OSU v. Purdue: Offensive Breakdown

By Ross Fulton on October 23, 2012 at 3:00p

The Purdue Boilermaker defense was finally able to accomplish what all teams have attempted against Ohio State this year—employ such an aggressive run-focused front that they were able to slow down the Ohio State run game and with it, the Buckeye offense. Aided by a stout defensive line, Purdue dedicated alley and secondary players to the front from a myriad of angles. This confused Braxton Miller and the Ohio State offensive line, affecting the Buckeyes' read-option game. OSU then relied upon its passing game, which was unable to consistently take advantage of the Boilermakers' aggressive posture.

As soon as Miller and the Buckeye run game were able to get rolling, however, Miller was injured and knocked out of the game. Kenny Guiton was able to engineer an Ohio State comeback by exploiting the Purdue aggressiveness just enough with man beaters, allowing OSU to eke out a victory.

Purdue: Go For Broke

It is difficult to understate how much emphasis Purdue placed upon stopping the OSU run game. Purdue presented Ohio State one of two pre-snap fronts: a 4-3 over where the slot defender would be anywhere from splitting the gap between the slot receiver and tackle to inside the tackle box; 

and a 3-4 front with two alley defenders. 

In neither case did Purdue cover all the Buckeye inside receivers. Purdue became even more run-centric post snap. The Boilermakers would commit slot alley players to the box for run support, often with a field blitz.

Purdue would also use their deep safety to account for Miller on the read-option. Upon the initial action, the safety would come up in run support.

As other teams have done, Purdue also repeatedly brought a boundary corner on a run-blitz. Behind all these fronts, Purdue would play a soft cover 0, meaning man with no deep safety help.

Within the box, the Boilermakers often stunted. In particular, Purdue would slant the line away from the halfback (towards the playside of inside zone) with the linebackers compensating to the weakside. Then, on third down, the Boilermakers would bring a basic overload zone blitz. This appeared to be an automatic check when OSU went empty. Though Miller eventually picked this up and began immediately flushing, providing time to hit Corey Brown on a follow-pivot route combination, Purdue clearly estimated they could confuse Miller before he could escape the pocket, a largely successful strategy.

Ohio State: Muddling Along

Purdue's aggressive game plan—aided by four Ohio State turnovers—sufficiently scuttled the Buckeye attack through most of the game. This was largely a product of three factors. The first was that Purdue was able to slow down the Ohio State run game enough to set the Buckeyes behind the chains. Though Purdue's numbers advantage was certainly part of it, Purdue also at times successfully controlled the line of scrimmage. The most straightforward way to stop a spread-to-run team is to control the frontside run action. Though the quarterback read negates an opposing defender, read plays are not a true option in that it still requires successful playside blocking to succeed. If a team can stymie the front-side play then the additional defenders can account for the QB. Purdue was able to do so enough to render OSU's run game inconsistent. Despite its recent lack of success, Purdue does have several talented interior defensive tackles who were at times able to give the Ohio State offensive line—in particular Marcus Hall—fits.

Second, the Buckeyes were unable to execute a consistent downfield pass game in response to Purdue's tactics. As witnessed this year, the Buckeyes had flashes. For instance, here Miller does a nice job going through his progressions on a hi-lo route. The nice feature of this route was that it began looking like two of Ohio State's base concepts—snag to the right and follow to the left. Meyer's ever-present focus upon constraint plays thus carries over to route combinations.  

The Buckeye passing game was perhaps most successful when OSU could get their hurry-up offense going and catch Purdue in uncertainty. This led to the second Buckeye touchdown. But all too often Ohio State missed available opportunities. For instance, Devin Smith several times had man coverage beat. If Braxton simply leads him to the corner and lets him run under it, it was a potential touchdown.

More acutely, Ohio State was not able to punish Purdue for cheating off their slot receivers. It was not simply for a lack of trying. Miller sailed one bubble screen over Corey Brown's head. On the clip above, he held the ball a second too long, allowing the Purdue corner to make a nice play. But other times it appeared clear opportunities were available that OSU did not take advantage of. Traditionally, this has been an automatic check with Meyer and Herman. The offense will continue running the pre-called play but the QB will simply pull and throw the football. Perhaps Meyer & Co have not yet given Miller the ability to do so. But by allowing alley players to cheat into the box, a spread offense quickly loses the numbers advantage it gains from the QB run threat.

