OSU v. UAB: Offensive Breakdown

By Ross Fulton on September 25, 2012 at 3:00p

It is difficult to draw any conclusion from the Ohio State offensive performance against UAB other than another hot and cold effort from the OSU offense. The Buckeyes had flashes of brilliance but also periods of ineptness. The OSU offense came out sloppy, missing early opportunities with missed blocks, dropped passes, and the like. And yet, upon further viewing, it became clear that the Buckeye offense purposefully handcuffed itself against the Blazers. This refers not just to scheme, but more importantly to limiting Braxton Miller's runs. The Ohio State offense burned hot because whenever UAB came within breathing distance, Miller employed his legs, opening up everything for the Ohio State offense. 

AN underdog Approach

UAB adopted a high risk/high reward approach consistent with their underdog role. Specifically, UAB used their slot defender (but also at times a corner) to crash down and account for the quarterback in the run game. In so doing, UAB hoped to a) confuse Braxton Miller's reads and b) change the arithmetic against the OSU run game. In the clip below, UAB blitzes their corner, putting 8 defenders in the run game and playing cover 0 behind. A nice run by Jordan Hall negates this advantage, but reflects UAB's general strategy.

The Buckeyes were not able to take advantage early, however, because of sloppy play. As Urban Meyer discussed, OSU's first play was a 3-verticals pass to Devin Smith. Smith was open, but Andrew Norwell missed his block, forcing Braxton to throw early and long. Norwell repeatedly had problems early diagnosing his blocking assignments. He would look inside, even though UAB was bringing two edge rushers, requiring the tackle and guard to step outside to pick up the wide rush. The malaise of one of OSU's top linemen reflected a fairly flat effort by OSU in the opening stanza.


The natural response for Ohio State to a team that cheats their alley player against a spread team is to throw bubble and flash screens.

It is a common action and reaction. Defenses want to cheat a defender into the box to restore the numbers advantage against an offense with a QB run threat. The WR screen works as a constraint against a team cheating a backside defender against the zone read. A team that does not respect the wide receivers renders the spread a liability, not an asset, because an offense has fewer blockers at the point of attack. Yet Ohio State did not do so one time. I have a hard time believing that Urban Meyer and Tom Herman somehow forgot the offense they have run for years. The natural conclusion, then, is that Ohio State simply kept things very basic against an inferior opponent, with the hope to exploit a defense that adopts UAB's approach later in the year. Otherwise, Ohio State could have thrown for a hundred yards on wide receiver screens alone. This reflects the general offensive approach in this game. OSU used the few plays that comprise the bread and butter of their offense. For instance, the majority of OSU's dropback passes were either smash or snag

Playin' Left-Handed

Nowhere was this more apparent than the use of Miller himself. Presumably both by the coaches' instructions and Miller's concerted efforts, Miller did not run even when UAB presented clear opportunities. This was apparent both in Miller seemingly pre-determining to give on read plays and the lack of called QB runs. For instance, Miller gave on inverted veer, even though Miller had a clear path and the play is ideally run by the QB attacking vertically behind his pulling blocker (just as with veer, the default rule is to give to the dive back attacking vertically).

 And yet Miller gave on every inverted veer run, even when the DE widened and offered inviting holes. Below it cost OSU an easy first down.

Perhaps in this case Miller was fooled by the crashing slot defender. But it reflected a general trend to simply give.

Proof is in the Pudding

But the tell that this was a strategic choice is that whenever UAB got close, the Buckeyes unleashed Miller, with predictably beneficial results. Again, this was reflected not only in play-calling but Miller's own increased willingness to run the football. For example, Miller keeps here on zone read even though UAB's slot defender and defensive end are waiting (though Miller renders that irrelevant). Every other zone read Miller gave.

Similarly, Miller became more aggressive scrambling when dropping back. UAB vacated the middle of the field repeatedly, so this opportunity was constantly present. OSU could have severely damaged UAB with simple QB draws. Yet OSU and Miller only exploited this strategic opening when necessary.

Indeed, this on/off switch is reflected by the fact that Miller pre-determined to keep when he believed OSU needed a play, to the speed option's detriment here.

