Ohio State v. Buffalo: Offensive Breakdown

By Ross Fulton on September 3, 2013 at 12:45p

Turnovers, injuries, and negative plays marred what was otherwise a solid statistical performance by the Ohio State offense.

The Buckeyes came out fast, but consciously made the decision to slow down and close the playbook in the second half following several unforced errors. Buffalo's quirky scheme and first-round draft candidate Khalil Mack also forced the Buckeyes into negative plays, taking the Buckeye offense off-schedule in forcing second and third and longs.

The Buckeye offense can improve their yards per points simply by eliminating mistakes. Getting starters back like Corey Linsley and using Braxton Miller running when the defense presents opportunities will also take the offense to the next level.

Playing Left Handed

Buffalo's defensive scheme forced Ohio State to alter certain blocking assignments. The Bulls played with both defensive ends inside the offensive tackles and their safeties close to the line of scrimmage. Buffalo's secondary employed inverted cover 2, which effectively became a man coverage scheme against OSU's multiple receivers, or cover 2 man under.


The Bulls' scheme was more effective than it otherwise would have been because Buffalo's coverage did not account for Miller running, but the Buckeyes largely chose to save Miller as a runner until absolutely necessary.

Ohio State adjusted by reading the 4i technique defensive ends. For instance, the Buckeyes effectively ran a midline zone read, rather than reading the outside linebacker.

Ohio State also had success using one-back power where they blocked down on the defensive end and pulled around for the play side linebacker.

Playing With Fire

Buffalo's scheme was an aggressive defense that provided ample opportunities down field but allowed the Bulls to create negative plays. Ohio State was able to have early success throwing the football, giving Braxton Miller the opportunity to showcase improved mechanics. 

Miller's footwork and arm angle are noticeably improved. His elbow in his throwing motion is higher. This allows him to deliver a tighter spiral with better timing. Miller must continue to work on throwing in rhythm. He was accurate in doing so, however. For instance, he put this throw in a perfect spot where only his receiver could catch it.

Shooting Themselves in the Foot

The Buckeyes' early success was quickly tempered by Ohio State's own mistakes. Three straight drives in the second quarter where the Buckeyes turned it over on downs (a would have been easy conversion that was stopped because Marcus Hall took a poor angle against a shooting linebacker), a fumble (that was converted into a touchdown) and pick-6 turned a would-be blowout into a under whelming endeavor. Buffalo was able to produce two of its three touchdowns from those mistakes. Following the turnovers, the Buckeye coaching staff self-consciously buttoned-up the playbook. Ohio State only had four drives in the second half, but the Buckeyes strung together a fourteen play drive for a touchdown and a ten play drive for a field goal, stretching seven and five minutes, respectively. 

The Buckeye offense's effectiveness was hamstrung, however, by negative plays.. The primary generator of negative plays was Buffalo's Mack. Mack had one of the more disruptive games I have seen against an Ohio State offense. Many have singled out right tackle Taylor Decker for scorn regarding his ineffectiveness with Mack. But Decker could not have drawn a tougher assignment in his first start and the right tackle was not alone. Mack also bested Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, and Jeff Heueman, among others. Mack used his combination of strength and quickness to drive back would-be blockers and stop multiple plays in the backfield. Mack's disruptiveness impacted Miller as a passer as the game progressed. Miller became more jumpy in the pocket and did not throw in rhythm. It is not too much to state that Mack single-handedly made the game closer than it otherwise would have been.

The Buckeye offensive line was also hampered by Corey Linsley's limited availability. The center is crucial to an offensive line's cohesion, and Linsley's blocking was also missed on the Buckeye's inside zone run plays.

The Buckeyes' conservative second half performance was also by design. Offensive Tom Herman conceded after the game that he became too conservative, largely eschewing much of the passing game. Early on, the Buckeyes did a good moving the pocket with play action.


This changed the blocking and launch angles on Mack, keeping Mack off-balance. For instance, OSU had success with their tight end blocking across the formation, allowing the offensive line to down block on the interior defensive line. As the game progressed, however, the Buckeyes settled for drop back pass attempts. In hindsight, the Buckeyes likely sought to keep the playbook vanilla.

Paralysis by analysis

The Buckeyes' negative plays were contributed to by Miller's poor run game reads. Miller still seems to be pre-determining his reads. For most of the contest Miller sought to give. For instance on Wilson's fumble, Miller gave on inverted veer even though the correct read was to keep, sending Wilson into a waiting defender.

Even when Miller did keep on several inverted veer plays he largely gave himself up when their was ample open ground outside. In the fourth quarter Miller went the opposite direction, keeping when he should give. Miller's decision-making was reminiscent of last season, giving when he thought his running unnecessary and then seeking to keep when he thought he needed to carry the offense, rather then reading the play. It is unclear whether the coaching staff directs Miller to not run in such games, or whether it is Miller's decision. In any event, the problem with deciding to not run is that the point of read plays is to constrain a defense that does not account for the quarterback. 

The same principle applies in the pass game. Buffalo's man coverage effectively dared Miller to run. Buffalo's strategy was paradoxically a success, however, because Miller did not run. That was until the second half, at least, when Miller took advantage of such opportunities, sustaining drives.

The biggest impediment to Ohio State's offense taking the next step is Miller intuitively determining when to run based upon what the defense provides. He must feel comfortable running in the run or pass game when the opportunity is there, while also not forcing the issue. The Buckeye run and pass game will have far more positive plays if he can do so. But like last season, Miller's running ability gives the Ohio State offense another gear. When in doubt, the Buckeyes can rely upon Miller to make a play. 

What is Old is New

Much of the Buckeyes' pre-season focus was centered upon the potential contributions of newcomers. The Buckeyes' opening stanza against Buffalo, however, demonstrated that the Buckeyes' key contributors are upper classmen returnees. Meyer sung Jordan Hall's praises at tailback in recent weeks, and the fifth year senior did not disappoint. Hall received the vast majority of snaps and performed well. The wide receiver rotation was similarly limited, with Corey Brown and Chris Fields moving between the inside and outside receiver positions with Devin Smith and Evan Spencer manning the outside. The one exception was Dontre Wilson, who entered almost exclusively to be featured on jet sweeps and other outside edge plays. Every time Wilson was in the game the Buckeyes sought to get him the football. This tendency may have helped Mack make his interception on the jailbreak screen. But the Buckeye coaching was likely purposefully trying to create tendencies in this game that they could break later in the season.

As the Buckeyes move forward, expect a similar pattern to continue. With Rod Smith and (eventually) Carlos Hyde's return, Smith and then Hyde will likely split time with Hall in the backfield. Hall will also be able to man the H slot receiver. Wilson will continue to be used situationally to give the Buckeyes a player to attack the edge.

The Ohio State offense allowed Buffalo to hang around with turnovers. Those mistakes are easily correctable and the Buckeye offense will become more explosive. Ohio State will become very difficult to stop, however, if Miller is able to harness his running ability to take what the defense is giving without over analyzing when he should and should not run.


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Otown Buckeye's picture

On a positive note, the 49 yard run by Jordan is about 15 yards longer than any running back last year.  

"because we couldn't go for three"

jvd253's picture

Thanks, Ross.   Your time doing the writeup is billable as pro bono, right?  

"A guy from Ohio can make it in life if he works hard enough." - Wayne Woodrow Hayes


Linsley's recovery is going to be crucial then. Who replaced him when he was not in there? Boren? How did he grade out? Everyone was making a big deal out of Decker but whomever replaces Linsley will HAVE to play better if we're going to run the ball inside.
I know Mack is a beast but what are we going to do if we run into Clowney? I hope this becomes a learning experience because our play vs. Mack shows that just 1 really good defender can completely alter our offense. Not a pleasant thought.

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

Ross Fulton's picture

I also should say that the coaches did not make any effort to gear the blocking schemes to help on Mack. They didn't chip him, they didn't use misdirection against him, etc.

In some ways they were using the game as a glorified scrimmage.

d5k's picture

Probably didn't help that he lined up in different areas and they played the Bear front.  Isn't the normal theory just to read a guy like Mack if he's lined up at 7/9 technique?

buckeyepastor's picture

Sort of agree with you about how little there seemed to be in the way of adjustments, how much we seemed to concede.    
There was a lot of talk last week about the number of total scholarship players we had available because of suspensions and injuries.   Couple that with the heat on Saturday, and it seemed like the coaches were much more concerned about getting and staying healthy than they were about making a statement by margin of victory.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

d5k's picture

It possibly didn't help that as Miller discovered all the running lanes open to him with constant man coverage he started cramping like crazy.
There was lots of hype about Heuerman and Vannett was well as utilizing Wilson/Hall in the slot in the offseason but I thought it was interesting how much the ball was spread around to different players.  Last year it seemed Miller would stare down Corey Brown until he was open.  It definitely seemed like the offense was buttoned up in the second half.  They decided to just feed Hall and get out with a comfortable but not lopsided win.

OurHonorDefend09's picture

Love, love, love X & O's articles. I believe this is by far the best way to prove to Buckeye Nation that the sky isn't falling. The only thing that concerns me is Miller's ability to improve on his decision making on the zone read. I do hope that they are more designed plays rather than a true "read" for Miller, considering he has been making the incorrect choice.
Look forward to reading next week's breakdown as well. Thanks, Ross.

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

Ross Fulton's picture

You are right. It could very well be the case that some plays are pre-determined, rather than true reads.


The argument against, however, is that when Guiton came in he made the correct read on inside zone and kept for a 9 yard gain.

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Guess that's why they call him "coach' Guiton.....

OurHonorDefend09's picture

That baffles me that Braxton is still struggling with that, if that is so the case. Isn't his read similar to The Option, where he is reading his pitch key (usually the DE or OLB, depending on how the play is blocked/which hole it's run through)?

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

chitown buckeye's picture

I sometimes wonder if it is Miller being somewhat a humble guy. He seems to want to get others involved or touches and he makes the wrong read to give the guys the ball. Not sure if that makes sense or not? On the Wilson play it seemed as if he gave him the ball just to give him the ball. I started noticing it last year towards the end of the season with Hyde. He always seemed to just give him the ball as if he would be looked at as selfish if he took the ball. Even though the proper read was for Braxton to take the ball.

"I'm having a heart attack!"

Earle's picture

The Buckeyes' negative plays were contributed to by Miller's poor run game reads. Miller still seems to be pre-determining his reads. For most of the contest Miller sought to give

I thought that seemed to be the case.  Do you think any of it was gameplanned or coached?  In other words, is it possible Braxton was instructed to force the handoff in order to limit his running opportunities since we had an advantage up front (apart from Mack)?

Snarkies gonna snark. 

d5k's picture

Seems like if that is the case they would just run more power and inside/outside zone without reads.  I think we could've done that along with play action and sprint outs and probably scored more points.

Earle's picture

That's kind of my point.  A no-read looks a lot like a missed read.  Either way it leads to the conclusion that the coaching staff felt like they could win with plain vanilla.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

d5k's picture

Not in the sense that you don't leave a guy unblocked in a "no-read" run play.
Edit: Along with Mack owning Heuerman, Wilson basically had to try to make 2 guys miss in the backfield due to the missed read, if it was a true outside zone play without a read then they would block that guy rather than double team.

Ross Fulton's picture

They will call what looks like a read play, but there isn't a read. They still won't block the backside end, on the theory that the defense will not know there isn't a read.


We obviously can't know for sure. But there were enough plays where Braxton kept that it is hard to say they weren't calling reads. They may very well tell him if there is any question in his mind he should give.


I just think having games where he "doesn't run" can lead to bad decision-making habits.

d5k's picture

Meyer hinted in his press conference before Buffalo that we might not be a true read team "without giving too much away".  I took that to mean more jet sweeps, bubbles and traditional drop back passing as opposed to leaving a dude unblocked and pre-determining the read.  But I guess you can get away with that against Buffalo although I don't really like it for the reason you stated.

yrro's picture

Yeah, I was getting the impression from some of Meyer's recent talk that Miller didn't actually read much of anything last year, and they just hoped the DE guessed wrong or that they could make a play anyway.

d5k's picture

I think he meant because it was just vanilla inside zone-read for the most part with QB counters, power, and not a lot of the variations on the read theme.  Not that he was coaching Braxton to make the wrong read on read plays.  
I think a 'read' team would have a read on almost every play and be reading different defenders and attack the edges more.

Earle's picture

Probably should have said "predetermined read" rather than "no read", although that is an oxymoron.  Also, just noticed that the question was already asked and answered above.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

Northbrook's picture

I thought that after Braxton started cramping the zone reads were really not options, the RB was going to get the ball. I would have taken Braxton out at that point.

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Agree that if Braxton can be more effective at selecting the best read option, it will allow for much more explosiveness. You have to give the Buffalo coaching staff credit, they rolled the dice that Herman wouldn't run Braxton as much as they would likely try to establish his passing game, especially with Hyde/Smith out, and they kind of "won" in that sense.
By the time Wisky rolls around, their heads will be spinning trying to figure out what we will likely do offensively.......    

Gametime's picture

Am I alone in thinking that we should take more shots down the field? It seems like every game Devin Smith is able to be somebody deep for a TD and it seems like we don't throw the ball vertically enough, but when we do, it seems like Smith scoring a TD, or the TEs are always gashing defenses in the seams.
I mean, I'm all for Urban's offense working how he expects it to. Playmakers doing their thing in space, but we need to put the opposing D on their heels like the whole Offense is designed to do: The power run should be a threat, which makes misdirection a threat, which makes play action deep balls a threat, which makes underneath routes in space a threat, & Braxton as an X factor.
I honestly don't believe Buffalos DBs were good enough that we couldn't run our base passing attack & have Braxton throw for 300+ yards.
I'm kinda miffed that Tom Herman took his foot off the gas on purpose. These first few games are the games we're supposed let it rip so players can have a look against an opposing squad & play in rhythm. 
I'm not one to buy the "well we don't want to show our hand" excuse. I'm pretty sure, Clemson, Oregon, or Bama don't "hide" what they're going to do, it's a matter of coming out and executing - saying "We don't care if you know what we're doing, you've gotta stop it."
I'm sure they've got a great reason behind it, but after watching what Oregon, Michigan, & FSU did - our second half kinda had the familiar whiff of Tresselball & I think we've all had our fill of that.

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

d5k's picture

I think the turnovers/cramping played a big part in the adjustment.  I think the original plan was to do what you basically said.

kalabuckzoo's picture

Ross, great work.  I really appreciate these segments.  Would it be possible for you be able to break down the two-point conversions?  I've never really understood the rules as to who can line up where and why the defense doesn't put an extra defender near the ball.  On the first conversion there were three defenders lined up across the snap with 3 buckeyes.

Tbdbitlsnare's picture

Ross, (Great article as always)
Do you think Miller was pre-determining reads in the run game based on his physical health? For instance if the calf cramp issue was creeping into his head long before he went down in pain?

Ross Fulton's picture

Can't say for certain, obviously, but I suspect the game plan going in was for Miller to limit his running. But even if that is the case, on read plays, when the opportunity is there, he needs to take it, and then he can worry about getting down/out of bounds.

Boomcat's picture

Well then, this makes much, much more sense now. I sort of wondered why the coaches seemed fine with our performance in the second half, even though we didn't score hardly at all. Guess it was just a combination of a conservative approach, injuries and cramps, playing it like a scrimmage, etc. I think we will be just fine, and if Brax gets better on his reads then look out.

Shaun OSU's picture

Hey Ross,
When breaking down the 3rd Quarter offense for our charting project, I noticed on several occasions that OSU appeared to be running "package plays" that have been gaining massive popularity lately.
At least twice in the 3rd quarter, the offensive line ran Inside Zone but Braxton pulled and threw either a flash screen or quick hitch to Devin Smith. On one occurrence, the unblocked OLB was in the line of the pass, so Braxton had to pull it down and scramble.
It's hard to say for sure if Braxton was making the read before the play started or whether his choice was being determined for him in the play call, but we definitely seem to be incorporating these package plays into our base IZ game.
I was just curious if you had noticed any other instances throughout the rest of the game. It will be interesting to watch as the season progresses.

Ross Fulton's picture

Good catches. The difficulty is also knowing whether the coaching staff is giving Miler the ability to hand-off or pass, or whether it is just play action. For instance, the flash screen play will always feature a fake zone read. But they may very well have been packaged plays. I will continue to watch for it. 

bigbill992001's picture

From all I was hearing/reading in the off-season, I thought that Brax had basically got his reads down pat.   Guess not.

d5k's picture

The fact that Meyer hasn't mentioned missed reads might lead me to believe that Ross is right about predetermined reads by the coaching staff.  Last year Meyer kept bringing up the missed reads.  I guess the other 10 players get a rep with the base plays even if Miller isn't practicing what read to make.

southernstatesbuckeye's picture

The "Plan" certainly was altered because of the fluid situation of the game.  I believe though, that the take-away here should be that this offense is plumb deadly.  It was a strange brew of injuries, suspensions, and young first timers all pureed up with the notion of getting Braxton some air time, eschewing the running, and testing various pieces of the machine that brought what we witnessed on Saturday. 
I don't believe they even wanted to avoid Mack.  They used Mack to expose to our guys that they are nowhere near perfection...Meyer's standard.  I am convinced they had little fear of losing this game, but wanted to attack the best Buffalo had, knowing Mack was the real deal.
Baptism by fire.  It makes sense to start putting real stress on your young guys early, because it's gonna come later anyway.
The Offense: The "vanilla constant" is the Ohio State run game.  It is a foundation of strength at OSU, and they simply rested it there because of all these variables...particularly once we fumbled away a ball for a touchdown, threw an interception for a touchdown, and lost the turnover battle.  The coaching staff shut down the chances for any further oddities to occur...by turning the faucet off on the offense.
Yes, in a tighter game, the offense would not have been dialed down, and we would have seen that same attitude of refusing to lose appear...scrapping and fighting through everything that is thrown at them...but it's weird that some are describing it as "Tresselian"...because that's exactly what it was. 
And a wise choice this time around.  There was a reason Mr. Tressel won the vast majority of those encounters.
As fans we want to see the absolute best at all times every play each moment of every game all year and every year! 
And so do I.  But these types of games are so wonderfully teachable.  Maybe it would be nice to crush every opponent on through the national championship.  That would certainly be a statement.  And that could still happen.
But another part of me loves to go back and rewatch the ups and downs of our last national championship season...joyfully knowing the outcome. 
When this season is over and the Crystal Princess is rescued, our heads will be held a bit higher, and SEC fans begin to grudgingly exclude Ohio State from the "BIG Ten is weak" argument...
...then this is one fan who will be most happily satisfied!

I like cookies.

Ross Fulton's picture

Great post regarding the strategy. I agree that they purposefully did not want to alter the plan to deal with Mack. They also wanted to put certain things on tape for future opponents.

4thandinches's picture

Beautifully put. 

I wasn't born a Buckeye but I became one as fast as I could. 

Maestro's picture

If Miller could figure out how to effectively read the unblocked DE the offense would be darn near unstoppable.

vacuuming sucks

Knarcisi's picture

Agreed.  He is still not making that read correctly on a consistent basis.

pjtobin's picture

I just today got to watch the game. I listened to it. But watching it I seen so much more. I loved the two point conversions. I thought that Wilson did very good. Especially his one return. And I too thought that Mack was reading the play knowing Wilson was getting the ball. I think we toyed around. And learned a bunch. This is going to be fun to watch develop. 

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