Carrying the Load

By Kyle Rowland on September 26, 2012 at 10:00a

In the current day of air-it-out offenses and basketball on grass, Saturday’s matchup between Ohio State and Michigan State could be a trip down memory lane for the 40- and 50-somethings in attendance. 

Old school football.

Three yards and a cloud of dust will, once again, be in vogue. But it won’t be Woody Hayes and Duffy Daugherty on the sidelines. Mark Dantonio’s presence isn’t all that surprising. He was cut from the Nick Saban and Jim Tressel mold, two classic conservative coaches. Saban and Dantonio’s craft is on the other side of the ball – defense.

Urban Meyer, however, has proven to be one of the most innovative offensive minds in college football. His spread offense, which incorporates power, not just passing, has been responsible for more than 100 wins, an undefeated season, four conference championships and two national championships in 10 full seasons as a head coach.

Through the season’s first four games, Ohio State (229 yards per game) and Michigan State (176 yards) rank 24th and 53rd, respectively, in the county in rushing offense. Ohio State’s passing offense ranks 96th, while Michigan State is a modest 61st.

The Buckeyes’ do-it-all quarterback, Braxton Miller, has 441 rushing yards on the season, an average of more than 110 yards per game, and has scored seven rushing touchdowns on the season. He ranks third in the Big Ten and 16th in the country in rushing.

In the season opener, Miller set the Ohio State single-game rushing record for a quarterback with 161 yards. Already, he has runs of 65, 55 and 37 yards. 

On the season, Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde, Bri’onte Dunn, Rod Smith and Zach Boren have combined for 444 yards and six touchdowns.

In the Buckeyes’ 29-15 win over Alabama-Birmingham last week, Hall had a career-high 105 yards. Ohio State should have Hall and Hyde healthy for the same game for the first time all season on Saturday. With two running backs in the game, along with Miller’s run-pass threat, Ohio State’s offense could develop into a ‘pick your poison’ outfit for opposing defenses.

“We'll have to be very efficient,” Meyer said. “So Carlos, Jordan Hall and Braxton Miller, we have to find a way to get some yards running the ball. It has to be some creative stuff because to turn around and hand the ball off, we tried it last year (against Michigan State) a little bit and it went reverse. It's a very good defense against the run. We'll have to be very efficient. That means we just don't want to waste time.”

In Ohio Stadium last season, the Buckeyes turned in one of their worst offensive performances ever thanks to the Spartan defense. Ohio State’s quarterbacks were sacked nine times while the offense gained 35 rushing yards on 39 attempts. The only Ohio State points came with 10 seconds left in the 10-7 loss.

The return of Carlos Hyde could shake up the playbook.

Ohio State’s running backs have dealt with injuries since the summer. On Monday, Meyer said he’s already been writing down different plays on a whiteboard that can include Hall and Hyde, two contrasting tailbacks.

“I think that's what you want,” he said. “We want those guys in there.”

Hall can spread defenses out with his slashing and pass-catching ability, while Hyde is a more traditional between the tackles runner. The man the Ohio State defense will try to contain is 244-pound pillar of might Le’Veon Bell.

“He reminds me of Ron Dayne, even more athletic,” Meyer said. “A guy that's extremely powerful, times up his blocks very well and runs through tackles. You see athleticism that usually people that size don't have.”

Bell, a Heisman Trophy candidate, is averaging more than 150 yards per game, gaining 210 against Boise State and a career-high 257 against Eastern Michigan. The Big Ten’s leading rusher (third nationally), Bell has five touchdowns. The Columbus native’s performance against Eastern Michigan last week earned him Big Ten offensive player of the week honors for the second time this season.

“If it turns into a 200-yard rushing day where they just block you into next week, then we're going to lose the game,” Meyer said.

If he has to be a workhorse for the Spartans to grind out a victory, Bell can do so. He carries the ball 29 times a game on average and had 44 touches against Boise State and 36 carries in Saturday’s win over Eastern Michigan. 

“I think he’s a very patient runner,” co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said. “He does a nice job of setting up blocks, and I think he does a nice job of cutting back. He knows when to cut back, where the soft spots in the defense are, he does a nice job with the stiff-arm out on the edge, he lowers his shoulder inside. He’s built as an I-Back inside-runner, and I think it fits with what they’re trying to do offensively.”

