Ohio State v. Cal: Offensive Breakdown

By Ross Fulton on September 17, 2013 at 12:45p

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. 

Rolling Deep

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. 

Remember Us?

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. 


Comments Show All Comments

okaycody's picture

On that first gif of Dontre.. *hits 28 yard line* **AFTERBURNERS ENGAGED**

BTBuckeye's picture

I definitely felt that way watching it live...looked like he was going to run out of his shoes and his head was going to pop off.
D1 to the house!!!!!!!!!!!

Seattle Linga's picture

OKAYCODY - Re-watched the GIF of Dontre and you are spot on with the burst at the 28 yard line.
BTBUCKEYE - Nice nickname of D1 to the House! I'll have to remind Keels to use that - next time we chat!

boojtastic's picture

Hat tip to that Cal corner for taking a very good angle. I was surprised Wilson got caught.

Ahh Saturday's picture

And still just a half step away from housing it.  Was there really a thread on here questioning D1's speed?

zenshade's picture

I may have at one point said I wasn't sure either Wilson or Marshall had elite speed.  Not sure about Marshall, but absolutely dead wrong about Wilson, very happy to say. :)
Didn't realize it when it happened, but he really was close to housing it on the run in that gif.

thetothmancometh's picture

Offensive line domination.  It's a beautiful thing.

causeicouldntgo43's picture

The ghost of Bollman may finally be exorcized.

yrro's picture

Would be interesting to see Guiton/Hall and Miller/Hyde alternate series. Our offense is deadly in very different ways with both combinations.
I know they'll never do it, but I'd have fun watching if they did.

Seattle Linga's picture

Pump the brakes - Don't be so sure they won't try it. Ever thought Chip Kelly would run a spread using only 3 men on the offensive line with 7 wideouts. He did against RGIII.

yrro's picture

Chip Kelly is a madman. I don't expect anyone else in football to try what he does.

Seattle Linga's picture

True True YRRO

d5k's picture

There's so much orthodoxy around offense (particularly pre-2012 NFL) but then you see all sorts of variety on defense with no down linemen or defensive tackles dropping 15 yards into coverage.  Were there people that said "the zone blitz will never work in the NFL"?  Or is it just that more defensive innovation filters down while offensive innovation filters up?  Or am I just wrong?

Fugelere's picture

No you hit the nail on the head.  Offenses in the NFL tend to be more conservative as there is not a whole lot of incentive to being unorthodox.  As for the defense you can do a lot more with your player because many of them are freak athletes like D linemen that can cover and safeties that can get to the QB from 10-15 yards deep and corners that can play press coverage yet still not get beat deep very often.
EDIT: This was meant to be a response to D5K

BTBuckeye's picture

The more I watch the Meyer/Herman offense the more I appreciate the importance of WR's, TE's and OL blocking down field. That's what makes 8 yard runs 50 yard TD runs.

slippy's picture

I know Meyer called out Spencer for his great blocking the other day but take a look at that Wilson run.  He blows the corner off the line right off the play then takes the safety to the ground.  Wish the dude could get more catches for a reward for his blocking.

BTBuckeye's picture

Good observation. After he knocks the safety to the ground, he then turns and sprints down the field seeking more destruction.
That is A+ effort.

d5k's picture

This is awesome scheme as well as execution, as Spencer actually uses his hands as if he is running a slant route, the corner follows him taking himself out of the play and then he blocks the inside out pursuit (in this case the safety).  So he "blocks" 2 guys.  Only works to perfection if your RB is fast enough that the CB is truly out of the play and if the CB is playing (press) man coverage.

idontsmellgood's picture

Thanks Ross.  I always love your insight.  It's amazing that they can cut the playbook in half for Guiton and still embarrass a BCS level school in Cal.  Can't wait to see a healthy Braxton when he is allowed to play without one hand tied behind his back.  There is a reason that Meyers teams perform so much better the second year in his system vs the first.  When I think about it I get a big grin on my face and then I have to keep telling myself how hard it is to go undefeated once, let alone twice in a row.

"This kid scares me a little bit because I've seen him on film drop back and ...boom, boom, boom." Tuberville moved his head, mimicking Barrett checking through his progressions. "That scares me right now. Has all week."-Tuberville on JT Barrett

yrro's picture

Their defeated season last year was after cutting the playbook in half. Guiton is running more of it than Brax did all last year.

idontsmellgood's picture

A different part of the playbook it seems.  Maybe they actually did cut in half and Braxton got the left part and Smooth Jazz got the right.
One thing I am sure of is that the constraint plays are much more effective this year.

"This kid scares me a little bit because I've seen him on film drop back and ...boom, boom, boom." Tuberville moved his head, mimicking Barrett checking through his progressions. "That scares me right now. Has all week."-Tuberville on JT Barrett

sivaDavis's picture

Dontre is only going to get better. I'm very impressed with him so far. I think when he becomes a more established receiver, that's when things will get scary. We've seen his runs, but the screen game I believe is where he could do damage. Anyways, great post, thanks Ross.

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes


I had forgotten how silly Hall's side-step made that Cal defender look on that long run.
I think the absolute beauty of our offense right now is that we have an answer for everything. We need quick darting run plays we have Hall. We need a power run we now have Hyde back and if we need something around the edge we have Wilson. THEN we have two QBs. One is good at the option read. The other is a Heisman-caliber star that can do just about anything.
Hey, TTUN fans. Think your D can stop this? LMAO

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

BTBuckeye's picture

Another observation....on the Kenny G run check out the LT Mewhort sprint all the way to the endzone at the top of the screen.
That ain't walrus ball...dude is in shape!!

causeicouldntgo43's picture

The 2013 Buckeyes - Built like a dual processing computer to be fault tolerant. If one QB goes down, the other picks up the slack. If one RB can't play, the other can. Hell, even the DC's are fault tolerant, if Withers leaves, Fick is there. If only we had fault tolerant linebackers........

d5k's picture

Warinner is Co-OC as well.  And you are leaving out Bosa stepping in for Washington and our 2 solid TE's!

