OSU v. Nebraska: Offensive Review

By Ross Fulton on October 9, 2012 at 3:00p

After a slow start, the Ohio State offense had perhaps its most impressive performance to date, putting up 63 points against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Though the Buckeye offense had assists from the team's other units—getting defensive and special team touchdowns as well as a third touchdown set up by a Bradley Roby interception—the Ohio State offense was not stopped for the game's final three quarters. Ohio State scored on seven of its last nine drives, with a fumble stopping an eighth drive in Nebraska territory. Ironically, the Buckeye offense put up prolific numbers through old school principles—a run-heavy offense sprinkled with play-action passing. But the difference is Ohio State's ability to spread the field yet change the 'arithmetic' through Braxton Miller.

Nebraska: You Shall not pass

Nebraska does a good job in their coverage unit. We knew they did that. That's a pro style, very good scheme . . . --Urban Meyer Press Conference

Ohio State's slow first quarter start was a combination of Nebraska unveiling an uber-aggressive game plan and OSU getting away from what they do well. Nebraska unveiled perhaps the most aggressive defense against the Buckeyes to date (in a season of run-first defenses). The Cornhuskers generally played a one-high cover 1 defense with no defender beyond ten yards.

Nebraska borrowed a page from Michigan State and brought simultaneous A gap and edge blitzes, often from the boundary corner.

Ohio State unsuccessfully responded by attacking with a dropback-based passing game. Ohio State went three and out (including a fake punt) on its first four possessions. Of those twelve plays, the Buckeyes called passes on seven. Those plays generated .167 yards per attempt. Ohio State repeatedly used snag and spacing triangle combinations against Nebraska's man-coverage. While good in theory, Ohio State was poor in execution. The Buckeyes had difficulty picking up Nebraska's blitzes.

When they did, the Ohio State receivers had difficulty getting open. Small windows were available but Miller is not yet comfortable going through a five receiver progression or 'throwing people open' and was hesitant as a result. For example, here Nebraska does not rush but just 'fences' Miller in. Miller is clearly confused in his reads. Rather than run, he holds the ball far too long.

Meanwhile, during those four series Miller only had one called run. The result was a sputtering offense.

Spacing to Run (Or How to Spread-to-Run Teams Can Exploit Man Coverage)

. . . but it's not conducive to quarterback run. So we felt going into that that we were going to run the quarterback, which obviously is our best player.--Meyer

Then, starting with Miller's 72-yard run on inverted veer, Ohio State put on an applied seminar on how to use the spread-to-run alignment to attack a cover 1 defense (and why cover 1 is not necessarily the best choice against a spread QB run team). The Buckeyes used 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) and generally put twins or trips to the field. The natural reaction of a one-high defense when the offense uses trips is to 'shift' the free safety towards the three wide receivers. Nebraska did this. The problem for the Cornhuskers is that this left no in-box safety support against the Ohio State run game. The Nebraska defenders have to account for the Buckeye wide receivers but for the free safety, who shades the trips. When Oho State runs a play such as QB counter trey (like QB outside zone) there is no read involved—it is simply using the quarterback as the tailback and the tailback as the fullback.  

As such, even though Nebraska was playing an aggressive defense, OSU was able to use their man coverage to extract defenders from the box while still being able to utilize its full run game. Below, Andrew Norwell does a great job reading the DE crashing and logs him instead of kicking out, and Miller was untouched to the end zone. Note how Jake Stoneburner in the slot shows a bubble screen upon the snap, pulling the outside linebacker who has No. 3 man coverage responsibility away from the play.   

Ohio State was able to use this same arithmetic to its advantage in the pass game. The Buckeyes shifted to an entirely play-action and sprint-out pass game. Below, though Nebraska looks like they have two safeties, they only have one free. The other is responsible for the number 2 receiver to his side. He reacts to flare action. The linebacker responsible for the tight end is held by the play fake, allowing the tight end to get inside and past. The free safety is unable to react in time because he has been pulled over by the trips, resulting in two big seam throws to the tight end.

The Buckeyes also used formation to pull man coverage defenders away from the trips. OSU implemented trips in combination with a tackle-over (tackle and tight end trade places). This meant that the Buckeyes still had two receivers to the weak side. In man coverage, Nebraska had to play this look straight up and could not shade to trips. That gave OSU easy sprint-out completions to their primary receiver, Corey Brown. 

