A Touchy Subject

By Chris Lauderback on December 30, 2012 at 6:00a
Urban will have even more offensive weaponry at his disposal in 2013.

Looking ahead to 2013, much of the early offseason talk has centered on how the defense will be reworked with the departures of Johnathan Hankins, John Simon, Nate Williams, Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino.

The defensive line appears to have some youthful talent already lined up but losing such a high volume of contributors in the front seven, especially two starters at linebacker, is rightfully the chief discussion topic among the faithful.

Time will tell how that situation resolves itself, just as it will with another aspect of 2013 that could become problematic (albeit a tad first world problematic): How will Urban and Herman distribute the offensive touches knowing they have a stable of backs and slot guys, all of whom want a chance to show what they can do, and some of whom may look elsewhere down the road if they don’t get it?

Before even trying to answer that question, we should take a look at how the touches played out in 2012.

Because 67% of them came via the rushing attack, we’ll glance at those first:

Player Games ATT YPC AVG YDS/G % of Team Rush ATT
Miller 12 227 5.6 105.9 41%
Hyde 10 185 5.2 97.0 33%
Hall 7 40 5.4 31.1 7%
R. Smith 9 32 6.7 23.9 6%
Dunn 11 25 5.3 12.1 4%
Team 12 559 5.2 242.2 100%

Miller and Hyde dominated the football, accounting for a combined 74% of the rushing touches. And rightfully so as Miller proved he’s a home-run threat every time he gets his hands on the ball (13 rush TDs), while Hyde showed he can not only grind it out but can also break off large gainers, not to mention having an impressive nose for the end zone (16 rush TDs).

With Miller and Hyde forming such a dynamic duo, Rod Smith and Bri’onte Dunn were largely on the outside looking in despite racking up impressive YPC numbers. It’s hard to imagine either one of them, especially Smith, being happy (and quiet) with similar or reduced roles in 2012 but that’s exactly what could happen if Jordan Hall's redshirt is approved. It's also worth noting Warren Ball will also be back, fully recovered from foot surgery that forced a medical redshirt. 

Moving on to the passing game, though we’ll focus on the slot guys, the 2012 touches broke down like this:

Player Games Rec YPC AVG YDS/G % of Team Pass Rec
Brown 12 60 11.1 55.8 37%
D. Smith 12 30 20.6 51.5 19%
Stoneburner 12 16 16.8 22.4 10%
Spencer 12 12 11.3 11.3 7%
Team 12 161 13.5 181.5 100%

Philly Brown, playing the “Z”, aka the Harvin role in Urban’s offense, had a breakout season as a junior, hauling in 60 catches, a whopping 46 more than he had in 2011. Brown showed improved hands, becoming Braxton’s go-to guy through the air, though he lacked the wiggle Meyer typically looks for in the hybrid-Harvin role (11.1 yards per catch).

Smith became the big-play guy with 20.6 yards per grab, and while he improved his receptions total from 14 to 30, he could see that total climb another 10+ assuming Braxton’s offseason yields more confidence and effectiveness in the downfield passing game.

Hall's return would give Meyer even more backfield depth

With those two veterans solidified as starters, it will be interesting to see what kind of role the coaches carve out for Hall, provided he's eligible.

It seems impossible that Hall could climb any higher than 2nd-string tailback based on Hyde’s emergence but what about the hybrid spot? Could Urban and Herman deduct it makes more sense to feature Hall in the hybrid/slot and bump Philly out wide with Smith?

Trying to answer that question now doesn’t even consider whether or not incoming freshmen playmakers Jalin Marshall and Ezekiel Elliott could make a push for playing time.

Oftentimes, things like injuries or lack of performance can shake things out but when you talk about the depth at running back (which includes Braxton) and in the hybrid role, there are no fewer than six proven commodities (Miller, Hyde, Hall, Smith, Dunn, Philly) plus another three (Ball, Marshall, Elliott) potentially knocking on the door.

Clearly, it’s a crowded house. Again, a great problem to have but it still could be somewhat of a problem. If it is, the key will be making sure it doesn’t become a distraction.

So, what do Urban and Herman do about it? It will be fascinating to see how things break because there are a multitude of actions the brain trust can take.

That said, rotating only three guys to staff a two-back set, depending on how often it’s employed, just seems safer than rotating four. Also, it wouldn’t make sense to decrease Hyde’s carries in a meaningful way just to keep other productive – but still less productive – backs happy.

We saw it at times last year especially after Boren moved to defense, so it makes sense that the staff could employ more sets with two running backs. They could rotate and mix-match the tandems to keep guys fresh and play to their strengths via the play calling.

Conversely, such a move could ensure Braxton isn’t the ball carrier 41% of the time, as he was in 2012, which would be a good thing. No question he needs his touches but he also needs to be healthy and Miller struggled to stay upright carrying it 227 times last fall.

Philly: #2 punt returner in B1G with 12.3 avg (2 TD)

The staff could also take the approach of getting the backups on the field via the punt and kickoff return spots to supplement their offensive touches, hoping that’s enough to keep everyone engaged.

Such a move won’t be easy though, as Smith excelled in a kickoff return role last year ranking 5th in the conference at 23.2 per attempt, and Philly ranked 2nd in punt return average. Replacing Philly would mean either Marshall or Elliott is ready for prime tim,e which would obviously be all kinds of fantastic.

Both Marshall and Elliott are brimming with talent but the fact neither will be in Columbus for spring practice means they’ll have their work cut out for them upon arrival. But if one (or both?) emerges on a significant level, the house becomes that much more crowded.

Of course, the one other thing Urban and Herman can do is basically nothing. They can take a stance in which the top two ball carriers continue to log 74% of the touches and figure the passing game will involve more guys as an organic outcome of Braxton being more seasoned in both the offense and his throwing mechanics. Then, if guys are chirping or moping about a lack of involvement, they can work to improve or transfer.

However things shake out, the situation could be an interesting subplot as what should be a high-powered Buckeye offense shoulders even more of the burden of going undefeated in 2013 thanks to the noted losses on the defensive side of the ball.

Hopefully, once again, it will be Urban who proves to have the magic touch.


Comments Show All Comments

BuckeyeStrong2's picture

Just a couple of thoughts after reading the article...
I hope we go the route that scales down some of the designed qb runs, at least a little. Also I would like to see Braxton be a little more decicive when it comes time to pull it down and take off. I can't tell you how many times he was looking upfield waiting for a WR to come open when he could have used his legs and picked up first down yards. I assume Urban wanted to help transition Miller to "a quarterback that is an athlete" instead of "an athlete playing QB"
And with Brax taking 41% of the carries, there were a couple games where we were up sizably yet our heisman hopeful was taking what I call "useless shots" (Hits he shouldn't have been on the field to take.)
I want to say that I agree 100% about using special teams as a means to get backups and young guys playing time. There were times where Shazier and Roby!!! made plays on kickoff team, I would hope they could get guys like Curtis Grant, Josh Perry, etc some more time out there.
It will be interesting to see how the recruiting and offseason play out! A little under 4 months until Spring Game! Go Bucks


osu07asu10's picture

It is a privilege to play on ST for an Urban coached team. The best of the best play and before you earn PT anywhere else, you break in on special teams

CJDPHoS Board of Directors // Best friends with Homey Hache

The 0 is silent.

oregonianbuckeye's picture

Great article, and topic, as I really wonder how this will play out. I think that Hall will see a reduced role, as some of the younger players fit the slot, and the 3rd down back, role as well or better than him. I also wonder how Ball, Dunn and EE will fit in to the scheme. The two back set where they ran triple option (with Hyde and Smith) was very effective in 2012, and I hope to continue to see that in the future. Dunn could split time with Smith in that role. Depth is a good problem to have though, as we saw how injuries can really wear a team down in 2012. 

bukyze's picture

I'm too lazy to look it up, but I know Braxton was sacked a pantload of times.  I wonder how many of those sacks were d/t designed runs or rollouts vs actually being sacked while attempting to pass.  No doubt, obviously needs to continue being the featured back with the most touches until proven otherwise.  As for WR's, it would be nice to have a burner emerge - someone that Braxton could simply say 'just go deep, I'll get you the ball'.  Of course, Braxton needs to work on his deep throws as well.