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Good point although Warinner's processor is not as fast as the Hermanator.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

And maybe to come ... massively parallel processing?  :P

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

d5k's picture

If the defense is the silver bullets is the offense the scarlet cloud?

causeicouldntgo43's picture

I understand Urban has been seen hanging out in the Ag lab where they are doing experiments with cloning. Now it suddenly all makes sense to me - he wants to create another version of himself that gets to do press conferences, interviews, meet with Gene Smith, you know, all those things the real Urban would rather not have to do so he can focus on the important stuff...... 

cal3713's picture

Scary offense, makes me excited for the rest of the year.  Really curious how we roll with all weapons intact.  Too bad for Smith & Dunn there aren't more footballs to go around.

d5k's picture

Ross, do you expect to see any 31 personnel or 3 RB's in general?  Obviously this would be Dontre, Hall and Hyde.  For it to be a complete package Wilson or Hall would have to be able to run slot receiver routes on play action.  But it would have a lot of potential in the run game with triple/quad(?) option or jet sweep motion on the weak side + triple option on the front side.  Could be a good goal line or short yardage set.
I'm thinking of all the times last year where they blitzed LB's and slot corners at the front side of the zone read where now we can have Wilson sprinting across the formation stretching the safeties and LBs to the other side of the field.

Earle's picture

Glad to have El Guapo back, but I don't see how you take the ball out of Hall's hands the way he has played.  I think Carlos will be used to spell Hall, and in short-yardage/goal line sets, and possibly at the end of games, but I think Hall will continue to get the bulk of the carries unless Guapo unlocks Beast Mode out of the gate.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

d5k's picture

Yea, Hyde's playing time will depend on how much they want to utilize multiple RB sets.  If they stick with 1 back sets then Hall will still be the primary guy for now with Hyde definitely spelling and short yardage.

Boomcat's picture

I agree that Hall looks fantastic, and you can't just pull him out of the tailback position, but we can't forget what Hyde did for us last year. If I were to guess, I would say Hall will get most of the carries this week, but after that I believe Hyde will be our guy with Hall playing hybrid and rolling in there at tailback for 10-15 carries a game.

BTBuckeye's picture

Personally, I would prefer Hyde more than Hall when it comes down to B10 conference games.
I like Hall, but the size/speed combo of Hyde is going to come in handy against WIS, PSU & MICH. Hall deserves carries though, don't get me wrong.

d5k's picture

I prefer both or all 3 if you are including Dontre Wilson.  Use all 3 for the things that they are good at.  The best thing about Hall is his versatility though.  If we are in a 1 back set with Hyde teams will expect inside-zone or power more often than not, with Wilson it is most likely inverted veer, a swing pass or some kind of screen look.  But with Hall as the only back they don't know what is coming and he is a jack of all trades.  He isn't as good at hitting the corner as Wilson or as good at turning a 3 yard inside run into a 7 yard inside run as Hyde but he can do everything pretty well (so the better defenses have to remain honest).

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Excellent point - diamond formation anyone?

45OH4IO's picture

The second to last gif (under "rolling deep") was my favorite play of the game and possibly of the season so far. I pride myself on armchair quarterbacking and being able to say "you should have done this" or "that" based on what I learn here on 11W and basic football knowledge.
However, that play I was yelling "PITCH PITCH PITCH!" and Kenny G did a masterful job forcing the LB to commit and then holding the ball. It was gutsy and totally surprised me. Literally got me on my feet!
Ross, can you point me to an article or video that displays a proper scrape exchange? I'm trying to figure out what that is supposed to look like to see how Cal failed / Buckeyes defeated it. Thanks in advance.

Firedup's picture

Linsley's block on the 4 and 1 (2nd GIF) is incredible!! HE knocks the safety so far he almost makes the tackle then continues to sprint downfield

"Making the Great State of Ohio Proud!" UFM

I_Run_The_Dave's picture

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.

I don't believe that this statement is true.  At first, yes, but after Wilson was tackled for loss for the first time early in the game, I noticed that we began using him as a decoy repeatedly and the Cal defense bit on it over and over.

hetuck's picture

Still look for Hall in the slot to shift into the backfield in a split back look. Hall is big enough to block. That allows the QB to call the sweep in either direction to take advantage of the defense. And it sets up a QB counter and counter pass. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

Bubba 81's picture

For those that know football... Carlos Hyde is a 1st to 2nd round NFL type talent. I love Jordan Hall and think he has done everything ask of him and more. I am concerned that because J. Hall has put up great numbers against bad teams that the perception is that Hyde is not as important to be the feature back. Against top tier teams that know how to play defense like Alabama, Stanford, etc... Jordan Hall will not be able to get it done they way Hyde can. I am sure Saban and other defensive minded coaches would love us to keep the ball out of Hyde hands. Remember how good Joe Bauserman looked against bad teams ( he was in the top 3 in the nation in passing efficiency after week 1 in 2011) 
The same can be said of Kenny G. He is a Cadillac that plays smooth jazz, and would be the starter if Braxton wasn't at OSU. Braxton is a Ferrari that has the gears to take this offense to the next level. I love having both the Cadilliac and Ferrari playing QB for the Bucks...but the Ferrari is the way to go.