OSU v. Indiana: Offensive Breakdown

By Ross Fulton on October 16, 2012 at 3:00p

Ohio State continues to rack up yards and points—sometimes in spite of itself. Against Indiana, the Buckeyes' consistent run game and Braxton Miller's game-breaking ability overcame dropped passes and poor reads in the run game. If Ohio State can improve in these facets, they will become a difficult offense to stop. In the meantime, though, the Buckeyes have developed a one-two run game punch that consistently sustains and underlies most good offenses. With each game the Buckeyes implement a bit more of Urban Meyer's scheme, demonstrating the continued room to grow. 

IU: One Man Advantage

Indiana generally presented Ohio State a 4-3 stack, cover 4 front. In other words, against the Buckeyes' 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) the Hoosiers eschewed covering up the slot receiver to keep a seventh defender in the box against the Buckeye run game. 

The Buckeyes were nonetheless largely able to run their base offense. One new emphasis was the first use of sweep read (though it does not appear that OSU is reading the one technique).

From there, OSU faked a similar action to run bootlegs. 

Without a Hoosier defender covering the slot, this left medium-range completions to Jake Stoneburner and Philly Brown. Though OSU did leave easy yards on the field by not running wide receiver screens, they still took advantage of this play multiple times for easy completions. 

From there, Ohio State faked this action to run a counter trey with Miller for a long touchdown run. This gave a different patina to the QB counter trey that has been a staple for the Buckeyes this year. It provided a constraint play with no added practice time for the offensive line, again demonstrating Meyer's penchant for making plays look alike within his base offense.

Ohio State also exhibited the 'touch pass,' a Dana Holgorsen favorite.

Tried and True

The Buckeyes did most of their damage, though, sticking to their base offense that has been so reliable this year—inside zone read, inverted veer and movement passes from those plays. The inside zone read play is the identity of the OSU offense. The Buckeyes likely run this play as frequently as all other plays combined. It provides the offense an identity and gives the personnel countless practice and game repetitions.  As an added bonus, the play is particularly effective in short yardage. It hits the hole so quickly that it is difficult to stop. OSU can rely on their left side of their offensive line—a real strength—and hang their hat on the play. Here, Andrew Norwell creates leverage at the point of attack, Jack Mewhort releases onto the linebacker, and Carlos Hyde is able to quickly get to the second level. 

OSU also has two running backs who are running with confidence. Hyde is demonstrating vision and a 'wiggle' that he has not heretofore shown, allowing him to make people miss at the second level. And Rod Smith is finally playing as many long expected. For instance, Smith used a textbook jump cut to move to the hole and then went north and south quickly.

Ohio State can then use Miller to attack the defense's edge with designed runs, reads and option plays. This week Ohio State successfully employed Miller running from the get-go, which opens everything else for the offense. On the opening drive, Miller perfectly executed two speed options back-to-back, keeping the first when the defender widened, and then pitching to Corey Brown for an untouched score. 

This run-heavy plan is then supported by a heavy dose of bootleg and sprint-out passing. This reduces the field for Miller and puts him in a run-pass decision-making mindset. Miller again demonstrated improvement in the pass game, stepping in and delivering crisp throws.

As such, the Buckeye offense has a cohesive package from which they are effective. Miller's legs and an effective movement play-action game allow the Buckeyes to constrain the defense and protect their base inside run plays within a manageable package that fits the team's personnel. Thus, though the plays that OSU uses may be limited, they mesh together and complement each other, producing a multiplier effect. The Miller touchdown run above is a perfect example. It is a basic counter trey, gauzed up with a sweep fake and aided by the arithmetic advantage of running counter trey with the quarterback. The sweep fake prevents the defense from effectively keying in on Miller and widens the linebackers. 

The upshot is that OSU is going to run inside read plays (itself constraint plays), lead plays to Miller, and then option and play-action from those run plays. As Meyer stated, the result may be that the Buckeyes are imbalanced, but they have rushed for over 300 yards the previous two outings and want to continue with what they do well. Though it is not fancy, it is a tried-and-true way to move the ball offensively and the most straightforward to execute. So long as an offense has an effective running game, it will rarely get behind the chains or have 'off' days. And that is particularly true when you can create explosive plays from the run game, as Miller regularly does.

The Only consistency is inconsistency

But, as has been true all year, Ohio State at times got in trouble when moving beyond this formula. For instance, in the third quarter up 31-17, Ohio State drove the ball on the ground to the Indiana 4. The Buckeyes then called back-to-back zone-read bootlegs to Miller's left, with the second leading to a poorly thrown interception. If Ohio State scores it may have put the game on ice. 