NJ_BUCKEYE's picture

If they can get themselves a burner at a playmaking spot on the field it would be more effective to use them in short/medium routes so that they can use that "burn" to run after the catch.  It's harder to hit a player in stride perfectly on a deep ball consistantly for any QB than simply hitting a slant, out, screen, or dig route and leading that playmaker so he can get up field and make a play.  Harvin and Brown this year usually were running short routes (not that Brown is a burner) but that hybrid role is where he wants his fastest/best athlete who optimally has decent instincts.

SPreston2001's picture

Top tier QB's love throwing the deep ball. If Braxton wants to be elite he has to learn to make all the throws. Troy Smith threw a nice deep ball and Teddy was often on the receiving end of it...

unknownmusketeer's picture

Coach Meyer and Herman's strategy for getting all the RBs touches for next year will be to score 70 or more points per game. Even the water people (boys and girls) could get some carries then.

Poison nuts's picture

So long as we don't become the "score 70, but get 63 scored on us" Big 12 type team, I'm fine with that strategy!

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

RBuck's picture

Chris: According to OSU's official stats (http://www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com/sports/m-footbl/stats/2012-2013/indgbg.html) Hall played in 5 games this past season. That still seems like it's too many to get a medical redshirt. Are there any other factors to consider? Thanks.

Long live the southend.

Chris Lauderback's picture

yeah, I see 3 games on your OSU link then this one, also OSU, says 7:


Then, on ESPN stats, it says 3:


As for factors that he'll return, I'm going off what Urban said back in November:


painterlad's picture

How freaking awesome is it that you need a large score card to keep track of all the offensive talent this team has?
Very. Freaking. Awesome.

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

Osurrt's picture

Smith needs to prove he can hold onto the football in 2013......when he does, he can be a force. I love the triple option with Miller, Hyde and Smith in the backfield. Some of Miller's best runs were following Smith through a hole. Miller's carries have to go down. While he is a touchdown threat every time, it would be interesting to see how many of his carries gained 2 yards or less.....felt like there were dozens, those are unnecessary hits. hall has been a great role model, but it is time to move on to the next phase....if he is coming back to better his chances for the next level....I just don't see him getting the touches with Miller, Hyde, Smith and Dunne.
As there is still a possibility, if Hyde goes early (I hope not for our sake and his), who gets the starting nod. Hall did not impress me in the TB slot......Smith or Dunne?

buckeye76BHop's picture

The offense will obviously be fine....the defense...that's another story in itself.  I think the youth may be good at times for rotating LBs/Dlinemen as far as staying fresh.  However...that inexperience worries this Buckeye fan.  Being a former Defensive Coordinator at the HS level....this stuff with younger players can be a blessing...or a curse.  It will all depend on how well they step up in Spring and Fall practices as well as off season work outs (I still feel Curtis Grant won't be ready...which is just one of many concerns that I have with LBs).  I have faith that the defensive coaches will have more time to get things right in order to have a better defensive product on the field this year...I hope.

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

NJ_BUCKEYE's picture

The one good thing next year's young and inexperienced group of defensive players will have going for them is a relatively easy non-con schedule.  The coaches can use those games to weed out the guys who maybe are good practice players, but can't cut it when you get into the speed of a real game.

buckeyedude's picture

I distinctly remember the worry that ensued after El Guapo got injured. Yes, OSU has a lot of running backs, but that is a good thing.
I think Rod Smith should switch to LB like Boren did because Jordan Hall is going to play. He won't replace Hyde, but he will supplement him. I am, as I bet Meyer is fed up with Smith's fumblitis. Make the move and make more room for Elliot, Ball, Dunn, and Marshall. It's either that or Smith will transfer, I'll bet.



