What to Watch for on Offense against Buffalo

By Ross Fulton on August 27, 2013 at 1:00p

With the 2013 season nearly upon us, the Ohio State offensive system and lineup are largely set. Position battles heading into fall camp have largely been settled, such as Taylor Decker entrenching himself at right tackle.

A few questions remain, however, questions that will perhaps be answered against Buffalo. Questions like how will Ohio State utilize explosive freshman Dontre Wilson, who emerges at the H spot, and just how different the offense will look from last season's run-first unit.

How will the BUckeyes Utilize DOntre WIlson?

It is not a stretch to assert that Dontre Wilson, the speedster from Texas, is entering the season with more hype as a freshman than anyone since Terrelle Pryor burst onto the scene in 2008. But it is still somewhat unknown how Urban Meyer and his staff will get the ball into Wilson's hands. Will he play in the slot as the H receiver? In the backfield at tailback? The answer is likely both.

Look for Ohio State to utilize Wilson similar to Oregon's use of D'Anthony Thomas. From the slot, Wilson will be featured on wide receiver screens and underneath throws such as H Option. He will also be brought into the backfield on "Hic" motion. At other times he may directly line up in the backfield. In such situations, watch for Wilson to be featured on jet sweeps, speed option, and the "touch" pass.

Wilson will also receive kickoffs. Meyer said as much in his presser yesterday when he mentioned that Wilson would be on the field to receive Ohio State's first kickoff of the year. The goal is simple: get Wilson the ball in space to bring an added dimension to the Ohio State offense.   

Who is the H?

Wilson's emergence gets to a bigger question – who will play H, or slot, receiver?

Urban Meyer's offense features this position in the passing game, making this player of critical importance. But it is not entirely clear who will be manning the position. The Buckeye coaching staff at one point referred to Jordan Hall as the starting H. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman subsequently announced that the Buckeye starting receivers will be Corey Brown, Devin Smith, Chris Fields, and Evan Spencer, likely due to the suspensions of Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith, forcing Hall back into a bigger role in the backfield. Then there are Wilson and fellow freshman Jalin Marshall.

The answer may be all of the above, with the staff playing different individuals in the slot. Meyer likes nothing more than having players that he can mix and match and move around situationally. Expect him to do so at H. Hall will likely see time in the slot, particularly when the Buckeyes are in a passing mentality and want to utilize the H on option, cross, and pivot routes. As discussed, Wilson will man the position when the Buckeyes are seeking to quickly get the ball in space on plays such as wide receiver screens.

Herman referenced Brown as playing both inside and outside. Similar to last season, expect the Buckeye coaching staff to bump their number one receiver inside on third downs. Look for Fields to come in at the other slot when the Buckeyes utilize four or five wide receivers. The upshot is that Meyer has different options for his H-position and he will almost certainly mix and match.

Who will receive carries at tailback? 

This question is necessitated by Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith's suspensions. Fortunately for Ohio State, perhaps no team is deeper at the position. Hall will likely take the first snap at tailback. Meyer declared that Hall is the Buckeyes' number one tailback and someone will have to take the position away from him. Hall is often underestimated as a runner but people forget he was the Buckeyes' number one tailback last season before injuries derailed his season. Hall also benefits from being an experienced 23-year old fifth-year senior playing against younger opponents. 

But Hall will likely also play in the spot. This provides opportunities for two second year players, sophomore Brionte Dunn and redshirt freshman Warren Ball. Both are talented runners. The crucial issue is executing the other aspects of the position. If they are able to do so they can make it difficult for the coaching staff to take them off the field. In particular, Ball – a smooth, long strider who looked impressive this Spring – has the opportunity to make a name for himself.

Those three will not be the only backs with carries, however. Wilson will certainly get hand offs, as will freshman Ezekiel Elliot, another player who the Buckeye coaches may look to utilize on the edge. All will have the opportunity to demonstrate they deserve touches even when Smith and Hyde return.

Can Braxton Miller Start the Game Quickly?

By all accounts Miller is a much improved player. His mechanics are improved. His footwork is better and his arm angle higher, allowing him to deliver a more accurate ball. He also looks more in command of the offense, improving his reads both in the passing and run game.

Such improvements are easier to implement in practice then to continue in the heat of a game, however. Miller often started slowly last season. It would sometimes take most of the first half for him to get a rhythm. Buffalo will therefore be an opportunity to quickly crucial to see if Miller can quickly translate his improvements to the field.

Two less-herald issues may indicate Miller's improvements, particularly in the comfort he feels within the offense. The first is how Miller executes his reads in the run game. All too often last season Miller pre-determined whether he was going to give or keep, often leaving yards on the field when it was the incorrect read. If Miller successfully reads what the defense is providing, the offense will have more opportunities for chunk plays.