More generally, Ohio State continues to stop itself with inconsistency in the read and passing game. Teams have to focus upon stopping Miller's running threat first and foremost. Read plays should put a defense in a Gordian knot. Yet Miller too often pre-determines his reads and/or makes the incorrect decision, leading to minimal yardage plays. The result is that the correct read generally results in positive yardage...

...but that Miller and the Buckeyes are leaving easy yards on the field.

The Buckeye passing offense is also not yet able to fully take advantage of teams committing additional defenders to stop the run. This game the most obvious example were two dropped passes by Devin Smith. Smith redeemed himself, including with a catch and run that the Buckeyes have not gotten this year from a receiver. The Buckeyes are also benefiting from the fact that Brown has developed into an extremely reliable receiver in the slot, to whom Miller and the Buckeyes look to on third down. OSU has thus developed a basic formula—work Brown underneath on option and pivot routes and then try to take the top off with Smith. Nonetheless, the Buckeyes are not yet an efficient enough passing team to make up for errors such as dropped passes.

The upshot is that the Buckeye offense is currently more consistent operating what they do well against defenses designed to take that away than they are taking advantage of what the defense is giving them.

'Go Make a Play'

The best thing Ohio State has, though, is that whenever the Buckeyes have needed a play this season Miller delivers one with his legs. Time and again Miller puts a close game out of reach with an explosive play, such as the counter trey above. Miller's ability means that this offense always has the potential to break the game open. And he has a knack for coming through with a big play at the right time. This should not be underestimated and is principally why Ohio State is undefeated. 


Comments Show All Comments

bassplayer7770's picture

Great as always, Ross.
I think I can sum up this week's defensive breakdown into two words:  crap sandwich.  ;-)

buckeyeEddie27's picture

or poopy flavored lolly-pop.      (that's two dodgeball references today)

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

gunni070's picture

Would love to see our offense get off to a quick start at home and not keep us all in suspense!!  Get up on Purdue and stay there.

NYC Buckeye's picture

I thought you summed it all up nicely with :
"And he has a knack for coming through with a big play at the right time. This should not be underestimated and is principally why Ohio State is undefeated."
I can't think of an Ohio State player who was solely responsible for more wins than Braxton Miller...    Mike Nugent?  (I joke, I joke..)
But I am glad you added that last paragraph...  despite his errors in reading defenses, it is extremely hard to criticize Braxton, as his big time playmaking ability continuously, not only more than offsets the mistakes, but directly results in us winning a game...

Ross Fulton's picture

Exactly. Its an intangible so hard to measure, but I think he kicks it into another gear.

beserkr29's picture

I think that'll be putting it kindly, Bass.  The most noticeable hiccup that our offense has every week seems to be Braxton's reads.  Ross has touched on this several times, but I still think it bears mentioning that when Braxton finally gets the reads down, this offense will really take off, even more than it already has.  Time and again you can see Braxton giving the ball and then jogging through a massive hole in the defense while Hyde or Brown get stopped short.  This year's offense reminds me of what a Paul Johnson offense could be if Johnson would run a more hybrid version of the triple option.  I can't wait until we get the offense thoroughly down, and fix the massive defensive problems.  This team will be very good. 

jccavanaugh's picture

I'm actually really looking forward to Ross's analysis of the defense this week; I've seen a lot of moaning about how bad it was but not much substantive on why it was so bad.  Was it a problem with the scheme or the execution? Or both?

Earle's picture

The most eagerly anticipated Breakdown of the season so far, I would say.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

d5k's picture

It seems like we use sprint-out and bootleg at this point rather than WR screens simply because they have been more effective and it gives Miller a bail-out run option which will almost always get positive yards if he reacts quickly enough.  Miller outside the pocket pretty much means someone is open otherwise he can just take off into the secondary untouched.  There was a nice completion to Stoneburner for ~10 yards and a first down where I was yelling "just run Braxton!" where he probably could've run for 8-10 yards but the defense was caught between a rock and a hard place.

yrro's picture

Good point. Also, coaches tend to go with who they know they can trust. Right now, Meyer expects Braxton to break a tackle much more than he does Corey Brown.