In high school, Boren, a Pickerington graduate, and Bell, a Groveport-Madison product, faced each other. Boren, who also played of defense, had to tackle Bell more than once. Even then, Bell was relied on to almost literally carry his team to victory.

“They would feed him the ball 30 or 40 times a game, and that’s the same at Michigan State,” Boren said. “He’s a great player and powerful runner.”

Going against one of the nation’s leading rushers will always concern a coach, but when your defense hasn’t exactly been stout, that angst is heightened.

Ohio State ranks last in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing nearly 395 yards per game. UCF, California and UAB each gained at least five yards per play. The Buckeyes gave up 512 yards to Cal and 403 to UAB. Meanwhile, Michigan State is first in the conference, limiting opponents to just 233.5 yards.

The signature image of the 2012 collge football season.

Told that the Buckeyes ranked 12th out of 12 Big Ten teams on defense, Meyer said, “That’s something that has to change real fast.”

Cal was the only team, though, that had sustained success running the ball against the Buckeyes, and most of that was because of four plays. Opponents are averaging four yards per rush. Not great, not horrible. But it’s nothing compared to Bell’s output.

“The No. 1 thing we’re going to have to do is stop the run,” linebacker Etienne Sabino said. “Their run game is the strength of their offense. They have a great running back. We have to stop them from running. If we’re able to do that, we can have a pretty good game.

“You’ve got to stop him before he gets going. A big back like that is hard to bring down if he gets moving, so you have to stop him before he gets going.”

After facing four straight offenses that attempted – and succeeded much of the time – to tear off small chunks of yardage play by play and execute the occasional big gainer, Meyer hopes facing a more traditional offense will be an advantage for Ohio State.

“I think our defense is kind of built for this,” he said. “It's not built for sideline to sideline dink-and-dunks.”

Another benefit to Ohio State: full use of personnel. Michael Bennett, CJ Barnett and Bradley Roby are expected to play. Bennett’s presence, especially, could be big in holding down the Michigan State running attack.

Co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said he saw better tackling against UAB. The Buckeyes contributed parts of Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices last week to tackling and will do so again this week.

“If you emphasize it, hopefully it helps you get better and improve,” Withers said. “I thought we were better tackling. I think tackling is like interceptions. When people worry about you not getting a bunch interceptions, all of a sudden they come. You’re not tackling good, then all of a sudden it’s not an issue anymore.”

Bringing down a behemoth like Bell seems like a lot to ask from a unit that hasn’t been the best at getting ball carriers on the ground. But Sabino and other players actually said having something to grab on to, as opposed to shifty scatbacks, makes it easier.

“We’re going to have to make sure we keep him sideways and not let him go north and south,” Withers said. “That’s got a lot to do with leveraging the football.

“If you can leverage the football and get guys that you want inside and outside the ball carrier, then you should tackle him.”

The misses are magnified in conference play, where it’s harder to escape unblemished with your “C” game. One missed tackle or blown assignment on defense can spell the difference between a win and a loss.


Comments Show All Comments

Buckeyejason's picture

Ohio State’s passing offense ranks 96th

I think we could've got that kind of production with  Tressel, no? lol


willshire58's picture

The passing game has been there when it needed to be, just needs to start clicking earlier in the game. This offense is still predicated on the run so I don't expect the passing numbers to shoot through the roof.

QBYBuckeye's picture

My concern is that against UCF, the piles seemed to always move the wrong way when we were on Defense.  It appeared to me that UCF's players were stronger than ours and were able to continue moving the piles their way after contact.  Michigan State is bigger and stronger than UCF and I will be watching for this phenomenon again.
The California debacle was simply not finishing tackles.  UAB was more missing three starters and playing soft as a result.  We Have to strap them on and play tough against State or it will be a long day. 
On offense, all we need is consistency.  The plays have been there, but overthrows and dropped passes indicate a lack of focus which leads to inconsistent execution. 
This will be a big test.