Beauty in Simplicity

"We’re kind of a pound-you offense right now,” Meyer said. “I don’t mind that. I’ve not had a lot of those.”

After the first quarter, however, the passing game was merely a complement to the Buckeye bread-and-butter run game. Ohio State gained 371 yards rushing off of three primary plays—the aforementioned QB counter trey, inside zone read, and inverted veer.

Inside zone read is this offense's default play. It is the Buckeye's jab, designed to keep Ohio State ahead of schedule and set up everything else in the offense. Like the outside QB zone discussed last week, inverted veer complements inside zone in a different manner. Again, a spread-to-run offense's goal is to create edge confusion. From shotgun, a defense will play games based upon halfback alignment. While the zone read attacks the backside end, inverted veer attacks the playside end. It also uses the same blocking scheme as counter trey (or power), except in this instance the defensive end is eliminated by read rather than kick-out block.

This one-two punch also fits the Buckeye personnel. If the inside zone is the jab then Carlos Hyde is the fist. Hyde will not make defenders miss, but he hits the hole hard and gains yards after contact. The Ohio State line—particularly the left side—does a great job creating an initial push into the defense's bubble and Hyde is able to exploit that for four-yard chunks. Inverted veer, by contrast, puts Miller in a position that he can quickly get the second level. The play had been ineffective until Nebraska, however, because Miller always gave even when the defensive end clearly widened with the sweep. 

Against Nebraska that changed, with the resulting 'explosive plays.' Below, Marcus Hall collapsed the front side, Reid Fragel locked up the playside linebacker, and Miller in the secondary is always a positive situation for the Buckeyes.

From there, the Ohio State passing game becomes effective when it builds off the run threat and gives Miller discrete options. One of Meyer's strengths is that he ensures that every run play has a corresponding play-action pass. Here, Ohio State initial action is precisely the same as the zone read arc block I highlighted last week. But Jeff Heuerman releases to the flat. Again, Nebraska does not account for the TE because they shade to the twins and the linebacker bites on play-action, leading to an easy touchdown completion.

Ohio State had the same success with inverted veer play-action.The play-action movement passing also renders Miller more likely to run. He is moved toward the edge, has several reads and when they are not there he can take off. Miller's difficulty comes from when he sits in the pocket too long.

Stay Within Your Lane

The Ohio State offense again demonstrated that it does well within its strengths. The Buckeyes get in trouble when they move away from that and become too dependent upon the downfield passing game. Yes, teams are game planning to take away the Ohio State run game. But Meyer & Co. have been able to use spread principles with alignment and constraint plays to prevent teams from effectively doing so. Plus, what the Buckeyes do well, they do very well. The OSU line is playing at a high level, assisted by the no-huddle's tempo. Hyde has demonstrated his ability to keep OSU ahead of schedule. And Rod Smith showed his immense talent with an impressive touchdown run. If Smith can continue to run like this it adds a different big-play dimension to this offense.

Of course, it is all made possible by Miller's dynamic running ability. Time and again the Ohio State offense sputters until they begin using Miller in the run game. Miller's big-play threat opens up everything else. It also appears to have an effect upon Miller. It gets him in the flow of the game and makes him more decisive in the pass game as to whether he should run or pass. Miller and the Buckeye passing game are not prepared to beat good pass defenses with a pro-style pass game. But he is without peer as a runner, and Ohio State can operate a very effective play-action passing game off an extremely effective run game. The upside is that this fits precisely within Urban Meyer's philosophy.  


Comments Show All Comments

yrro's picture

Great write-up.
I was wondering about Miller's mindset at the start of the game. I have rarely seen him look so lost. I agree completely that making him run a bit gets him into the zone where he stops over-thinking things so much.
Question for you, Ross - to what degree is our problem in the pure passing game Miller, the receivers, or the plays run (ie, simpler patterns and schemes than are necessary to beat a good pattern matching secondary)? Obviously the deficiency doesn't really matter when you can run the ball like this, it just made me curious.
One thing I have noticed and love about our running game - from a few plays I've seen, at least, Carlos Hyde can be a beast of a lead blocker. Him plus Boren bashing through a hole with Miller following just doesn't seem fair.

Ross Fulton's picture

Good question. I don't see a schematic problem. They ran plays designed to beat man coverage. They understand how to attack coverages. 