Poison nuts's picture

Smith did still have the fumbling but he did also have some great plays this year...I think he'll get a shot early in the season to prove he can hold the ball. If he's the best second option, they'll move Hall around but I gotta believe the best options will get the opportunities to play & Smith minus the fumbles is the best 2nd option at RB...IMHO.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

aboynamedtracy's picture

Minus the fumbles, I think he'd be the best RB...

Poison nuts's picture

Better than Hyde too? I think Smith could be great (again - minus the fumbles), but Hyde was pretty damn impressive this season. If I needed 4 yards for a 1st down, it's early in the game & the opposing defense is still fresh, I gotta give it to Hyde. He just broke through so many times when it counted...

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

buckeyedude's picture

It's been said a million times. I think he's fumbled a million times, too.



NJ_BUCKEYE's picture

He fumbled 2 times this year that I remember, and one of them was on a transfer during the handoff and the other was a perfect helmet-to-ball hit.  Urban even pointed out how perfect that hit was and he said he wasn't going to hold that against him.

Poison nuts's picture

Lotta talented backs for sure. People always tell me that good problems are good problems, and to that I've always said that any problem is a problem...keeping all these guys around will be hard. Someone deserving is going to miss out on pt, that's just a reality. I just hope that Zeke Elliot is a guy that excels...really like that kid. I'd hate to see OSU lose any of their backs as I see potential for all of them, but it almost has to happen at some point..

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

nickma71's picture

Yep. Having two backs with Miller should happen, and probably will. There will be plenty of carries for all. And the defenses can not cheat with Miller's improvement in the passing game. I don't see swapping out every series, but they (Hyde, Hall,) could play a whole quarter and do some rotations (Dunn, Smith, Elliot).

wjpalumbo's picture

I think the depth of talent is a good thing to have.  Hall, Brown, Marshal, and Elliot can fill the slot with Brown and Hall getting the majority of touches.  Seeing how Meyer makes freshman earn their spot, Marshal and Elliot will have to be amazing to replace the incumbants. I can live with that!
As far as the RB's Hyde will only get better and I can bet that Smith (who I think is the most naturally gifted of the bunch) has been told by Meyer that the fumbling has to go away or PT will. 
I love the "earn your spot" mentality Coach Meyer has brought to the team.  As fans we will see the best players on the field instead of guys that have just been around the longest.



RedStorm45's picture

Move hall to the slot or "Z," never impressed as a feature back.  I'd rather have Marshall or Zeke being the secondary back to Hyde.

MediBuck's picture

I think there's a good chance we'll see Hall permanently move to the slot, as a #3 recieving option never emerged behind Devin Smith and Philly. That man was Stoney this season (in retrospect, not good for his NFL TE career, but good for the team) and he's graduating. Wouldn't be surprised to hear Coach Urbs announce another position change ;)

As for the tailback rotation, I think Hyde will get first-team carries, with Rod coming in on relief and two-back sets. Dunn and Ball are too similar to Hyde as bruiserbacks to get any meaningful time outside of injury-fill-in duty. I wouldn't rule out a redshirt for Dunn, since Ball burned his already last year. Marshall and Elliot could find time in two-back sets as well, but given their inexperience, will likely be wrinkles rather than every-down members ofthe rotation.

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

cinserious's picture

dunn wont redshirt and ball only used a medical. he still has a normal redshirt left but if he's told to do that he probably will transfer

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

USMC11917's picture

Only speaking of current members of the team I would switch Hall to the Z spot Brown to receiver and use Hyde and Smith as primary runners.
Hall has wiggle which we could use on those short passes or crossing routes. He won't have long explosive runs but he can get those 10 yard bursts.
Brown had one impressive run all year that I can remember. He is serviceable but I thought he would show more than what he did. He wasn't bad but he wasn't superb either.
Hyde was phenomenal. I saw very little that i could critique. He has great speed and power. His vision is coming along too.
Smith can do everything that Hyde can but we all know what the concern is there. There is no debating who the superior runner is between Smith and Hall, would the ball be welded to Smiths's hands.
I don't see any kid that doesn't make it to Meyer's spring camp starting. It can happen I just don't see it as a likelihood.

brglr14's picture

i think if weve learned anything from urbz short time here is that play makers are going to play. i dont think any thing is set on O as far as skill positions except for brax. him and that staff are going to push them all returners and new comers.

