Ohio State v. Miami (Ohio): Offensive Breakdown

By Ross Fulton on September 4, 2012 at 5:00p

Running a fairly simplified version of their offense, Ohio State's offensive performance against Miami (Ohio) both demonstrated areas for improvement and this offense's large potential. The Buckeye offense was rarely slowed once Ohio State adjusted to Miami's aggressive focus on containing the inside run game.  Ohio State's first performance largely confirmed that the offense's strength is that run game, with big plays building off of that from Braxton's Miller's edge-running and play-action passing. Once OSU becomes more proficient in the drop-back pass game they will become a difficult offense to defend.  

Questions Answered:  Formations and Personnel

Ohio State's initial outing answered questions regarding how OSU's formations and personnel fit together. As expected, the Buckeyes operated primarily from '11' personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB), with the TE functioning as a H-Back, generally either just outside the tackle's hip or behind the tackle a yard in the backfield.

Jake Stoneburner generally lined up as the inside flex receiver with Zach Boren as the H-Back.  Alternatively, Corey 'Philly' Brown would play the slot receiver and often motion into the backfield, with Stoneburner split farther wide.  When Ohio State lined up with a tight end and 'trips' (3 wide receivers to one side), Stoneburner would move to the traditional tight end positions.  On passing downs, OSU would feature 10 personnel (4 WR, 1 RB), with an empty backfield and Boren in the H-Back slot.

OSU employed far less personnel substitution then was evidenced during the Jim Tressel era. Ohio State's offensive line remained set with (L-R) Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall, and Reid Fragel. Carlos Hyde played nearly all meaningful snaps from the tailback position. Brown, Devin Smith, Stoneburner, and Evan Spencer saw the most meaningful minutes at the wide outs, with Boren or Stoneburner almost exclusively at the 'flex position.'  

The First Quarter:  A Case of Jitters with a Side Of Miami Sell-Out

With so much offseason hype regarding Urban Meyer's new Ohio State offense, the expectations starting the Miami game were palpable, perhaps no more so than for the Buckeye players themselves  The opening game jitters were evident, particularly for Braxton Miller.  Miller was simply too jittery in the opening sequences, failing to set his feet and therefore delivering inaccurate footballs to open receivers, making it difficult for the Buckeyes to move the football through the air.

Miami's defensive approach also presented the Buckeyes with problems. Miami had prepared for the above formation and defending Meyer's inside zone read play. To do so, the RedHawks put seven defenders in the box in a 4-3 stack. They would have their backside defensive end play the zone run and use a scrape exchange, while having their backside safety come up at the snap to be responsible for Miller. The front side two linebackers would pinch the inside 'A' gaps, while the front side safety also was within ten yards of the line of scrimmage. The result was a defensive numbers advantage, with seven defenders to play the zone at the point of attack, while still alloting two defenders to Miller. Note in the clip below that the frontside linebacker, who is ostensibly covering up Stoneburner, immediately attacks down in the frontside 'A' gap. OSU simply does not have a blocker to allocate to him, allowing him to make the tackle.

In other words, Miami was daring Ohio State to throw the football. Combine that with the inability to hit open receivers in the drop back game and it led to OSU's first quarter struggles.

Adjustments, Adjustments

The Ohio State offensive coaching staff quickly adjusted, however. The first alteration was emphasizing more play-action passing over the drop back game.  This used Miami's aggressiveness against them and also seemed more comfortable to Miller.  The coaching staff took Miller out of the pocket, used play-action to hold the safeties, took away half the field, and gave Miller some simple reads and throws to get a rhythm established.

Note in the second example how Miami's safety attacks the line of scrimmage on the play fake, leaving not enough RedHawk defenders for the Buckeye receivers. Relatedly, OSU also employed sprint-out passing, a Meyer staple, which again seemed to fit Miller's comfort zone.  