Ultimately, though, Miller did not have his best game passing. He was often sailing the ball and he seemed confused at times in his decision-making. Nor did his receivers help him with drops.

Further, the Buckeye offense became too reliant on the pass game. This is reminiscent of other times this year when the Buckeye offense sputtered. Though this is a natural reaction against defenses selling out to stop the run, the Buckeyes have been inconsistent this year when relying on the passing game in response. This relates to the third rationale, which is that OSU was again reticent to run Miller. OSU only ran one designed QB run play. Whenever the OSU offense does not get Miller going early and instead relies on other facets, the offense tends to struggle. Going forward, it will continue to be a delicate dance with keeping Miller healthy. Ultimately, though, as Meyer states, this offense has limitations and they need Miller to run to succeed. Further, it is what Miller currently does best and thus maximizes his talents. But against Purdue it was not just Miller that was lightly used. Carlos Hyde only had 19 carries. This demonstrates the over-reliance at times by Ohio State on an inconsistent passing game. 

What Is and Never Was

The Buckeye offense has had other periods of relative paucity this year against aggressive defensive fronts. The Buckeyes have been eventually able to break the stalemate by featuring Miller in the run game. From there, the rest of the OSU offense is able to function. Against Purdue, the Buckeyes were showing such third quarter signs of life. In particular, the OSU coaching staff appeared to find successful ways to attack Purdue's fronts. One was lining up with 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB), and then bringing Jake Stoneburner in motion to H-Back to run power (i.e.'Dave'). This gave OSU leverage by using Stoneburner to kick out the Boilermaker run-support alley player.

The Buckeyes were also able to spring Miller on inverted veer by Miller getting straight upfield behind Purdue's fast flowing linebackers. Miller did this on the Buckeyes first touchdown run. In the third quarter OSU settled on this strategy but was unable to fully exploit it. On the penultimate third quarter drive, Miller ran for 9 yards and then fumbled. Then, on the next drive, Miller again kept on inverted veer but unfortunately had to leave the game with a heart-stopping injury.

The Ole Right Hander and the Man Coverage

If Miller does not get injured, it is entirely possible that Ohio State's offense gets rolling and OSU wins comfortably. It certainly seemed that is the way it was heading. But Miller's injury puts the brakes on this rhythm. Yet after some sputtering, Ohio State was able to make its comeback with Kenny Guiton taking advantage of Purdue's man coverage schemes. For instance, the Buckeyes' touchdown and 2-point conversion exploited this coverage. The touchdown was a nice adaptation of snag for sprint-out. The result was that the outside pivot route picked the inside defender, freeing the slot receiver's flat route. Then the two-point conversion used a delayed tight end throwback route. This sufficiently confused the Boilermaker Sam linebacker responsible for Jeff Heuerman, allowing him to slip free.  

Though Guiton does not have Miller's talents, he did a very nice job in emergency duty executing the position. For instance, on one play, he motioned in a Buckeye slot defender to block the Purdue zone blitz. His heady play is thus a real credit to him and provides an ideal back-up quarterback.

The Song Remains the Same

The Buckeye offense will continue to face variations of this theme all year. Defenses will continue to scheme to try to force the Buckeyes away from their run strength. Expect the same from Penn State. For instance, the Nittany Lions often 'screwed' their safety down into the box against Iowa to create an 8-man front. 

OSU must find more consistent ways to punish a defense that cheats alley defenders. Whether it is with wide receiver screens or bootlegs, OSU cannot allow a defense that much free rein. OSU must not also let opposing defenses dissuade them from sticking to what they do well. Though this is somewhat counter to the previous point, I believe they work together. The Buckeyes must continue to work to establish their base run game and then use play-action to exploit an opposing defense.

Relatedly, the Ohio State offensive line must play better. With such a run-heavy team, it is incumbent on the offensive line every week to control the action. OSU is undoubtedly a left-handed run team, and the Buckeye left side was able to win against Purdue when it counted. But Penn State's front seven will provide another stiff test and the entire Buckeye line must win those zone battles. Finally, Miller must play more consistently for the Buckeye offense to succeed. It is easy to forget that he is just a sophomore and gradually improving as a passer. He is thus going to have some inconsistencies. But Miller has always played better in games when he (and the coaches) feel that his legs are necessary to win the football game. He gets more in the flow of the action, which makes him more comfortable as a passer as well as a runner. 