Ross Fulton's picture

It definitely puts a defense in a bind. More so than just throwing the immediate WR screen.

timdogdad's picture

if braxton gets the reads down better, we may go a full game or two in a row without having to punt and score on every drive.  if the d just becomes fundamental and servicable there's no reason we shouldn't average about a 56-21 game.  except against  team with a very good d or o.    if we improve by 7 pts on offense and defensive pts allowed, we'll be tough to beat.   

slippy's picture

I feel like that incorrect read you have the video of isn't really that bad.  That DE doesn't crash until he knows that Hyde has the ball.  Maybe it's his indecision that makes it a bad read?  I guess I don't know enough about this.  It seems like if Miller keeps and that guy doesn't bite then it's 2on2 running the option outside.  Obviously if he's crashing hard the whole time it's the wrong read but I saw some hesitation in there.  But you know more about this than I do.

Ross Fulton's picture

It's not horrible I agree (the problem of trying to 'over fit' one example to make a general point). But...


The DE is clearly turning his shoulders towards the run. He will never be able to affect Braxton if BM runs the option properly and attacks the CB hard. Then you get your 2 on 1 in the open field.

slippy's picture

Gotcha.  Thanks!

Doc's picture

Ross, another gem.  My question is this, has Braxton gotten better at throwing and become more accurate doing so?  It seems to my untrained eye that he has more touch on his throws and it his receivers making him look bad.  Adding Devin Smith's two dropped TDs onto this score and it becomes a blow out.  If Smith would have scored those two the fight might have been taken out of Indiana.  Braxton may be relying more heavily on his own legs than his receivers hands because of the dropsies.  What say you?

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Ross Fulton's picture

Yes.  I certainly think that he is making continual improvements. I think Braxton trusts his own legs more than anything else, including his arm. But I wouldn't go so far as to say the OSU WR have the 'dropsies.' A few dropped passes does not a pandemic make.

bassplayer7770's picture

Maybe it isn't a pandemic, but Devin does seem to regularly drop a key pass or two.  Then again, he usually catches a key pass or two as well.

Maestro's picture

I loved the counter half boot play.  Same action that has led to many big Braxton runs this season and the defense has to bite on the fake to Hyde.  Great play.  

vacuuming sucks

Maestro's picture

Ross, I wonder if this was another game where the coaches tried to make it easier on Braxton in the option game and really didn't have him making many reads?  
It looked that way because it seemed so many of his reads were wrong/as if he wasn't making reads at all.  I hope there was some of that at least because at this stage in the season I would have hoped he would be making proper reads more often than not.

vacuuming sucks

d5k's picture

I also felt like there were some plays where Indiana blitzed or scrape exchanged aggressively so Braxton had a different guy (who wasn't read) in his face right after pulling the ball.

OSUBias's picture

I love watching each week and having the "a-ha" moment when I see us run a new variation of a play or a new counter action to one of our plays. I owe you a beer for my weekly double dose of free learnin', Ross.

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

OldColumbusTown's picture

Ross, you have mentioned several times about OSU being "limited" with what they can do offensively (though they are very good at what they do), and I have noticed that as well.  The big thing I notice, and maybe you can expound, is that we mostly see Hyde/Smith as inside-running threats, and Corey Brown/Hall, when healthy, as the only real outside running threats, especially on the speed option.
Is it safe to say that when Urban gets his "Harvin" type player, please pardon the expression, this offense has a chance to become completely unstoppable?  Guys like Ezekiel Elliott and/or Jalin Marshall seem to hopefully be players with the ability to run inside the tackles, but also have the speed and agility to be threats on the edge.  Florida seemed to thrive when a player, such as Harvin, could get the ball on IZ or Counter, or also be involved in the speed option game, or other runs to the outside.
It looks to me like OSU players at this point are boxed in to what they do best, and rightly so based on the results, but it also lends itself to being a little more predictable.  This offense is hard to stop as is, let alone when the defense can't point their finger at a guy and know exactly what types of runs he'll be getting.

NEWBrutus's picture

Isn't Braxton on his own that "harvin type."  He runs inside and outside and has been a force to be reckoned with?  It's different than the Tebow Harvin combo in that the big bruiser isn't taking snaps and the "Harvin" guy is.

Ross Fulton's picture

I am actually thinking more in the pass game.  We are pretty inconsistent and limited in how we can attack downfield. The result is that we cannot really stretch teams (horizontally and vertically) who want to over-commit to the run game.