OSU also altered the pre-snap looks they gave the RedHawks.  As Meyer discussed in his post-game press conference, the Buckeyes began working from trips.  This forced Miami out of the game they were playing with their safeties above, as one safety had to favor the three receiver side. OSU also had the TE/H-Back arc release around the end to block the safety on the backside of the zone read. Finally, OSU put the trips into the boundary, again precluding Miami from having their safeties attack the run game.  

We got a couple of formations later, the big one, where we kind of out-formationed them a little bit. It was a great sideline adjustment, halftime, we put all the players in a boundary. That was the 80 or 90 yard run, whatever he had.

Stoneburner was able to stalk block the remaining safety, and Miller was off to the races.

The Buckeyes also unveiled a QB counter-trey draw with Zach Boren as lead blocker from empty formations, again revealing Meyer's preference for power plays from spread formations.

OSU was thus able to quickly turn the tide by slightly altering their approach and employing constraint plays against an overaggressive defense. 


That said, OSU kept their offense fairly basic in their initial outing.  The overwhelming percentage of run plays were inside zone read.  Meyer runs the inside zone differently, having the tailback attack the center's backside leg.  The result is the play has more of a dive feel.

The run game was kept so basic that even Meyer staples such as counter-trey were used sparingly.  OSU also stuck to Meyer staples in the pass game, such as follow and H-T option, particularly on third down.  

Meyer and Tom Herman's goal was likely to slowly build the offense in game conditions, allowing the Buckeyes to gain some comfort. But OSU has the potential to show a lot more from the playbook than what was run Saturday, even amongst their 'base' plays.  

Player Growth

Of course, perhaps no player's growth is more important than Braxton Miller's.  Miller's game demonstrated his talents, where he had grown, but also what he must continue to improve.  As discussed, Miller currently looks more comfortable running the football or on the move in play-action than he does in the drop back pass game. Miller continually made the correct read in the zone read game, a crucially important task for a QB in this system. Braxton's effectiveness in the drop-back passing game, though, was mixed, often stemming from his footwork. For example, below is follow on 3rd down.  Corey Brown comes open on the shallow cross route, but rather than pulling the trigger, Miller bails from the pocket after feeling some pressure.

Yet you can also see Miller's development.  For instance, here the Buckeyes run a route combination of curl-flat with levels.  Miller reads a single-high safety and correctly works the curl-flat combination.  Unfortunately, Boren gets tripped up so Miller works back across the field.

Nevertheless, the downfield pass game remains the weakest point of the OSU attack.  Expect defenses to continue to attack the Buckeyes like Miami did this week until Ohio State is able to consistently punish defenses for taking such an approach.

OSU as an offense had similar growing pains. Some of this was in communication. At times it was clear that not everyone got the correct signals in the no-huddle, leading to miscommunication. Other times it was simply inconsistent execution. Carlos Hyde is a good example of this.  Hyde ran hard and does a great job not taking contact straight on and getting yards after contact. On the other hand, he needs to exercise more patience and vision in hitting open holes. Yet he is also a young player who can greatly improve as he works on his vision.

The offensive line play was also a bright spot. This line is always going to be helped out by scheme in relation to previous Buckeye units through the use of option football, removing defenders who must be blocked. Nonetheless, the line performed very well for a relatively inexperienced unit. Miami stunted and twisted every passing down. The offensive line did a nice job of picking up the twists and generally controlled the line of scrimmage.  

As discussed, most negative plays were caused by Miami simply putting more defenders than OSU had blockers at the point of attack. Reid Fragel looked fairly comfortable pass blocking in his first real action at right tackle.  Miami continually tried to speed rush him but Fragel did a nice job moving his feet and riding the defender upfield. This has to be an encouraging performance for both Fragel and the coaching staff. 

In addition, though he did not have a highlight like Devin Smith's catch, Philly Brown's performance was very encouraging, both in the underneath pass game and in the backfield.  Brown plays a crucial role as the slot receiver in this offense where a dynamic playmaker is desired, particularly on third down as the receiver responsible for running the option and shallow crossing routes. He is the one player with the versatility to both do that and come in motion as a pitch option. His emergence as a primary threat is therefore a promising sign for OSU. 