I dont know karate but i do know crazy and i'm not afraid to use it.


Ashtabula's picture

I really don't see Smith playing (kick returner only) as I think Dunn will be the main back-up.  Hyde will be the workhorse, but I think they will find some creative ways to get Hall some touches.  Of course, if the staff believes Brown is dramatically better in the open field than Hall, then why try to find touches for him?  I was really hoping Marshall was enrolling early, because I think he might be able to steal some thunder from Brown, but it is probably unlikely without benefit of spring practices.


Of course these concerns are based solely on the premise that OSU's backfield and receiving corps have zero injuries next season. A few banged up or inactive players will make that depth look pretty darned good. Hyde missed two games and Hall hasnt played a full season in nearly 3 years. Dunn got hurt, too. That also says nothing for Braxton. Every time he got hit we held our collective breaths. I will be stunned if we dont suffer at least one serious injury in those positions next year. It's part of the game.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

NJ_BUCKEYE's picture

I could see Dunn and Zeke sticking around another year even if they aren't getting a lot of carries this year, but they need to know that the coaches have confidence in them and that they will get a legit shot to win the starting job after Hyde graduates.  Dunn probably could wait untill he is a Jr if it meant being the feature back, and Zeke is more versitile than any of the other backs.  Although I must say I don't know much about Ball because he was hurt this year.
If Rod Smith was going to transfer he would have done it when Urban essentially told him he should transfer earlier this past season.  I think Smith may become a H-Back/Full Back type guy next year, because he showed some ability to lead Braxton through the whole on a lot of those counter runs that Miller hit for big gainers.  He also showed he could catch the ball with that long TD catch down the left sideline.

cinserious's picture

Dunn is being groomed to replace carlos hyde, but with more inside moves and vision. I can see Braxton/Hyde/Smith being a three headed monster who will be on the field together the majority of the time in running situations. Replace smith with a tight end on passing downs. Where does that leave Jordan Hall? Hall fills the slot hybrid role with the possibility of running out of the backfield,maybe as a more dynamic B Saine (marshall & elliott backup J. Hall in the slot hybrid). Now we move Philly Brown from slot to flanker opposite Devin Smith. (the Thomas kid from california can backup Philly at flanker). The only person I left out was Ball because I know nothing about him, if he get very limited touches this year, I can see him being the one to transfer. Everybody else should get a decent amount of PT because we will be blowing out teams by 40 in the third quarter!

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

sir rickithda3rd's picture

id like to know how many drops smith had. he was a definant playmaker but he dropped a lot of easy balls

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

BuckeyeUro's picture

Gosh, just reading this

departures of Johnathan Hankins, John Simon, Nate Williams, Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino.

makes me shit my pants, really hope some of the defence guys step up to fill those big shoes!!

d5k's picture

Left out Goebel so we are losing 6 out of 7 starters in the front seven. We have the 3 stud freshmen coming back along with decent depth and new freshmen on the line at least.

BKshepherd's picture

Diesel, Spence and Shutt played quite a bit this year and should totally blow up next year.  I think Bennett and Steve Miller will be solid, not to mention Bosa coming in and Sevon Pittman wanting to make an impact.  I'm not worried about the line at all.
The linebackers could be an issue outside of Shazier, we'll see.
I think Bogard, Reeves and Doran Grant step up in the secondary.  With the offense we will have, the defense doesn't necessarily need to shut teams down, just slow them down.  Don't get me wrong, I love a lock down defense, but I think that will come more likely in 2014.

BuckeyeUro's picture

Agree, but the idea that most of the names you mentioned are not quite tested on big shows as starters is what worries me most, will see.

Jhesse17's picture

We have to get Rod Smith some more touches. Except for his fumble bug he seemed like he was as good as/better than Hyde.