This Buckeyes squad is young and inexperienced. It is therefore inevitable that the offense, defense, and special teams will periodically have breakdowns. But you also have to give credit to the pluckiness of this Buckeye squad. In a game where OSU lost the turnover battle, had special teams breakdowns, and lost their best player, they nonetheless found a way to win. In some ways, I believe that makes this team very satisfying to coach for Urban Meyer, and winning games like this where you don't have your fastball can only redound to this team's benefit going forward. 


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chitown buckeye's picture

Love these write ups! How often would you say Miller was making the right read against Purdue? In the first video vs the 3-4 it looked as if he gave it to Smith but the proper read would have been to pull it in and run the option with Brown (I think that is who is in)?

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Ross Fulton's picture

Given all that Purdue was doing in the back end, I think his reads were pretty good. Generally his fault was giving when he should keep. I agree with you that he should have kept in the video. He also gave to Hyde on a veer where he should have clealy kept. But all in all I don't think this was too much of an issue. We really just tried to pass too much frankly.

yrro's picture

Do you think the staff "played down" to the competition a little bit? As in "oh, here's a team that we should beat handily who is *daring* us to throw the ball, let's do it" instead of the more (short term, anyway) conservative approach of just winning with what they know they can win with - ie, running Braxton.

Ross Fulton's picture

I think the staff consciously decides not to feature Braxton running. Think about MSU--tough D and we came out running BM immediately. But if you are not going to feature BM, then you necessarily have to rely more upon your pass game, because otherwise you are running without a lead back into 8 man fronts.

chitown buckeye's picture

Overall I think he has improved in his reads. However, sometimes I feel as if he makes up his mind before he goes to the line. 

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Matt's picture

Great write-up Ross, your articles are now my favorite part of 11W.  Just one thing to note, we actually had 4 turnovers in the game (1 legit Braxton fumble, 1 questionable Braxton fumble, Braxton's hail mary INT to end the half, and Kenny G's pick), not 3, which makes the victory all the more impressive.  And you could even throw in the safety as a BS turnover, too.

Ross Fulton's picture

Ah yes. Forgot about the hail mary INT because it did not affect the game. I will correct that now.  Thanks for the heads-up!

yrro's picture

The turnover at the end of the half really shouldn't count anywhere but on the stat sheet. It was completely indistinguishable from an incomplete pass in terms of effect.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

What about using a speedy motion WR to get the ball to the outside either as part of an option, like we've seen with Brown in previous games, or as part of motion toss sweep?  Seems to me that purdue committed so many unmoving parts within the box that whenever the WR motioned, the safety moved with him albeit 10 yards behind the line.  If we hand off / toss / option to the WR without making him stop before the snap and with a clear numbers advantage to the outside, we should have numbers to the outside and get there before the safety can, if we allow the end lineman or TE to leave the DE and seal the inside LB or S and the twins to take care of the CB and S?  Maybe I'm not being clear, but I see it in my head.

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Ross Fulton's picture

I get what you are saying--like a jet sweep.  I think OSU tried to alter Purdue's numbers somewhat by starting the tailback out wide and then having him come into the backfield. But am with you--I think the option was there but OSU did not really exploit.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Yes, exactly.  I was looking for something, anything that we could do to beat them to edge.  I don't think we went there enough, if at all.    

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BeijingBucks's picture

well I remember Brax trying but badly missing the throw

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Firedup's picture

With anlysis like this, why are you not coaching somewhere Ross?  Gosh you make this so easy to understand why our same plays no longer worked against Purdue.  Thanks for the great work

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Doc's picture

I've said the same things.  ross would be an excellent coach.  He explains it perfectly for this dummy.

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Ahh Saturday's picture

Great work as usual. I asked in another thread what made you pick the Buckeyes by two TDs over PSU. Is there something schematic that gives you such confidence?

Ross Fulton's picture

IMO we are a more talented team. We tend to play to our completion this year. A lot of that has to do with by far the thing this team is best at I'd Braxton running. But they want to save that for when they need it. For an example, look no further than Neb 1Q v rest of the game. I think they are gonna realize they need it Sat. 

BeijingBucks's picture

Ross please send a link to Brax's email box on his phone (and CC the Gui). your articles should be required reading for any QB :)

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

The_Lurker's picture

Great as always, Ross. I had a guy in our chat ripping Devin Smith for the lack of connection on the deep ball in the video above, but when he establishes position on the only man to beat it's on the QB to put the ball in a spot where his guy can get to it but the defender can't. The play was there to be made.You hit one or two of those and Purdue has to respect it and can't commit as many people to stopping the run and then it snowballs and you get a lopsided win. Braxton will get there eventually with this coaching staff but we have to expect games like this from a 19-year-old.