As the old cliche goes, a team makes its biggest improvement between its first and second game. Given that OSU gained over 500 yards of offense, it demonstrates the potential upside as they fully implement the offense and clean up these fixable mistakes.  


Comments Show All Comments

yrro's picture

Quick typo check: should be "scrape exchange" in the first quarter discussion. Only mentioned it because it's a term that readers may not be familiar with, and I don't want to hear people talking about "scrap exchanges" around the water cooler ;-)
Awesome article as always, Ross.

Ross Fulton's picture

Good catch.  Fixed, thanks!

Matt's picture

Great article, Ross.  I've been wanting something like this on 11W for a few years now, elevates the blog to a more MGoBlog like level of specifity and content.  To the extent possible, would also be good to see your video clips in both slow-mo, and then followed by real time, to see the play in both settings.  

Ross Fulton's picture

I think we can do that.  I made some 'editorial' decisions regarding which to slow down, but I think we can do both.

Shaun OSU's picture

Great article! I have been eagerly awaiting your breakdown! Fans need to read this breakdown to understand why we struggled in the 1st quarter. 
If I were a defensive coordinator, I would do the same thing to us. Stack the box against Hyde (you might as well crash the DE because he's probably not going to tackle Braxton if he tries to cat and mouse it, and it makes stopping the give to Hyde much easier), send as many as you can to contain Braxton when he pulls it (pretty much 1 on 1 with receivers until they prove they can get open), and take your chances that Braxton will miss the deep ball. Because of this, we dearly need Braxton to become more consistent in the passing game if we are to play at a high level this year. Most of his bad throws were when he didn't set his feet and tried to get it in there too quickly. Hopefully the coaches can settle him down and make sure he keeps his fundamentals.
If he can improve his accuracy, our playaction passes will be a nightmare for defenses. He was very erratic Saturday and they still carved up the defense!
That being said, it's great to know that our coaching staff can quickly adjust to such schemes and take advantage of their weaknesses. As we saw with our defense against Miami, it's hard to be as creative when the offense is presenting a 5-wide look. Putting trips to the boundary was also a great call. Normally defenses would think they are sound since they have a saftey on the TE and a free corner to the field, but when we run the option at the corner he's dead meat if the safety and LB get picked up. I just love watching and breaking down this offense.

Ross Fulton's picture

Great stuff. I would also add that another spread 'principle,' besides evening the arithmetic, is creating defensive 'end' confusion.  This could be its own column, but by that I mean you want to slow the ends down by keeping them guessing.  Now OSU kept things purposefully simple Saturday, but if they were going all out they could take advantage of that DE crashing by a) letting him go, arc blocking the exchange, and springing the QB (as OSU did), b) run inverted veer right at that DE, giving to the sweep and letting him take himself out of the play, c) running counter right at that end, etc.

I also think that even when a defense wants to play in this manner, boots off play-action will be deadly for this team.  Keeps things simple for Braxton and uses the D's aggressiveness against them.   

SLVRBLLTS's picture

I couldn't agree more. Once Braxton proves himself capable of consistently throwing over the cheating coverage, defenses won't even know how to prepare for this offense, much less execute stopping it.

"Because we couldn't go for three"

ScarletGrayMnA's picture

Ross -- perhaps not your area of expertise but what did you think of Miller's actual throwing motion/mechanics (vs. last year) when he did get his feet set?  

Ross Fulton's picture

The predicate to your question is the key.  When he gets his feet set and steps into the throw his arm angle looks good and he spins it well. Sloppy footwork gets him in trouble.