The upshot is that the OSU offense kept its sharpest sword sheathed for much of the game. This had several consequences. Strategically, the spread offense is predicated upon the QB run threat so if the QB does not keep when the opportunity is present it decreases the offense's effectiveness. Further, Miller is perhaps the most dynamic runner in college football. Any team that uses such a threat less will not function as well. More intangibly, Miller seems more in the flow and fluid in all aspects when he feels free to make plays with his legs. The last two scoring OSU drives in the second quarter were the best Miller has played quarterback at Ohio State. He was decisive, stepped into his throws, and delivered balls on time. For instance, below is a picture perfect example of smash against cover 2, where Miller reads the squatting corner and delivers a perfect throw to Corey Brown on the corner route. Miller got into this groove after he broke off several runs.

While it is a cliche to state that coaches are hiding something, it is difficult to draw any conclusion other than Meyer and Herman withheld their bullets for much of this game. Miller's play demonstrates the much higher level of effectiveness OSU's offense can function at when Miller is attacking with his legs. That is not to say that this alone will solve all that ails the offense. The Buckeyes need to eliminate the mental errors. They also need to be more efficient on first down. While the third-down conversion was poor, much of that was caused by first down inefficiency. Of the nine pass plays called on first down, OSU threw an incomplete pass on five. By contrast, other than the Miller speed option keep above, OSU rushed for at least four yards on every first down. Ohio State averaged over a yard more rushing the football than throwing on first down. The coaching staff must be careful about being too quick to go away from this team's strength when the opposing team is not stopping it. Nevertheless, some of this first down (and third down) inefficiency is attributed to Miller's limited running. Not only on the obvious, which is that Miller's running ability is the easiest way for OSU to gain yards, but also to the point I raised earlier, which is that Miller seems a more comfortable passer when he gets in the flow from his running. The upshot is that the Ohio State offense has a higher ceiling than they displayed Saturday simply by using their bullets.

Michigan State: Forty and Aggressive

The Buckeye offense faces by far its stiffest challenge from Michigan State this weekend. The Spartans are a base 4-3 over team. 

Michigan State is fairly aggressive from this front, however. In particular, the Spartans like blitzing on pass downs, particularly in the form of bringing inside linebacker twists.

Meyer also discussed that he expects Michigan State to focus on taking away the OSU run game (as all opponents have against Ohio State). Last year, the Spartans used their defensive backs in a variety of creative ways (below they use a robber defense) and William Gholston from the weak side to aggressively attack run action (in response to a horrible display of constraint by Ohio State).

Granted, Michigan State cannot play this aggressive of a front against Ohio State's 11 and 10 personnel. Nonetheless, every team Ohio State has faced this year employed a secondary member in the run game to 1) gain a numbers advantage and 2) account for Braxton Miller on the read. Watch early for how Michigan State attempts to accomplish this. In responding, Ohio State needs to employ Miller and the constraint plays they have heretofore been chary in implementing. If OSU is able to exploit MSU cheating secondary players, then it can open up easy yardage.


Comments Show All Comments

FROMTHE18's picture

so every team this year thus far has played OSU with a different style of offense/defense then they had for the previous few seasons? First it was Miami's passing, then UCF offense/defense, then Cal's defense, now UAB all the sudden has the power to completely change their style of play...weve won those games but outside of the Miami game, I dont think we have made proper adjustments/have had very poor coaching decisions to counter those changes.

d5k's picture

Succinct post that illustrates clearly that this offense has simply left a lot of bullets in the chamber.  It is clear that we want to become a more balanced team in terms of throwing it down the field, and that we will always be able to run Braxton and throw horizontally or run speed option / read / veer plays.  So the gameplan has been based around developing Braxton and the receivers as deep threats by running more play action and drop back passing in addition to sprint outs.  I would expect more horizontal passing and for the muzzle to be taken off of the beast wearing #5 on Saturday.

Ross Fulton's picture

Excellent point. Yes I agree, I think they are trying to work on developing Braxton as a complete QB--hence the emphasis on him changing the play at the LoS Saturday also. They know he can run so they are trying to improve the other aspects of his game.

