turned to one of their tight ends in the red zone, relying on their bigger targets to complete their practices.

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In five trips inside the 20-yard line, the offense has scored four touchdowns, including three on passes completed by tight ends Ruckert, who caught two, and Luke Farrell, who had one.

The success contrasted with last season’s semifinal loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl when Ohio State slowed his moves inside the Tigers’ 20-yard line when he failed. to score a touchdown in three trips in the red zone. All three times, the Buckeyes were content with field goals in a 29-23 loss.

In this 2020 season disrupted by COVID-19, there was little precedent for the outstanding performance of OSU’s tight ends. In six previous games, they had caught three touchdowns, the same number they finished with on Friday.

They had, however, shown some glimpses of their potential during the shortened season. In a victory at Penn State on Oct. 31, Ruckert had two touchdowns inside the red zone.

But in recent weeks, the tight ends felt more like afterthought in the passing game, even in the Big Ten Championship when the Buckeyes were without main receiver Chris Olave.

Ruckert and Farrell were key players in the Ohio State running game, especially against Northwestern in the Big Ten title game when they helped Trey Sermon reach a school record of 331 yards.

But it wasn’t until the Sugar Bowl that their moment came in the passing game.

“It’s great, but we always say we’re just there to do whatever the team needs to do to win,” said Ruckert. “And I feel like it shows on film every week that whatever the team needs from us, whether it’s protecting the passes, blocking the run or catching the passes, we’re ready to go.” to do it.

“We are always prepared for it. We still have the capacity, we are just waiting for the moment to enter a game. I feel like it was good for our guys to show what we’re capable of.

While the squad had been effective in protecting against passes and blocking the run for much of the fall, the semifinal was an opportunity to play a bigger role than it was unrecognized.

Sometimes Fields has found Ruckert on a creative play design, like the return pass in the second quarter. On other plays, he used the strength of his arms to fire a pass to the tougher target.

That was the case in the first quarter when he found 6-foot-6 Farrell covered by cornerback Derion Kendrick, who is 6 inches shorter, for an 8-yard touchdown shot to tie the score at 14.

“The Narrow Hall has always been a group to rely on,” said Ruckert. “Whether it’s in the racing game or able to go out and play, no moment is too big for us. We have been tested. We are a group of veterans.

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Ohio State vs. Alabama

What: College Football Playoff Championship Game

When: 8 p.m. on Monday

TV: ESPN

Radio: WBNS-FM / AM (97.1 / 1460)


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