Buckeyeholicwompa's picture

Ross....there was one play where I believe was on the series where we started to gain momentum on offense either late 1st qtr or 2nd qtr I don't remember. There was a formation that was only used once in the game and it was like a loaded formation on one side where all the players were closest to the OSU side of the sideline and Miller made a nice throw in tight coverage for a 1st down. Do you have footage of this play?
I'm curious to see how this new no huddle works for us in an extremely hostile environment.

SaintTressel's picture

Great article. Who did you murder to get that film?
random thoughts in no order
I think Jordan Hall will be great in this offense
The trips to the boundary option was thing of beauty. I suspect it will be put on a teach tape. Stoneburner will probably get a buckeye leaf for his role.
A lot of the issues that Braxton had last year still seem to be around; deep ball accuracy, reads on dropback passes, and the occasional wtf ball. That said, he's still so young.
Loved the qb draw with Boren as the lead blocker. Really well designed play.
That is all.

SaintTressel's picture

ps I'm expecting/hoping to see a pass play off of that empty backfield draw motion

buckeye76BHop's picture

Good stuff as always.  Great illustration of how Miami kept it close in the 1st and then why it all came crashing down after D Smith's catch (which will be 1 or 2 at years end I have a feeling for best catch).  I agree with the Hall comment(s) above...he'll add what you saw against Purdue last year but WAY better.  One thing you mentioned in your first article about misdirection which seemed to be a success on Saturday as well.  

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

SilverBulletNYC's picture

Great job, Ross! Just fantastic...Another reason why EleveWarriors is the best!

The South will NOT rise again!

humble0ne's picture

Just recently found this site.  Great breakdown and great content overall.  Thanks!

"It is foolish to expect a young man to follow your advice and ignore your example." --Don Meyer Hall of Fame NAIA Basketball Coach

NH-IO's picture

Anyone notice the graphic on Miller's TD run?

grant87's picture

Nice job Ross.  Nice to see Boren as one of those pivot players.  Looking forward to the game adjustments in game plan.  I am glad to see the speed in which in-game adjustments were implemented.  After the 4th series, boom!

Maybe tomorrow, when today will be yesterday things will be clearer.


Kurt's picture

Not to be too demanding, but how about Kenny G's play?!  He seemed to pick up pretty much right where Braxton left off. 

bassplayer7770's picture

I agree.  After a couple plays, I was comfortable with Kenny G in there.  That was a great feeling.

Ross Fulton's picture

He is a great back-up QB.  As Meyer referred to, he mentally understands how to run the offense.  Therefore, if he needs to fill in he can keep things moving.  He has physical limitations as a runner and a passer so it takes away a lot of the offense's 'voom,' but he's a great short-term solution.

BradyHokes_Cholesterol's picture

Maybe it's because I am a 26-year-old Ohio State fan and I've only been able to watch enough games to know how Ohio State plays (Read :Dave: JIMMY T!). Maybe it's because I don't make enough of an effort to watch other conferences unless Ohio State plays them in pre or post-season. Maybe it's because I just don't give a flying rat's behind outside of the fact that I want my Alma Mater to dominate in all its endavours (which includes academics, but until we can convince anyone that having a state education is close to to having a private one, we're SOL, looking at you Harvard, Yale and *haha* Brown *haha*), but someone needs to write an article with diagrams that shows formations with the indication of which player is the flex player and which player is the pivot player. Maybe I'm an idiot for not knowing which side of the field the slot receiver lines up on and maybe, just maybe, I'm an idiot for thinking that it must be the opposite side of the field from the flex player. I don't know what the H-back is going on because I'm 26 and watched teams coached by Jim Tressel. I know little of modern football. Someone, give me some basics regarding the spread and then delve into the jargin. At least post a link to an explanation of these positions when you mention them in the articles. Sorry. Diatribe over. Go Bucks. My children's middle name's will likely be James and Urban.

What's a-Matta with you?