And yes I agree with your assessment for Sat.

bassplayer7770's picture

That is intriguing.  At times, I did get the impression our coaches were testing our Offense and Braxton in particular by not having him run a lot early in the game.  I also recall a few times where it seemed like we ran the same play back-to-back.  I got the impression it was kinda like that last play in the first half against Miami where Coach Meyer said they have to be able to punch that in from 1 yard.

whobdis's picture

I'm not sure anyone thinks Miami's offense did much differently..they kept in more protection. It's not unusual to see teams like UAB to get out of their comfort zone..they know the odds are stacked if they play straight up. That being said..they played South Carolina the week before and I doubt they were holding anything back just for us. Great write up though. I think many of us were scractching our heads wondering why we weren't making UAB pay for their adjustment

hodge's picture

Excellent article, Ross; as is usual for you.  I was thinking that OSU was purposely handcuffing Miller against UAB, but it took your deft eye to realize the fullest extent of it.  Hopefully, we'll see a lot more bubble screens this week if MSU attempts the same looks--I can't wait to see Stoneburner blocking some poor cornerback when split out wide.

d5k's picture

How many bubbles and flares have we run this year?  It seems like they can be counted on 1 hand through 4 games when that is Tom Herman's bread and butter and certainly something Meyer incorporated in his previous stops.  Only a few jet sweeps have been run or even shown on an option with Philly Brown.  That could also change with Hyde and Hall both on the field. 
I'm envisioning Hyde as the dive back on inside zone read, Philly in motion across the formation for the jet sweep constraint or Hall coming across for a speed option with Stoneburner/Boren sealing off backside defenders or releasing for shovel type throws.  If you threaten everywhere the defense can't defend everything. 

hodge's picture

Well, we haven't really had to out-scheme anyone this season; in the words of ol' Barry Switzer, we were content to "out ath-a-lete 'em".
This will change once we get into the meat of our schedule, which happens now against MSU. I really think you're going to see the training wheels come off in a big way, we're going to go from a bigwheel trike to a Triumph bike this week.  Hopefully, by the end of the season we'll most resemble a Ducati.

Ross Fulton's picture

Very few screens. A couple of jailbreak screens, and maybe one or two flash screens. Just enough to put it on film...


I think we will see some of Hyde and Hall in the backfield together, with Hyde running the IZ and then Hall and Miller on the speed option.

MediBuck's picture

Again, a brilliant breakdown, Ross. Thanks.
Any chance we'll see any of the shovel option with Stoney inside? I felt that given the highlight reels from Coach Urb's Utah and Florida days that we'd be seeing more of it and other elaborate screen passes, yet all I've personally caught was a poorly-executed tunnel screen I think in the Miami game.
I've definitely felt that the coaching staff has been holding Braxton back, and am hoping they've been saving their magnum opus for the MSU showdown.

"There is a force that makes us all brothers, no one goes his way alone." --Woody Hayes

Ross Fulton's picture

We ran 1 triple shovel option to Z. Boren in the UCF game (or maybe Cal--one of the two) and the shovel was completely covered.  Again Braxton pre-determined the read and had to eat the ball for a loss, because Philly Brown was wide open on the option pitch...


Again, you gotta walk before you run.  Braxton is a young QB and his phenemonal running ability masks some shortcomings. But he is improving every game, and that is all you can ask...

Culp's Freaking Hill's picture

Oh Hall, Hyde, Brax at the same time.  That'd be fun.

Twitter: @conquestnorman

Shaun OSU's picture

I definitely feel like the staff either told or implied to Braxton that he should save his body and take as few hits as possible with MSU coming up. They probably just wanted to focus on their core plays, which I'm sure they hoped would have been more successful than they were. 
It's scary that Braxton can make a wrong read and just will himself to a good play. That said, he will need to make correct reads if he wants to do the same against MSU.
I think it may take all year, but my hope for this season is that Braxton learns to trust the offense to make plays, because I definitely get the sense that he tries to put it all on himself when we need a big play. That being said, he's usually been successful.

Estrada's picture

It certainly does seem like Brax often trusts himself more than anyone else to make a play (I believe he's even said something along those lines), and he's clearly our best player and play maker.  But if they're keying on him because of his ability (and teams rightfully should), he does need to make the correct read.  Hopefully it won't take all season for him to learn that, but it very well could...

scott1354's picture

I was wondering Sat were all the screen were myself. Closest thing I piucked up on was a 3rd and long that they threw to the FB that may or may not have had me dropping F bombs in BW3's

Doc's picture

Ross, thank you so much for talking me off the ledge.  I'm optimistic now that I understand what happened this past weekend.  I'm hoping we can give Sparty loss number 2 and keep the Urban Train cruising along.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

grant87's picture

Nice write up Ross.  I thought since UAB was bring extra guys up, tOSU should have taken some more shots down the field.  The hand-off from Miller to Hall were awkwayrd at many times.  On tOSU second TD drive Miller seemed to get a rhythm with his receivers,  I thought we should have done more of that when the run game stalled.  Play action running in a sense.