Ross Fulton's picture

Exactly. You bust the top off its game over. But we didn't do that. Do Purdue's gamble paid off. Couldn't agree more with your post 

gunni070's picture

Couldn't agree more with this:

Miller has always played better in games when he (and the coaches) feel that his legs are necessary to win the football game. He gets more in the flow of the action, which makes him more comfortable as a passer as well as a runner.

zachofaltrades's picture

In regards to Braxton keeping the ball on read plays when maybe they would have gotten more yards if he kept it himself.  Isn't some of that strategic in nature?  The more times Braxton gives the ball away for a 1 yd gainer up the gut, the more the deffense will collapse on the ball carrier.  Then boom, Braxton keeps and snaps off one of those special 65 yarders.  Or am I "reading" too much into this?

Ross Fulton's picture

He shouldn't be pre-determining whether he is going to give or keep based on this.  What the coaches do probably do, however, is give him a 'default' rule. I.e. when in doubt, give. Then obviously the more you give, it should as a natural consequence open things up.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

One thing I have not seen credited yet, was Purdue's ability to make tackles in space.  They were phenomenal in 1 v 1 matchups in space against some very slippery runners.  

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d5k's picture

I noticed this as well.  It helps to have juniors and seniors out there.  Some of those were guys with a full head of steam that arrived before Braxton or Hyde could get going upfield.  But if we completed some of those short passes early on it could've been a much different game.

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

I learn something every time I read one of these.
O-line did not have their best day.  Purdue may not have won every battle at the line of scrimmage, but they schemed well enough to always have a guy in position to make a play, and then they were making the play with good solid tackling.  Also, there were plays to be made in the pass game that just weren't getting made.  You don't want to rely on the pass game too much, but there were times where I felt we could've thrown the ball more, or at least called a pass instead of run on the play, because it felt like Purdue was going after the run.
For 59 minutes, it felt like the game was at Ross Ade with the way we were struggling offensively, giving up some plays here and there on defense, and the way Purdue was getting all of the breaks.  Those last two times out there were frustrating, as those were easily winnable games with better execution.  This time, though, we made the plays late to get the win.

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O-H Kee Pa's picture

Stellar as usual, Ross. Optimally, our O is predicated around Braxton's dual threat abilities. However, I'm of the belief (and it could be an idiotic belief if Brax is still being Brax in practice this week) that it couldn't hurt to trot KG out there to start the PSU game. I can't see this game playing out any differently than a Tresselball special. Feed Carlos, and KG is more than capable of dinking and dunking. Mauti and the rest of that D will be frothing at the mouth to get their licks on Brax. Thoughts?

Doc's picture

OHKEE, I see what you are saying, but to me Braxton is the one that brings the big play ability every snap.  I'm not so sure "wasting" snaps with a very good back up is warranted.  I read somewhere PSU is running 90 to 95 plays from scrimmage.  We need Braxton and his fire power each and every snap.

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MaliBuckeye's picture

Great work, Ross... thanks for adding this to our collective conversation.
One additional thing I would add that impacted the OSU offense was the Purdue offense. While not a ton of scoring on Saturday, they were able to eat a ton of clock and keep the Buckeyes on the sidelines.
Thanks again!

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brglr14's picture

this is why to me again like in most Os 1st down is so important but i think really in ours. thoise plays out in the flat to the te on a baby roll or when our speedy receivers push and come back for the easy 7 or 8 yds or more if they break a tackle are so important. 1st drive of 2nd half is good example . brown open and miller throws it over his head. we hit those plays and the lbs and safetys have to play sisdeline to sideline which gives osu those match ups urb wants and opens mid of field for running game.

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Ross Fulton's picture

Agree. That is why it is such a double-eged sword for this group to take shots downfield on 1st down. If they miss, they are behind the 8 ball and have greatly reduced their chance of success.

d5k's picture

Wow, watching the game with limited views of the coverages it looked like they were blitzing a lot which often put an unblocked defender in Braxton's lap right after the read and that Kawann Short was eating Marcus Hall's lunch.  But looking at the first still picture I don't see how that isn't an automatic screen to one of the boundary trips WRs.  It looks like they essentially have a 3 on 2 in terms of guys who could actually make a play within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.  If the other 2 guys make clean blocks it seems like an easy 7-8 yards every time (if Braxton sets his feet and doesn't miss the throw...).  Am I wrong? 

