The Ohio State offense, again without 2012 stalwarts Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde, generated over 600 yards of offense and 52 points against Cal by focusing on what the players who were available do well. Key contributors to this output included stellar offensive line play, Kenny Guiton's option game reads and deep passing and Jordan Hall's vision and shiftiness. But the Ohio State offense received stellar contributions across the board
The Buckeyes' offensive performance against Cal demonstrates that the 2013 Buckeyes are a far deeper and varied offense than in Urban Meyer's initial season. Ohio State has more ways to attack a defense seeking to take away particular plays. It now falls upon Meyer and Tom Herman to determine how to reintroduce Miller and Hyde into the mix.
Below I address how the Buckeyes were able to exploit Cal on the edge and over the top, how the Ohio State coaching staff designed the game plan to play to Guiton's strengths, and how Ohio State may distribute touches going forward.
From the Inside Out
The Cal defense's primary concern was attempting to take away Ohio State's base inside zone and inverted veer plays. Cal often pinched their defensive tackles. They nearly always ran a scrape exchange on the front side to account for inverted veer. For reasons discussed below, the scrape exchange was largely unsuccessful.
To play the run Cal generally sought to bring an extra defender into the box, often playing man coverage behind.
Blowin' The Top
Ohio State was able to defeat this strategy and grab an early lead by attacking Cal over the top. The Buckeyes used misdirection plays – one in the form of a fake bubble screen, the other play action off inside zone – to create two quick strikes to Devin Smith.
From there, Ohio State settled in and ran the football. The Buckeyes did so with their two base run plays. First, Ohio State exploited the edge with inverted veer. The Buckeyes handled Cal's scrape exchange with Jeff Heuerman. The Ohio State coaching staff went four wide, putting the talented blocker Heuerman in the slot where he sealed the scraping linebacker. The outside receiver blocked back on the inside safety, creating easy yards for Hall and Dontre Wilson.
Second, the Buckeyes relied upon inside zone – despite Cal's focus upon the play. Ohio State did so in two ways. Ohio State ran inside zone from the pistol, which is a new element this season. Hall would take the handoff on the backside and quickly slice to the front side blocking. Alternatively, Hall took the handoff from the halfback position and cut back right behind the crashing backside end, effectively running the path the quarterback would take.
As the Old Cliche Goes
Ohio State's success against Cal was first and foremost generated by the Buckeyes' offensive line. Cal sought to throw a variety of stunts and third down blitzes. The Buckeye offensive line handled them all, providing ample time for Guiton in addition to controlling the line of scrimmage.
The Buckeyes' left side of Jack Mewhort and Andrew Norwell is nearly always dominant and who Ohio State relies upon when they need tough yards. But it is the remaining offensive line gelling that led to such a consistent performance. Center Corey Linsley's return to full-time duty is perhaps the linchpin. Linsley's impact goes beyond his individual play, as he provides line calls and blocks the A gap for inside zone.
Perhaps no first year starter has improved from Ohio State's first game more than Right Tackle Taylor Decker. Decker and Marcus Hall controlled the line's right side, with Decker repeatedly sealing for the Buckeyes' edge runs.
Ohio State's front five (in addition to tight ends Heuerman and Nick Vannett) again demonstrated why they are the backbone of the Ohio State offense.
Knowing What Works
From there, Meyer and Herman built a game plan that utilized Guiton's strengths while not asking him to do things beyond his capacity. Guiton's gaudy passing numbers belie that the Buckeye coaching staff kept the passing game fairly basic. To oversimplify, Ohio State threw vertical routes, all-curl, wide receiver screens and bootlegs. Guiton was not often asked to make the variety of mid-range throws utilized with Miller, both because he does not have the arm strength for certain routes and does not seem as adapt at reading progressions. Guiton throws a very nice deep ball, however, where he can put air under the football. Bootleg action narrowed the field and utilized his play-faking skills. As an aside, the Buckeye offense functions well with play action off its effective run game and more play action movement passing would benefit Miller as well.
The Buckeyes threw the football well enough to primarily move the football in the area Guiton thrives – the read option game. Guiton does a fantastic job riding the football, inducing the defender to make a decision and then making the correct read.
Guiton does an excellent job distributing the football and putting runners in position to make plays.
Ohio State is in a better position to utilize Guiton's distribution skills with the increased presence of wide receivers and tailbacks who can make plays once they have the football in their hands. Ohio State has four players they currently rely upon. In the receiving corps, Corey Brown and Devin Smith remain the Buckeyes' top two receivers. Both are primarily relied upon for their top trait – Brown in the 10-15 yard range and Smith over the top – but both have become more versatile, evidenced by Brown’s first touchdown catch against Cal.
In the backfield the Buckeyes rely upon Hall and Wilson. Hall perhaps lacks top end speed. But he combines quickness with great vision. He is thus able to make one cut and hit the correct hole on quick hitting inside zone, get to the second level, make a guy miss and fall forward. This led to a high running back success ratio.
Wilson is quickly living up to his pre-season hype. He offers the Buckeyes another dimension attacking the edge. It is still somewhat obvious that when Wilson is in the game he is going to get the football. The hope is that eventually OSU's uses him on more constraint plays, such as jet sweep away from inside zone action. The Buckeye offense will benefit if Wilson can become more a factor form the slot. Nonetheless he is clearly a player that the Buckeyes must get the football.
Meyer and staff now have the luxury of working their two primary play makers from 2012, Braxton Miller (assuming he is healthy) and Carlos Hyde back into the fold.
Miller has yet to play at full speed this year. He was consciously held back against Buffalo and have since been out with an MCL sprain. Guiton's ability to step in as a back-up has been exemplary, and his ability to run read option exceeds Miller's. As Meyer indicated, Guiton has earned playing time, perhaps on particular series to utilize option plays. But the Buckeye offense needs Miller to reach its potential. This is not only because of the threat Miller provides as a runner, but also his ability to operate Ohio State's entire passing game.
Mixing Hall and Hyde is a more difficult question. Hall can play some in the slot but he is too good to not play tailback. Why would you move someone who just rushed for nearly 170 yards to a position he has never played before, in the process displacing wide receivers who are playing well?
The more likely solution is what the Buckeyes did last year against Michigan State in the brief half that Hall and Hyde were both available. Look for the two to split series, with Wilson continuing to play situationally to attack the edge.