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


vtbuckeye's picture

Maybe this is more of a situation where they (coaching staff) does not want to show what adjustments we will be making when the opposing defense tries to take something away.  We have put a variety of plays on film over the past 4 games so other coaches can see some of what we can do but can only guess at how we will react, being that there are multiple constraint plays to counter what the defense is doing to take away our bread and butter plays.

oregonianbuckeye's picture

Really excellent post. Thank you for taking the time to put this together. Is it just me or does it seem predictable when tosu will run the option? Motion sometimes seems like an obvious tell, as does the rb lining up slightly behind (further from the line) than the qb in the shotgun. Has anyone else picked up on this?

BUCKfutter's picture

People on here that have played football at a relatively high level - have you ever had a coach overtly state that you were intentionally not running the most effective plays on offense, or not adjusting on defense against cupcakes, just to keep it off tape for your "real" opponents?
I was a pitcher up through high school, and did sometimes refrain from throwing my best pitch (split-finger) until i was in a jam with a good hitter up - football players / scheme experts, is this comparable?  It seems like something Tress never would have done, but something Meyer would do but never admit to doing.  Thoughts?

the kids are playing their tail off, and the coaches are screwing it up! - JLS

NH-IO's picture

I have no personal experience with this, but I believe that this is pretty common whenever there is a situations that allows for it.  I think these early season games for college teams are analogous tot he preseason for NFL teams.  You see all teams in those situations running very basic vanilla offenses and defenses and using the opportunity to work on specific things, rather than utilizing a regular game plan.  I think Tress absolutely did this, I think he strategized for the whole season as well as for each game.  Think about how different the gameplans were for Michigan and for the bowl games than they were for the rest of the season.

bigbill992001's picture

Alabama must have some supercharged/vanilla on steroids.    As are many other teams not in the B1G. You really think the SEC/Big 12 teams would have hung on to beat UAB 25-15?

NC_Buckeye's picture

Think you're right about Tressel. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it was one of the things he learned from the big game losses (cough, USC, cough, Texas, Florida).
Not to be captain obvious but Tresselball works spectacularly if you're facing similar or lessor talent.  Against elite talent, it fails on a grand scale. Against those guys, I think Tressel figured out that you have to get creative in the offensive play-calling. I offer the Rose Bowl against Oregon and the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas (at least for the first half) as proof.
Would have been interesting to see if this developed into an appendix to the Tresselball playbook. Miss you Tress.

JKH1232's picture

Actually, I think it's fair to say Tress did this pretty often, as circumstances dictated.  There were a lot of games where Tress more or less settled on "Win this game, go home."  If my memory's right, in 2010, Tress kept it simple in the Great Wind Game against Illinois, especially when Pryor got hurt, but that can't be said at all for that year's Michigan game or the Sugar Bowl.
This also happens in preseason in the NFL.  Defenses rarely run their best zone blitzes or coverage switches, exactly so that opposing teams won't see them on film.  Matchup wrinkles may go unexploited, adjustments noted, but ignored for the time.  This is done both to keep things off film, and perhaps to devote time to other aspects of the game.  These are admittedl exhibition games, but it's not all that batty to keep things close to the vest, to set up patterns and then go against them. 
After all, everyone studies tendencies to get an edge- if you have a plan to set up a tendency, then break it at the right time, you get a big advantage.
That said, no one really admits to doing this outside of the NFL, where presumably the players can motivate themselves even if they know the best effort isn't going into the game.

yrro's picture

Sometimes I swear that Tressel was using the entire season to set up one play in the Michigan game.

JKH1232's picture

I wouldn't be surprised if this were true.  I mean, I'm pretty sure we never ran five wide at the goal line on 2006.  Well, until the Michigan game.

Culp's Freaking Hill's picture

I've thought about that very often.  If so, it worked.

Twitter: @conquestnorman

bigbill992001's picture

Teams also study their own tendencies.

SaintTressel's picture

FWIW, my (d3) college defense definitely held things off of tape for tougher games.