The second is whether Miller feels comfortable enough in the pocket to scramble when his reads are not available. Meyer has repeatedly emphasized that, for being such a good runner, Miller was a poor scrambler last season, often getting "cement feet" as the pocket collapsed. Miller's ability to exploit such opportunities will not only open potential big plays for the offense, it is also a good indicator of Miller's increased comfort level as a quarterback. If Miller is able to quickly get out of the game and bring  his improved play to live action, the Ohio State offense will be very difficult to stop. 

How "Different" will the Ohio State offense Look?

The Buckeye offense is more likely to be similar then different. That is because the core tenets of Urban Meyer's offense do not change. As Herman recently stated, it is a system predicated upon the inside zone and power run plays, with the quarterback read added to change the defense's arithmetic. The Buckeyes were able to ride these concepts to an undefeated season in 2012. Ohio State's offensive line was the Buckeyes' strength, and with four of the five starters returning Meyer's base concepts will again be the linchpin of the Buckeyes' success.

Changes will likely be evident at the margins, however. In particular, look for Ohio State to increase their use of plays that exploit a defense that is overly focused upon the Buckeye run game. As a general matter, Meyer and Herman certainly hope to more consistently rely upon the passing game. Meyer mentioned that Buffalo employs a 3-4 look where the defensive ends align on the inside leg of the offensive tackles. This is similar to a Bear look that makes it difficult to run inside zone read because the interior line cannot establish double teams. 

Buffalo also utilizes an inverted cover-2, meaning that the corners drop to cover the deep halves while the safeties play robber in the underneath curl to flat area. This often provides the defense a nine-man front. The upshot is that Miller and the Buckeye offense will have early opportunities to execute a more consistent down field passing game.

But also watch for the Buckeyes to increase their use of quick edge plays, such as wide receiver screens and jet sweeps away from run action. The Buckeye coaching staff hopes to better exploit opportunities opened by a defense's intense focus on the Ohio State run game and Braxton Miller. Players like Wilson and Hall can allow OSU to take full advantage of such opening this season.    


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Gulfstreambuckeye's picture

I hope they can start fast. Last year was hard to watch in the first quarter. I want to see Braxton run the show for the first half then turn it over to kenny g.

Sometimes you're flush and sometimes you're bust...but life goes on.

buckeyepastor's picture

Agree, Gulfstream.   We always win the opener, and no one is doubting the outcome of Saturday.   But playing and winnning all four quarters convincingly is what champions do.   Success from the first series to victory formation, if OSU has made the improvements we hope, should be what we see.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

Buckeye_Ryan's picture

Great breakdown as always, Ross!

Born a Buckeye, raised a Buckeye, will die a Buckeye.

saevel25's picture

Yep, i think last year this defense would give us some problems, taking away the middle run, only Braxton had the speed to get the edge. but with Hall back, add in Elliot, and Wilson, you got some guys who can run some sweeps, and take that corner. If the Linebackers get sealed off on the edge, watch out for some big run plays.

Maestro's picture

I was thinking about some of these things on my run this morning.  I just hope it's a laugher by halftime and Dunn and Ball get a bunch of carries.  I really don't want Miller to have to play much in the 2nd half, although for the awards ceremonies he might play 3 quarters to put up some nice numbers.  I just hope this game is a no doubter early.

vacuuming sucks

OurHonorDefend09's picture

Buffalo's linemen heavy front means lots of outside plays mentioned in the article. Don't be surprised to see a lot of the speedsters (Dontre, Hall, EzE) early and often. Regardless of Buffalos talent level, that defensive front is miserable to run inside on. Nice read, Ross. 

Don't give up... Don't ever give up.

vitaminB's picture

I want to see Braxton run the show for the whole game.  Heisman, baby.

OurHonorDefend09's picture

If this game is out of reach, I'd much rather save his body for post season hopes rather than a Heisman run. I can understand your excitement though. Watching Braxton playing on Easy mode is as exciting as it gets. 

Don't give up... Don't ever give up.

Bigbutterbuckeye's picture

I don't care where they line up, I think I am going to be excited about every snap knowing what the guys who are going to get the ball are capable of.

ESPN starting the SEC channel to concentrate on the SEC is like Baskin-Robbins starting a new store to concentrate on selling ice cream.

BCOM's picture

Another difference I see in this years offense would be Heuerman and Vannett getting more action (17 combined receptions last year). Not only will we use our speed on quick edge plays, but we'll utilize our tight ends over the middle, and Braxton's completion percentage will soar! 

45OH4IO's picture

I didn't know Buffalo ran an inverted Cover 2 until just now, but that means there will be a "bubble" in the deep seam area. Guess who's job it is to exploit that area? TE and the slot. So, these guys better light it up.
I also hope to see a grand unveiling of the bubble screen / WR screen to exploit the fact that the corners drop off to cover deep.
In summary, deep middle and the flat need to get hit hard on Saturday. I have a feeling the play-calling will be very vanilla like earlier last year to minimize game tape for future opponents. Maybe a special play or two, but otherwise basic.