New York Buckeye

Buckeyejason's picture

  It appeared to me that UCF's players were stronger than ours and were able to continue moving the piles their way after cont

You make a great point. Maybe all the rapid weight loss and focus on "speed" has made alot of these players less brute and powerful. That was one thing that i loved about the Tressel teams, they seemed to usually always over power their opponent for the most part.


buckeyedude's picture

But they were overweight and slow as shit. Go back and view the 2006 MNCG and watch Alex Boone specifically. It was like he was wearing shoes made of concrete. The DE for Florida was by him before he even came out of his stance.
 I'll take the trimmer, faster and more fit OLmen and DLmen.



bassplayer7770's picture

I agree.  I'm not sure how extra weight in the form of fat is helpful in any way.

Buckeyejason's picture

They didn't seem to slow the other 12 games of that season. Look Florida had just freaky quick and talented D-ends that year..that would've done that to just about any o-lineman..I don't care how "slim" or "in shape" you are. Look at the Packers o-line..won a Super Bowl 2 seasons ago and got their lunch tookin against the Seahawks.


William's picture

I think the Packers O-line has suffered some attrition since then?

bigbill992001's picture

The Packers' O-line has regressed with another year's experience, defying logic.    Especially their LT and RT.    Plus they have a new Center in Saturday, who is probably playing his last yr.    But, then, the Packer offense as a whole has regressed, including All World Aaron Rodgers.

RBuck's picture

I agree with you but could we see Chris Carter his 340# on the d-line this week to plug up the middle against Bell?

Long live the southend.

Buckeyejason's picture

Where the hell has he been soo far? I wish they would've have him some reps in the cup cake games. Doubt we'll see much of him at any point this season now.


rickyu22's picture

I think with the established running of Hall and Hyde the passing game will open up. It was nice to see Rod Smith run the ball effectivle on the one drive, and it will be nice to see Hyde doing the same to open it up. Even with the spread you cant get away without solid power running. 

Shaun OSU's picture

We are definitely predicated on power running, so if we can get a few yards a carry on base runs and not get smashed in the backfield like last year, then that will force the defense to lessen their focus on Braxton and give him room for some big runs.
I expect to see a much more creative package of plays this week than the vanilla offense we worked on last week. Meyer has said they are going to have to be creative to find running room against this defense, so it will be interesting to see the ways he tries to get the ball in Braxton's hands with space.

carence's picture

With Hyde back, could you imagine the Wishbone? Braxton, Hyde, Hall and Smith! Something to think about! :)

Enzo's picture

I can't see MSU not putting in a number of screen plays, assuming they don't already have them, to exploit the OSU defense. If UAB can do it, so can MSU, and nothing scares me more than Bell running in open space. The issues with tackling aren't going to get better in 1 or 2 weeks.

cinserious's picture

They didnt just loose weight. Alot of it was replaced by muscle. maybe now the less 'massive' bodies are working againts us. once we get the whole 'speed-rush' thing going it will work out for us.

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

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

Call me crazy but I have a feeling Air Braxton is coming to MSU this Saturday in a big big way!  Tressel caught the Ducks with their feathers open during the Rose Bowl game whith Pryor coming out throwing from the opening gun.  I see the exact same thing this Saturday.

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

BUCKtuckian's picture

I just relived one of the absolute worst football games I have ever seen in person. The day was miserable, wet, damp, cold. Sparty rolled into Cbus and stacked the box and seemingly blitzed every down. If not for a trash time TD the 10-7 score felt like it should have been about 21-0.
This almost same defense only gave up 10 points last yr......
The offense last yr was Brax running for his life and Bauserbomb doing his best statue impersonation. This offense is much different. I believe Urbz will use misdirection and rollouts to get play makers in space and get out of the teeth of their D-line.
I have my fingers crossed the BUCKS will roll back into Cbus 5-0 for an 8pm prime timer!

People are saying that I'm an alcoholic, and that's not true, because I only drink when I work, and I'm a workaholic.
Ron White

ARMYBUCK's picture

I think the Bucks hold Le'Veon Bell to 67 yards rushing and come back to Columbus 5-0... er, at least thats my heartfelt hope.  This Kool aid has a funny taste but Im drinking it.

20sider's picture

Wow, holding him to 67 yards would be crazy good. He's a great back.
Kool-Aid you say? Sure I'll have some...


headina's picture

Would like if I had 50 helmet stickers


20sider's picture

I am very excited to see what potential we have with Hall, Hyde, and Miller in the backfield. But I would love to see something a little more high octane to keep Sparty off balance. If we can run that super high tempo, hurry up speed O, I think we can take advantage of some mismatches in personell.
Anyone else think we may see that TE screen to Stoney? It was wicked cool to see against Oregon in the Rose Bowl. I had to pick my jaw up of the ground when it happened.
A little of what UCF and Miami did to us earlier this year could neautralize some Sparty D too.
... so ready! Is it Saturday yet?


headina's picture

Man, every week I get juiced up for the game certain they will play a great 4 quarter game and destroy their opponent. Lets hope they FINALLY do this week. 


Basso Profondo's picture

If the offense comes in and executes from the get-go then I think the defense will respond and have something to play for, the lead.  Additionally let's hope that the first "big game" atmosphere incentivizes these guys to play their hearts out.  I completely agree with what Simon said earlier about them not playing with any passion, the blitzers haven't looked like they wanted it, and the "freak show" punt block team has been non-remarkable.  Let's hope they finally have the juice that they have been talking about so much on all-access!
Regardless though, this game has so many new variables that it's not even funny.  First away game, first big ten game, first "big" time game, first game not played at noon... If we win then things will be great, if we lose I don't think we could even know where to start analyzing it. Anyways, go Bucks, I have an optimistic feeling heading into this, hopefully it's justified!

JJB's picture

I have a theory that the lighter weight is forcing some players to focus more on technique to make a good tackle, where as before they could just "bull" through. But I don't have any experience tackling people, so my point may be moot.

southernstatesbuckeye's picture

Hopefully this is the week that it begins to gel. With personnel at near full strength, and Bennett making his first start, maybe, just maybe this will be an "all smiles" week?

Vanilla offense to date has really been necessary in order to familiarize Brax with the base plays. Meyer himself indicates the need for creativity in an effort to avoid last year's rushing nightmare.

I sure hope we are chatting next Monday about the beatdown we put on Spfarty the Saturday before!

Could you please pass me a refill of that koolaid? Mmmmm.

I like cookies.

a9entsmith's picture

The main thing that worried me in the offseason (that seems to at least partially be coming to fruition) was all the talk about Marotti being a miracle worker in the weight room. Just reminded way too much of Mgoblog back in 2008, and we all saw how that worked out. 

Jdadams01's picture

I actually think his results are obvious. I don't see as many sloppy players looking gassed after 3 drives like last year.

Jdadams01's picture

It's not like our LBs lost 60 pounds. Shazier actually gained 20. Even if a D-lineman lost 15 pounds or gained it, he still has to get leverage and wrap up. If you see a pile pushed its because the D didn't do its job of getting the guy to the ground instead of trying to strip.

Buckeyejason's picture

I don't think the weight loss was a true factor in the meh performances so far this year..was just trying to start conversation really. Players could have a great off season and get in great shape, but if they eat like crap during the season..especially before games , players will get gassed pretty easy.


Larryp713's picture

Our D-Line has been an enigma. Hankins has been fantastic, but Simon has really not excelled like I thought he would. I was expecting to be remind of V Gholstein, at least those four games he came to play and made everybody else on the field look like they had skirts on. I am hoping Simon breaks out and feasts on a green Sparty QB!



Buckeyejason's picture

Simon has been reaking Havoc every game!! I'll say it again loud and angry..
Ive rewatched evey game this season, specially focusing on the D-line and he's been almost Unblockable!!!! Just because he doesn't have a bunch of sacks so far doesn't mean he isn't being destructive out there!
Rant over.


bassplayer7770's picture

I recall him getting double-teamed in earlier games.  I haven't rewatched the UAB game; was he being double-teamed again?  With Nathan Williams and Hank out there, it has to be difficult for the O Line to justify focusing on any one person too much.  Goebel has been pretty solid too.  Then add in a healthy Bennett along with some talented Frosh...