Through the first three games, Massillon has faced different defensive schemes. One thing that each of them have tried to do, though, is make sure the Tigers don’t beat them deep.
MASSILLON There’s always going to be a process early in a football game where it’s a bit of a guessing game. For all of the preparation that goes into a game plan, especially on offense, it’s still a matter of seeing how the pieces move about the field against the other team.
That’s something that Massillon’s offense has dealt with through its first three games. And it’s something it figures to continue to deal with in Friday night’s game against Benedictine.
"Part of it is, you’re facing a team that does multiple things," Massillon coach Nate Moore said after last week’s 24-0 win over Warren Harding. "You’re trying to prepare for worst-case scenarios, but you really don’t know how they’re going to defend you. You kind of have to figure that out on the run."
Going into the season, no one doubted what the definite strength of the Tigers’ offense was going to be. At least in terms of where some of its biggest threats resided.
Jayden Ballard and Andrew Wilson-Lamp gave Massillon not one, but two high-level Division I college recruits who had showcased in previous years their ability to burn defenses deep. While that wasn’t the only part of their dual 1,000-plus-yard receiving years last season, it was something both mastered very well.
While some of the other faces on the offense have changed, most notably the individual throwing the football, that hasn’t altered what opposing defenses have been drawn to first as they prepare for the Tigers. That’s led to a commonality in approaches with regards to the coverages they’ve faced from those defenses.
"We’re getting a lot of one-high stuff," Moore said. "We’re getting more man coverage at times. We’re getting a lot of off coverage, and the man coverage is either middle safety or two-deep safety, man underneath. We’re getting a lot of coverage where they’re trying to take away our deep stuff, and our offensive staff has worked really hard at developing our underneath passing game and our quick game and what not."
That adjustment was showcased especially early on in the Warren game. While Ballard and Wilson-Lamp, who did leave the game with an injury, may have the headliner tags to them, they’re not the only capable pass catchers on the field.
So while teams are adjusting to make sure the Tigers don’t take the top off of the defense with post patterns or go routes, it’s opened the door for the likes of Martavien Johnson or Austin Brawley to work in the opening underneath. Against Warren, it was quick passes or screens to Johnson or even Ballard which were some of the most effective plays, especially early.
"We have to continue to take what the defense is giving us," Moore said. "We’ve got a great corps of receivers, and they can get behind a lot of people. When you have off coverage and guys are at eight, 10 yards and bailing, you just have to do other things to move the football."
Massillon has done so through three games. It’s averaging 332.7 total yards per game, including 200.3 passing yards a contest.
Zach Catrone, who missed the Week 2 win over Columbus Bishop Sycamore due to injury, returned to the field last week to throw for 209 yards and a touchdown. Two weeks earlier, he had thrown for a career-best 262 yards and two scores in the loss to St. Edward.
It wasn’t just the yardage, either, against the Raiders. It was also a season-best 67.7 completion percentage.
"Zach was 21-of-31," Moore said. "That’s a pretty decent percentage. He was wheeling and dealing a little bit, taking what the defense was giving him."
Moore doesn’t know for certain what Benedictine’s defense will necessarily show. Through the first three games, he said the Bengals have mixed up their coverages, with their cornerbacks not afraid to press the receivers.
Still, there’s also an expectation that, like the first three opponents, thee’s going to be something in the coverage designed to keep the Massillon from hurting them deep.
"St. Eds, their middle safety was at 20 and bailing," Moore said. "Week 2 was a little bit different. I would expect that that continues. If it does, so be it. We have to find ways to move the football."
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