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

I saw that too.  In one of the moving frames, you can also see us motion and its the safety from about 10-15 yards behind the line that is following.  To me, this suggests that they were playing 7-8 guys immobilized within the tackle box at all times.  We have got to be able to call these things out and capitalize on them.

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d5k's picture

I think a lot of it is Braxton is either half a beat late on some of his passing reads or just throws an inaccurate 10-15 yard ball under pressure in the pocket sometimes.  He usually throws a good deep ball and a very accurate ball on the run.  But we just must not have a lot of confidence in the screen game at this point (combination of Philly not breaking tackles against MSU and Braxton's lack of comfort with the checks maybe?).  We could really use Jordan Hall on the edge of these things as an additional playmaker...

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Yea, Hall is the one guy on the team that appears to be quick enough to beat the other team to the edge.  I know we have other "fast" guys on the team, but I have not seen one other player that can beat a team to the edge.  Is it possible to redshirt him this year?

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d5k's picture

It's just Hall and Philly Brown, but we rely on Brown to do other things in the passing game down the field so it seems like we can't get horizontal and vertical at the same time enough.  Some of it is getting that #3 and #4 guy to be reliable down the field then we can use Philly more in the hybrid role.  But seriously, we have not had Hyde and Hall together for a whole game.  That is what this offense was built around before training camp, knowing we wouldn't be great at throwing the ball in the intermediate game.
And yes, I believe if he doesn't play another snap he can be redshirted.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

I'm not so sure it's "getting" the #3 or #4 guy downfield as much as it getting Braxton to progress through his reads quick enough (as you eluded to earlier).  Most importantly, and I think we both agree on it, he should be able prioritize his options presnap based on what the defense shows, i.e. #1 option covered with safety help = #2 is new #1, or even, #4 is single coverage seam to TE = new #1 option

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d5k's picture

I also would like to see the KG+Braxton line up busted out this week.  Philly, Devin, Heuerman, Hyde, Braxton, KG @ QB with Braxton coming in motion from the outside playing the Philly/Harvin position.  There's a lot you can do but it could also blow up in your face like the Hyde spread-flea-flicker they tried in the face of a blitz.

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

One thing that we have NOT seem much of (if any at all) this season that would totally defeat agressive fronts and stacking the box is quick hitting screens out of the backfield.  I know Purdoo-doo was covering both alleys for much of the game, BUT, on plays where we only had three receivers, the weakside alley defender was really tight to the line of srimmage and in the box.  A dump off or screen would have EASILY been a 10+ yard gain assuming the catch was made.  Every defender wants to sack Miller.  So they will most likely sell out and break assignment leaving a screen receiver WIDE OPEN.  Why we have not seen any screens this season is beyond me.  Hyde is a great receiver out of the backfield.

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

Maestro's picture

I am sure someone has mentioned this but the first picture in the write up screams bubble screen to me.  3 receivers with plenty of cushion and all eyes in the backfield.

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BuckeyeVet's picture

@Maestro -  Yes, yes, yes..... Ross, do you have an explaination for the relative lack of bubble screens? I also thought I had read that Hermann used them extensively at ISU.

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osuguy2008's picture

Ross-- it seems that Purdue ran it's over front irregardless of field/boundry (as you've pointed out that OSU does with its 4-3 under) but ran its front to the strength of the formation. Would that be correct?

Ross Fulton's picture

Re: the Bubble Screens.


I do think a lot of this comes to execution. We just do not look crisp executing. Braxton inexplictly threw it about 15 yards over Brown's head in the first quarter. In the fourth we did go back to it with Guiton from that trips look and Smith was able to gain 9 yards. Herman and Meyer teams ran WR screens all the time so this is the most logical explanation to me.


But we do need to find some way to constrain teams from cheating like this...

yrro's picture

It didn't help that the fumbles, combined with several incredibly long drives purdue, really hurt the number of plays we had to get into a rhythm on offense.

taoduh's picture

I was watching for one of our best plays.  The counter with Brax as runner.  I don't remember seeing it at all.  I guess that plays into your contention that the coaches are saving up Braxton's runs.  Seems to me that play has a very high success rate.

osubuckeye4life's picture

Great write up once again Ross! I love reading these articles each week since they make me a more well informed viewer.