NEWBrutus's picture

Ross, great stuff as always. 
I would like to point out on the two triple option plays, the numbers advantage to the weak side of the formation when Brown moves to the backfield and comes that direction post snap.  It is 6 on 5 and one guy has to pick who beats him.  Great design.
On the short yardage inside zone shown above the blocking is superb.  Mewhort, Linsley, and Fragle all get to the second level quickly.  The KEY block is by Huerman who gets inside his man and maintains contact long enough for Hyde to get through.  If the defender gets off that block Hyde is hit at the LOS and may only get a yard or two instead of the twenty or so he gains.
It was pointed out on the ozone by their quality analyst Jeff Amey, that Braxton misread 11 of the 25 option plays.  (56% correct decisions)  Imagine what happens when this number reaches 75 or 80%.
Some questions:
1.  How would you game plan to defend the Ohio State offense?  It seems like the only team to really stop Ohio State has been Ohio State.  Poor execution has been the biggest problem.  It is easy to say "force them to throw it," but more specifically how do you defend their option run game when you have the tandem of Braxton and Hyde?
1a.  How much sleep would you lose if you had to do this?
2.  I came away from the Indiana game feeling like the IU defense probably defended the OSU rushing attack as well as anyone has to this point.  The total yards don't support this but nearly 1/4 (12/51) running plays went for negative yards or no gain.  Ohio State hit a lot more "big plays" in the run game.  WOuld you agree with this assessment?
3.  How suprised are you to this point, that the play mix has been nearly 2/3 run to pass plays?  I know Meyer's offenses have been "run first," but I was expecting maybe 60-40 or 55-45.  I don't mind it, I love to watch teams run it down another team's throats, but I guess I've been a little suprised we have run it as much as we have.
Thanks for your insights.  It makes me appreciate the game a lot more.

45OH4IO's picture

I liked your first question. If I could upvote, I would. My first thought reading this is what does a defense need to do to stop this offense? Specifically, i want to know what type of personnel are required. My guess is you can get away with inconsistent corner play with Braxtons inability to read well. I feel like you have to have two fast, athletic DEs and a sideline to sideline MLB. 
With that being said, i am thinking an LSU or ND would be the biggest challenge for OSU O. No one else is coming to mind offhand. But stuff the dive, force the ball out of braxtons hands and tackle in space?

Ross Fulton's picture

--I think IU generally had the right plan. But they do not have the players to execute successfully.  Cover 4, cheat the alley defender in to the box, make OSU beat you to the outside. The key is to stopping any spread read team is having your defensive line defeat the Oline to the playside.  It is not true option--you still have to correctly block the called run play. That is what OSU did to Ore in the Rose Bowl.


--I can't say I'm really surprised for the reason you said. Urban has probably never had an offense that was 55-45 (could be wrong). Plus, it is probably even more lopsided when you think about how few legit dropback, downfield passing there has been.

Firedup's picture

Thanks for the reference on the touch pass.  I know i had seen that play before somewhere

"Making the Great State of Ohio Proud!" UFM

CALPOPPY's picture

Oklahoma "ran" that play against K-State. You can only marginally say it was run because the QB threw the ball at the RB like it was going to burn his hands off. Geno Smith probably runs the play better.

I'm a hurtin' buckaroo.

Go Buckeyes14's picture

Dana Holgerson is a schematics genius, and I love the fact that Urban has no problem "borrowing" plays from teams that apply so well to our personnel. Go Bucks!

sir rickithda3rd's picture

ross i wanted to see something on the defense, o well it was bad, really really bad.

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

Maestro's picture

Every Thursday

vacuuming sucks

MediBuck's picture

I nearly jumped out of my chair when I saw the touch pass. Is it bad that my first thought was that it'd end up on Ross' highlight reel this week?
It'll be fun to see Philly cut better (at the end of the touch pass play, if he breaks it back to the right quicker, he could be off to the races), and if he's able to break a few tackles, he could join Miller in the pantheon of home-run threats we so desperately need. Now, to run play-action off the touch pass >:)

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

southbymidwest's picture

Thank you Ross! Who'd a-thunk I would look forward to your weekly play breakdowns, but I do, I do!

BeijingBucks's picture

Ross can help us clarify what is an 'Offensive breakdown'
a Defensive 'breakdown'
an OSU fan's near total breakdown after watching the last 5 minutes

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

buckeyeEddie27's picture

the possibilities are endless.......

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

osubuckeye4life's picture

Nice good sir. :)
I can play that game too:

BucksShockTheWorld's picture

IDK if anyone can help me out on this one. I missed the game Sat night because of my brothers wedding so I was only able to check in here and there. Are there any video clips out there anywhere of Devin Smith's drops? I have heard all about them, but would love to see how bad they are. Thanks!