Ross Fulton's picture

I think Heurman and Vannett are good players but I must admit I am a bit skeptical of them being difference-makers in the passing game. If I'm proven wrong I will be pleasantly surprised, but you could add that to the list of things to watch.

NEWBrutus's picture

Here are some of Braxton's stats last year, broken down by quarter.
1st qtr:  38-78, 446 yds, 1 TD, 0 Int 7 Sacks for -56 yds.  Pass eff rating: 100.98, yds per attempt (net of sacks and sack yards) 4.58
2nd qtr: 54-78, 762 yds.  7 TD's 2 Int. 8 Sacks for -54 yards.  Pass eff Rating: 175.78. Yds per attempt: 8.23
3rd Qtr: 33-63, 420 Yds.  7 TD's 3 int.  7 Sacks for -30 Yds.  Pass eff Rating: 109.33. Yds per attempt: 5.57
4th Qtr: 23-35, 411 Yds.  5 Td's, 1 Int.  5 Sacks for -29 yes.  Pass Eff Rating:  205.78,  Yds per attempt: 9.55
Overall:  148-254, 2039 Yds.  15 TD's 6 INT.  27 Sacks for -169 Yds..  Pass Eff Rating: 140.46.  Yds per Attempt 6.65
The numbers support Ross's comments about Miller's slow starts on offense, and seemed to extend to early in the second half as well. 
I am excited for Saturday! 
Good work Ross!

buckeyepastor's picture

Good call, Ross.   
But it wasn't just Miller's slow starts.  Not sure of the stats on it, but looking back it seems like a lot of our 1st quarter drives were also stymied by penalties.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

NEWBrutus's picture

A quick Data scan shows there were 11 penalties called during the first quarter when Ohio State was on offense.  PLEASE NOTE this quick scan does not indicate whether the penalty was assessed to Ohio STate or their opponent (deeper digging is required).  This is less than one first quarter penalty per game.

Paulillo's picture

Agreed that Hall is underestimated as a runner. I'm really hoping he has a big year as he's been through a lot.

OldColumbusTown's picture

I think Braxton and this offense's ability to utilize the bubble screen and other constraint passing plays will ultimately be the deciding factor on how "great" this offense can be in 2013.
Many times last year, teams sold out to stop Braxton's running game.  Wisconsin and Michigan come to mind most notably because they really stacked the box and just flooded the area with defenders on blitzes, stunts, etc. in order to contain Braxton.
If Braxton can make the read, get the ball out to the receivers quickly and with accuracy, the offense will be absolutely dynamite.  It will be like taking candy from a baby.  Give the ball to Hall, Wilson, Philly, and many of the other receivers/hybrids with a numbers advantage on the edge and watch out...

Ross Fulton's picture

Definitely agree. If you go back and read my offensive scheme breakdown at the end of last season, pretty much every defense used the same script. Play an aggressive cover 4 and use their safeties to essentially spy Braxton. Most teams would also cheat the slot defender in the box.

Take away a defense's ability to be this aggressive and it will be a difficult O to stop.

Mighty Mike's picture

Great work Ross.
I'm curious about the TEs. Meyers has had high praise for the TEs and I'm curious with all the other weapons out there how often both TEs line up at the same time. 

BeijingBucks's picture

Thanks to Ross a bunch of elevenwarriors armchair coaches are gonna be analyzing every play like never before.  We might even venture some intelligent analysis and dialogue other than our usual diatribes 'need to throw the ball', 'need to tackle!', 'need to stop throwing the ball!', ad nauseum.  
Now it's going to be a discussion more akin to, 'with the inverted cover 2 and the pulled safeties on D, Dontre should sit in the slot and Ball as the ZigBack on the Red5 Jet sweep left,  is it more advantageous to hit Heuerman over the middle, have Dontre do a reverse Harrier Jet Kitchen Counter, Braxton to pull it back and juke every defender one by one or should he launch a satellite for Devin to settle under and run backwards into the end zone Usain Bolt style?' -- except using actual play calls, positions that now, thanks to Ross we actually know what the XBOX is being talked about.

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Buckeye_Ryan's picture


Born a Buckeye, raised a Buckeye, will die a Buckeye.

Jones's picture

With this alignment on the DL, coupled with different personnel, one wonders if this will be the time OSU begins to lean more heavily on the Outside Zone (aka Stretch). But, how would Inverted Veer be affected by this alignment?
Inverted Cover 2 means we'll likely see lots of "Smash" right? In Inverted Cover 2, the OLB would theoretically have the flat, meaning he's got a lot of ground to cover to get to that hitch.
This also means 4 Verts is absolutely going to be in play.
I'd also expect the TEs to have an effect on this defense, not down the seam necessarily, but as the option in the flats in the "snag" concept.

Ross Fulton's picture

Inverted veer works very well against Bear. Everyone blocks down, creates a natural gap at C gap.


Completely agree on smash and 4 verts as well. 


Great post!


pjtobin's picture

It's going to be fun watching Wilson do his thing this year. Super excited. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad.