Ohio State's performance against San Diego State was largely about Kenny Guiton, who capably filled in for Braxton Miller to lead the Buckeye offense to 42 points. The Buckeyes again jumped out to a large halftime lead and then self-consciously applied the brakes to coast to an easy victory. In so doing, the offense offense exhibited the increasingly diversified methods by which it can attack defenses, and put forth a cleaner effort than their opening win against Buffalo.
The offense continues to miss some of its explosiveness, however, without a fully utilized Miller. He remains Ohio State's biggest threat to generate explosive plays and score points in bunches.
Below I address how Ohio State attacked the Aztecs' blitz-happy scheme, what Guiton brings to the table, the Buckeyes' play makers, and how Miller's ability to utilize his arms and his legs are essential for the Buckeyes' offense maximizing its potential.
"They Were Blitzing Coming off The Bus"
The above Urban Meyer statement accurately captured the San Diego State defensive strategy. The Aztecs employ a 3-3-5 scheme.
San Diego State's purpose in utilizing this formation is to blitz. The Aztecs generally brought at least five rushers on any given play. The down linemen slant or stunt, with pressure brought from a variety of angles by the three linebackers and two hybrid defensive backs. San Diego State principally played man coverage behind, either of the cover 1 robber or cover 0 variety.
Attacking the Edge
Whereas against Buffalo the Buckeyes appeared more concerned with repping their offense than attacking the defensive scheme, the Buckeyes' offense successfully responded to the Aztec plan. Meyer and Tom Herman did so by reverting to one of their offense's primary tenets. Meyer's offense is predicated upon arithmetic. The Buckeyes want to run against two deep safeties until they force a defense to commit an additional defender against the run. The passing game is designed to attack one-high safety schemes. If a defense gets even more aggressive and plays with no safety support, Meyer and Herman's primary answer is one of two things – beat man coverage over the top or attack the edge with speed option.
The Buckeyes employed both strategies Saturday. In the run game, Ohio State attacked the edge with speed option as well as inverted veer. The Buckeyes generally ran speed option from 10 personnel (4 WR, 0 TE, 1 RB). San Diego State's man defenders had to cover those receivers, creating easy blocks. The quarterback then attacked the front side linebacker, forcing him to commit.
The Buckeye coaching staff also took advantage of San Diego State's man coverage to obtain an easy touchdown. The Buckeyes unveiled a quad formation, meaning four wide receivers to one side. San Diego State put four defenders on those receivers, leaving a single middle of the field defender. One Jack Mewhort pancake later, Guiton was trotting into the endzone.
In the pass game, the Buckeyes implemented one of two methods. Up front, the Buckeyes used full slide six and seven man pass protections schemes, often bringing the tight end back across the formation to secure the backside. Ohio State coupled the protection scheme with 3-vertical routes, allowing OSU's receivers to beat their man defender.
Alternatively, the Buckeyes utilized quick coverage man-beaters. For instance, Ohio State ran multiple double slant routes as well as snag. Below was a nice throw in rhythm by Miller, again demonstrating improved mechanics.
Shutting it Down
Following this formula, the Buckeye offense was largely able to impose its will until it slowed down in the second half. Why the reduced effectiveness? Much was self-imposed. As against Buffalo, Meyer and Herman slowed down the tempo, using most of the play clock to shorten the game.
Furthermore, the Buckeyes' fourth quarter play calling was clearly used to work on several concepts and put key backups in certain situations. For instance, on one drive the Buckeyes ran inverted veer with Dontre Wilson perhaps six times, including on 4th and 2. If the Buckeyes were primarily concerned with gaining the first down it would have likely called a different play. Ohio State also ran numerous wide receiver screens, which is a play the Buckeyes are not currently proficient with and which Meyer has made clear he wants to improve.
The final impediment to late game scoring is young running backs and wide receivers missing blocks, resulting in negative plays. Learning to block for players that are used to getting the ball is often a slow process. By contrast Hall is a great pass protector. If Meyer wanted to continue scoring he could keep playing Hall and Rod Smith, but he wanted to provide his young running backs opportunities. In sum, Meyer does not seem to be amongst those worried about the Buckeyes getting style points and running up the score.
Calling the Bullpen
Putting the late game issues aside, the Buckeyes' offensive success can be greatly attributed to Guiton. Meyer describes Guiton well. He is not particularly fast and does not have a strong arm. But he makes great decisions, particularly in the read game. Guiton is patient in his reads, forcing the unblocked defender to declare his intentions, and then makes the correct decision to give or keep.
Having Guiton as a backup is a fantastic luxury. The down field pass offense is somewhat limited by Guiton's arm strength, which would eventually cause problems if Guiton had to start multiple games. But Guiton can come in, execute the offense, make certain that the Buckeyes are in the right play and correctly distribute the football.
DIVERSE IS THE WORD
The Buckeyes' ability to attack the edge demonstrates the greater diversity of offensive weapons available in 2013. Miller was often the only Buckeye able to do so in 2012. That is not the case this season. Philly Brown and Devin Smith are more well-rounded receivers and can now threaten a defense across the field. Jordan Hall and Dontre Wilson are edge threats in the run and screen game. Hall and Rod Smith have also demonstrated their ability to run inside.
The Missing Piece of the Puzzle
What the Buckeyes have not had this season is the one-two punch that was so critical to Ohio State's 2012 success; that being Carlos Hyde running inside with Miller threatening the defense outside behind the Buckeyes' experienced offensive line. Hyde's return will provide consistency and allow the Buckeyes to rely more upon inside zone and power, though Hall and Smith provide much of this capability.
But the Buckeye offense is missing the dimension brought by Miller's running ability. Miller was purposefully held back from running against Buffalo before missing almost the entire game Saturday.
Miller's running makes the Buckeyes' offense extremely difficult to defend, particularly given the additional weapons. He is Ohio State's biggest threat and the one most likely to create explosive plays. The Buckeyes have not scored as many points as some would like because they are missing the big play ability brought by Miller. The Buckeyes have to had to instead string together drives to move the football. That renders the offense more susceptible to stalling out due to mistakes. Ohio State therefore needs Miller to be Miller to have a truly special offense.