I see an execution problem. I would 65% on Braxton, 35% on the receivers. And that is simply because the QB is the key in a passing offense. Running a dropback passing scheme is very hard. Braxton is only a soph. At this point he needs guys OPEN to confidently make throws. Nebraska was not going to give him that space. Miller's dangerousness comes from him as a runner. Take that away and he's not currently going to scare a lot of ppl.

The interesting thing for me is that the O gets tripped up when it defaults to throw-first. That has never been Meyer's M.O. He learned the passing game from Joe Tiller and Purdue, but its never his bread and butter. He stresses Ds the way we saw in the last three Qs. IMO its a learning curve btwn he and Herman. I think Herman is more apt to fall back on that.  You will notice that after awhile Urban will say, ok time to run the QB. But Herman has also updated/modernized Urban's pass attack.

Completely agree about Hyde. He had a great block on Miller's counter trey TD run. I think the receivers have really bought in to blocking also.  

zenshade's picture

Do you suppose that the reason for the first quarter struggles is Meyer/Herman trying to give Miller as much game experience as they can afford in his areas of weakness, knowing that they can switch gears to Miller's strengths in the second quarter if they fall behind on the scoreboard?

Ross Fulton's picture

Eh, not in a game like this because you don't have that kinda slack against a good team. I think it is more Herman's instincts to attack this type of defense passing the football. Which is certainly the correct response in theory, but have to be able to execute.

yrro's picture

It's really the core of football. Defenses are going to sell out to stop what you're good at. So you can either try to break tendencies to make them pay for that, or be so much better that it doesn't matter.
OSU tried the former at first, but there's a reason that defenses don't worry about our passing game - we can't execute it at a high enough level to be a threat.
Thankfully for us, we were able to execute and scheme well enough in the run game to make that not matter.

Boxley's picture

Zenshade, I was thinking along those same lines. That could be the reason we do not do so well in the first quarter as they are trying to expand his portfolio.  When that does not work they switch to the tried and true. Eventually we could face a team (not this year) that can effectively cover the run game much better, and then we will need to back them off with passing better.
As much as I like Braxton and realize if IF he improves as a passer/reading the defense and his receivers better, he will be unstoppable. give him another year under these great coaches and the sky is the limit. Next years offense will be far better than this years with a full season of learning under their belts.
More than half of Braxton's  incompletions are due to him not putting the ball where the receiver can catch it, especially catch it in stride. All of his interceptions except the one vs MSU were his fault for not putting the ball where the receiver was going.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

bassplayer7770's picture

One thing I have noticed and love about our running game - from a few plays I've seen, at least, Carlos Hyde can be a beast of a lead blocker. 

In the Counter Trey video above, Hyde eliminates a DB from the play.  Nice.

pukindawg's picture

Great read. Makes me even more excited to watch them continue improving as an offense.

OSUBias's picture

what I would give to be able to listen to the conversations between Meyer and Herman as they are doing their in game adjustments and constantly staying one step ahead of the defense.
I like that each week we see a few more wrinkles to the offense. The TE pass plays were a refreshing revelation this week. I think they are definitely stalling themselves at times just to keep improving and getting the guys some reps and experience doing things they aren't necessarily good at yet (5 WR progressions). Then if (well, when) that doesn't work and they figure out what the defense is doing, they find its kryptonite and hammer them with it.
It's hard not to be excited about this offense, given the level of improvement they've shown already and the areas we know we have room to improve on!
Stellar breakdown, as always, Ross.

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

yrro's picture

I am incredibly happy with how well our offense is adjusting to the defenses we are seeing, without trying to go too far outside of our identity.

aj99's picture

Excellent write-up. Thanks for the work. Can you guys imagine how awesome this offense is going to be when we get the passing game improved...hopefully around the end of Nov?

Ross Fulton's picture

I think ppl need to temper their expectations regarding the passing game this year, at least if you are looking for OSU to look like an NFL dropback team. But there are plenty of play-action opportunities available. As Bill Walsh used to say, he used dropback passing to control the clock and play-action passing to create explosive plays. To me, the play action passing game really puts a defense in a bind against the OSU run game. It also really stretches and limits what type of coverages a defense can play.

Again, this has always been Meyer's M.O. He is not a pass-first offensive coach, just as Chip Kelly is not at Oregon. The Oregon passing game is all play-action and predicated upon opps created by the run game.

d5k's picture

I'm pretty sure QB counter trey with Braxton is the best play I've ever seen run at OSU.  Thoughts?

OSUBias's picture

No love for DAVE?!?!?!?!?

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

Ross Fulton's picture

Same play, same blocking scheme...


but better use of numbers and constraint...

45OH4IO's picture

I love the QB Counter Trey video. It's a great view to show how OSU's formation led the defense along like a fishing lure. The right side of the line was wider open than a drunk chick during Mardi Gras! I bet Herman had that feeling you get when you are playing chess and you realize you have checkmate coming in 4 moves and the other guy has no clue. Ha.
The other video that impressed me is the last one. Watching Heuerman's LB zero in on the play fake while Jeff saunters in the opposite direction is phenomenal. I can really tell sticking to the raw basics early this season has created a foundation that the offense is building from!
Love these segments!

NEWBrutus's picture

I rewatched the game last night and watched the qb counter trey for a TD over and over again.  I stopped and I drew an imaginary line down the middle of the formation.  Nebraska had 7 men to the left side of the center.   Nebraska took themselves out of the play by over loading against the trips.  I'm learning....Slowly learning....
The slow start....Oy!
Looked to me as if Miller "misread" the option on the very first play of the game on the inverted veer.  He had a HUGE lane to go, but gave the ball instead.  Play goes for very small to no gain, and we are behind the sticks.
There was a third down slant thrown to Corey Brown who made a double move on his man where he looked like he was cutting out, and then quickly cut back in on the slant.  Miller hit him in the numbers with a lot of green in front and not many defenders in his way.  Brown drops the ball.
The blitzes caused problems for certain.  New looks (or previously unseen looks) from our opponent are causing problems. 
Great write up as always.  It is the highlight of my Tuesday and Thursday!

Ross Fulton's picture

Lots of good stuff in here...


Yes, that is the beauty of using your QB in the run game. A defense has to match an offense's numbers to each side of the center line or it is structuraly unsound.  OSU has seven to the left of the centerline (1/2 each for Linsley and Miller). Then Nebraska has to match. But by using the QB in the run game and inserting Hyde across the formation as lead blocker, OSU then puts 6 on the other side post-snap. 

What really hurts Nebraska on that play is that by playing man coverage, an OLB also removes himself by following Stoneburner. Man coverage against spread to run not good.


Agree on the penalties and on the IV play. Just gotta force Braxton to get going. It was an option route by Philly and was well run. Ideally Miller should lead him on that throw rather than behind him. But yes, he still should catch it.


As to the blitz, Neb also brought more than we could block. That shows a general lack of respect for our passing game, but we should be able to exploit. 


Great stuff-thanks!  


humble0ne's picture

Great breakdown!  I am starting to wonder if Urban Meyer should start having John Simon chase Braxton around the field before the start of the game to get him going.  I don't know if it is being over excited or nervous, but it just seems to take time for him to settle in.  Maybe it is inexperience at reading the initial defense?

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

Nick's picture

Imagine a senior Troy Smith in this offense. I think Braxton will soon be there and can even surpas Smith.

One Bad Buckeye's picture

I think so too, but we have a looooong way to go in the passing game.  Smith became a pocket passer, miller needs to do the same.  

"I'm One Bad Buckeye, and I approve this message."

Ross Fulton's picture

I guess this is partially my point--why does Miller need to become a 'pocket passer?'  People have this platonic notion of what a QB is based upon the NFL but I would argue that college teams with a running QB have had more success.

And that includes Urban Meyer.  Meyer does not want a pass-first offense. He has a specific offense and he wants a QB that is a run threat.  Tebow averaged 16 runs per game his senior year. He was not a pocket passer. Cam Newton was not a pocket passer at Auburn. Oregon has never had a pocket passer. That is not the offense Meyer runs.  People that expect something different are ignoring his history. 

OSU is racking up yards and points so they are clearly doing something right. Miller is gradually becoming a better passer and it will improve the O when they are efficient in the dropback game. But they won't move away from using the QB in the run game. I would argue Smith became less dynamic when he could no longer run. It certainly hurt OSU against Florida. 

d5k's picture

I agree, he needs to stay healthy more than he needs to become Peyton Manning in the next month.  I don't want him to stay in the pocket.  In fact I would prefer every pass play to be a bootleg, play action, sprint out or speed-option with combining pass concept.  I want a built-in Braxton run threat on every pass that isn't just scrambling for his life from the pocket.  The only exception would be the screen game.
I would want Braxton to be the best throw-on-the-run QB in the history of college football by the time he is done rather than a very good runner who became a pocket passer (and stopped running as much).

d5k's picture

I'm going to go a bit further than Ross and say Braxton is better in this offense than Troy Smith would be.  Braxton is a far better runner and that is what the offense is build around.
Troy was a very good passer who could pick up first downs with his feet when he needed to.  Braxton is a very good runner who can hit open receivers often enough to keep defenses honest.  Braxton's progression won't be toward sitting in the pocket and picking apart the defense, it will be toward making better reads and hitting the routes with timing where his receiver can run after the catch.  And continuing to make highlight reel plays with his feet every game.
Braxton is on pace for 1500 yards rushing btw.  7th in the nation after half a season.  Let's stop imagining how much better he could be and appreciate how awesome he is NOW.

CowCat's picture

Braxton is on pace for 1500 yards rushing btw.  7th in the nation after half a season.  Let's stop imagining how much better he could be and appreciate how awesome he is NOW.

^^ This times 100.
We have Braxton Miller, the game-winning machine.   He's like playing Bo Jackson in Tecmo Super Bowl.  
Time to stop worrying and enjoy the show.

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

DallasTheologian's picture

Ross, on the 18 yd TD to the TE, who was supposed to be covering the TE? Is it the outside backer and did he just bite on the play fake that badly? Thanks in advance, I will listen to the answer off the air.

Ross Fulton's picture

Yes--Im pretty certain the outside 'backer would have the TE as the No. 3 receiver to that side. That play slipping the TE under the flat is effective for that reason. It makes it difficult on a team playing man coverage because you really need to communicate well. If a team is playing 'man over' coverage where the each person has somenoe in man all over the field its even more difficult. Then it would be the backside linebacker.

Buckeyeholicwompa's picture

I know this offensive breakdown doesn't entail anyting about us throwing a screen pass (other than the Stoneburner fake bubble screen on Braxton's big run) but I was wondering, why have we not been successful when we have attempted screen passes? It seems like every time we've tried, defenses put a lock down on it and we gain little to no yards.

yrro's picture

At least part of that has been the fact that Corey Brown hasn't been able to break a tackle in the open field. When you put one of your playmaker receivers in space you expect him to at least occasionally beat his man one on one.

Ross Fulton's picture

I would echo this. I think Corey's bigger problem is he is dancing out there rather than making a cut and go.


You also aren't going to run a ton of those plays versus a team that is playing you in tight man coverage.

southernstatesbuckeye's picture

I dont know if this is proper or not, but I wont be able to watch the game against Indiana this week, and wondered if anybody might record it to a dvd and send it to me. I'd be happy to pay $10 dollars for the dvd and mailing costs.

Any chance of that? If so, reply to me and I will send my address.

I like cookies.

Kurt's picture

Ross, could Meyer and Herman have swapped Miller for Martinez and still won the game?  

BeijingBucks's picture

Or more intriguing question... could they have swapped to Kenny G and gotten the same results... plus some calm halftime alto sax?
Kenny G does seem to make the right reads but we do not have enough data to properly analyze perhaps

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

Ross Fulton's picture

To me, that's a scary prop because the threat of Braxton opens everything else up. Without that its a lot easier to lock up the receivers and focus on the run game.

Kurt's picture

That's why I'm asking though.  Swapping Miller for Martinez (or Guiton) are relatively even trades in skill-sets - they present the threat of running which opens everything else up.  It's not like trading any of them for Kirk Cousins.  It seems that Nebraska's offense is on the brink of maximizing Martinez's talents, but then they'll inexplicably put him under center or abandon play-action.  If Meyer/Herman had Martinez he'd be a stud.

yrro's picture

No way to tell for sure, but assuming that our defense doesn't do a *worse* job of tackling Miller than Nebraska did, I think so. Our O-line was opening up consistent holes by the second half, and that goes a *long* way.

IBleedSandG's picture

I too have been very impressed with the blocking from the skill players, especially Hyde and Philly Brown. Philly took out two guys on a crack-back block when Brax had his long 70-some yard run. I love this offense and know it's only going to get better and tougher to stop.