Ross Fulton's picture

Generally, in my mind, I am building upon what I have previously written on this site. If you went back through my articles since the winter, a lot of the explanation is there. In these breakdowns I only have so much space, so if I go off on tangents it distracts from the breakdown's point. That being said, I always try to link to what I am discussing, if there is anything in particular you don't think I am explaining, let me know.

I am also trying to come up with terminology that works to describe what is essentially the TE position here. In general nomenclature, they play the H-Back position off the line of scrimmage.  But Urban refers to the inside slot receiver as the "H."  So that can get confusing.  I used the term flex player to refer to the general movement of Stoneburner and Boren between the inside receiver to H-Back, to backfield.

cinserious's picture

Actually, if you read the Xs and Os articles on this site from time to time you will start to learn alot about the terminology. Over the summer, I got turned off by the third sentence of such articles because it did'nt keep my interest, but now that we have a real game under our belts to break down,  I read Ross'  article from start to finish. He does a good job of explaining the positions and formations to the layman as well as using film from what we ALL saw on gameday.  To supplement your future coaching knowledge, I suggest picking up a copy of EA sports' College Football and calling your own plays so you can see what the different formations and positions can do, as well as terminology. I've never played a down of organized football in all my 33 years and I still refer to the old days of playing NCAA Gamebreaker to understand these plays and formations.... JAILBREAK, DELUGE, TRIPS, NICKLE, DIME, TWINS, etc.etc.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

schooey's picture

This is  football thread that should be. 

JDupler's picture

Great stuff.  The first 10-20 plays are scripted, so with the first quarter struggles, I'm sure Meyer wanted to see what Miami did with the zone read and in 3rd and long.  I love the adjustments, which we saw none of last year.  I'm sure the plays will be "better" scripted once the coaching staff gets more film and can expect more with pre-game planning.  When Hall comes back, he is going to be in the "pivot" role right?  And it seemed odd in the 2-min drill, 5-wide, that Boren and Stone were both in...is that because OSU doesn't have 4/5 WR that are ready, or is it just substitution based i.e. can call plays faster without taking Boren out?  I would expect Boren to be out in a end-of-half/game...hurry up passing package.  Great job.  Keep it up!

Ross Fulton's picture

I think Hall will play a bigger role at HB then some might expect. I have always been fairly high on his running ability, and as you can see with the IZ (dive) play, it will be a good mix to have someone who can hit that hole quickly and make one cut and go.

I think Boren is there because of his blocking ability and he is reliable. It provides the versatilty to hit the QB run plays.  That said, I also expect that in a true 2 min drill, if they want to go 5 wide they will bring in 5 WR (Stoney, Brown, Smith, Spencer, Thomas).

Milk Steak To Go's picture

On the 1st video, it looks like a missed read.  The LDE crashes (following the RT) and turns his shoulders.  Should the QB have pulled the ball (or was it a designed give)?  By giving, it looks like they're giving up the numbers advantage.

Ross Fulton's picture

No I believe that was a good read.  Miami runs a scrape exchange, which is designed to fool the QB's read.  The DE and LB change responsiblities, so the DE crashes.  The hope is the QB keeps, right into the waiting LBer who is folding around.  There are simply too many guys for OSU to block that play well but I think Miller did a very good job with his reads. 

Maestro's picture

Thanks as always Ross.  Love Tuesdays.

vacuuming sucks

OldColumbusTown's picture

Didn't get to this article until now, so I'm probably too late, but a question nonetheless:
Was at the game Saturday, so it was hard to keep track, but did OSU really run many of the bubble screen/flash screen constraint plays against Miami?  I cannot seem to remember any.  If I am correct, was it just a case of OSU not really wanting to show its hand, or was Miami pressing up enough to take that option away?  I didn't notice the CB's pressing OSU's wideouts much, and with so many in the box I would have thought this is something Herman/Miller would have checked to as a constraint.
Maybe I'm off, and my view from my endzone seat is failing me...
BTW, absolutely LOVE these articles, Ross.  Can't get enough of the offensive strategy and philosophy involved.