Crimson's picture

They have tape for D3 games?
I say this half in jest, because my NFL team drafted a D2 or D3 player, and I couldn't find film of him anywhere.

SaintTressel's picture

Oh yea, quite good quality as well. Excruciatingly good in some circumstances. Did you try contacting his coaches for the cutups? Maybe open the conversation with "I work for a website..."

NH-IO's picture

Chary.  Nice.

Ahh Saturday's picture

I think a lot of us assumed that the offense was deliberately working on things against UAB, but it's a relief to have someone like Ross break it down so clearly. Although I get the feeling that Ross's defensive breakdown won't be leaving us with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

CALPOPPY's picture

It's been said before but these are excellent. I am actually starting to understand what to look for on plays although I can never focus too much on the structure of the play because I get too excited ("Gee, George, look at the pretty ball. Where does the ball go, George?"). Thanks for the insight.

I'm a hurtin' buckaroo.

DallasTheologian's picture

MSU: Forty and Aggressive
Does this make MSU the cougar of the B1G

Ross Fulton's picture

Love this Response!  Wish I would have thought of that title...

ARMYBUCK's picture

Well Ross,  you always do good work but lets just hope you're right.  It seems like an easy way to make everyone feel better by saying this but Its still gutwrenching to me that we can allow the Blazers to hang around as long as they did. You know better than I do and I do hope your right but daggone, can we get some more comfortable handcuffs? 

Ross Fulton's picture

I didn't mean to come across as all puppy dogs and ice cream.  I was simply making the point that it is undeniable that both schematically and by Braxton's choice, he left yards on the field. Now, if he continues to do that the offense will struggle. OSU does not have anyone who can make plays like him running (who does?) and he is too inconsistent to get it done solely as a passing QB. 

It would also help if OSU's receivers didn't have careless drops...

bigbill992001's picture

So, we're this big, bad sleeping dog thats suddenly gonna wake up against MSU?    Miller is gonna start making proper reads and actually execute?    The D is gonna start tackling?    One can hope, I guess.

JKH1232's picture

The truth of the matter is, we don't know if Brax is making proper reads or not- the play might be predetermined, that is, it looks like an option, but isn't.  That happens a lot- even Paul Johnson's offense only runs a true triple option a portion of the time.  He may be running the play called, which only looks like a misred option- without a record of actual calls, we're speculating somehwat.
That said, he won't have the reads down this year.  That's something of a reality.  It takes a lot of experience to get this sort of thing down perfectly. 

rdubs's picture

I like to pay attention to that team up north and I think that they have held Denard back too.  Although their version has been due to Borges not wanting to run the spread instead of just limiting the options that he has.  Every game it seems they have started in the traditional "pro-style" under center offense that Borges apparently prefers.  Denard isn't comfortable in it, as proved by his multiple INTs against ND early on.  He also seems more comfortable (and effective) in the pass game when he is out of the spread shotgun look.  
Fortunately, if Ross is right, we will have plenty of improvement just by opening our options.  The one thing I am worried about is that habits are hard to break and if Braxton has been making "bad" reads intentionally I just hope he can adjust quickly to making the right read most of the time.  After seeing some of those clips I feel better about our offense, although there were also some bad drops that killed drives too.

cajunbuckeye's picture

We're more like a rottweiler puppy. Cute and loveable and still crapping on the living room floor. But one day, big and nasty, and capable of tearing someones ass off.

An angry fan...rooting for an angry team...led by angry coaches

TheHostileDwarf's picture

I love these breakdowns. Thanks, Ross.

Maestro's picture

Agreed with loving the breakdowns.  Always look forward to them.
I am a bit alarmed by Braxton's continued penchant for making questionable reads in the option game.  Most of the time it hasn't mattered too much against the level of competition that OSU has played so far, but it will matter this weekend.  Color me a deep shade of worried.

vacuuming sucks

PWLafferty. TBDBITL. TRow.'s picture

If Braxton has been 'handcuffed' and putting up these numbers already, then God help the rest of the country when we take those babys off...

"I'm up there with Chris and Dave Pass, getting ready to broadcast that game, and that band came out of that tunnel, I was wiping tears out of my eyes and all the memories came back." ~Urban Meyer

NC_Buckeye's picture

Ross, if you could ask any of the coaches any question... who would you ask and what question?