In what was effectively a glorified scrimmage, the Ohio State offense took advantage for positive plays early and often. The Buckeyes used the first quarter to work on its passing game before turning to the ground to finish off the victory.
The primary challenge for the Buckeyes now is for Braxton Miller to quickly shake off the rust. Assuming Miller can play it will be the first game this season that Ohio State's offense has its full complement of personnel.
That personnel will face a new look Wisconsin defense. Basing from a 3-4 look, the Badgers are far more likely to blitz and play aggressive fronts then in previous years.
Below I address how Ohio State approached playing the Rattlers and the Buckeye passing game. I will then discuss how the Buckeyes may respond to Wisconsin's defense.
We Talkin' About Practice
Ohio State first quarter game plan was reminiscent of a Spring Game. The Buckeyes self consciously threw the football on nearly every down. The plan was perhaps designed with the thought that Miller would play the first quarter, allowing him to sit in the pocket and get game reps. Miller could not go, however, and Kenny Guiton was the beneficiary, more often then not making good decisions and putting a nice touch on the football.
Ohio State largely worked on two elements of their passing game. The first was play-action passing. The Buckeyes have shown an increasingly diversified waggle and half-boot game with Guiton at quarterback. Below the Buckeyes fake inside zone from the pistol and throw a triangle stretch snag route for the touchdown.
Ohio State has been very efficient off play action, which threatens the defense with the Buckeyes inside run game. The Buckeyes should continue using a heavy dose of play action when Miller returns.
Ohio State also worked its shallow crossing game against the Rattlers oft-used man coverage. In so doing, the Buckeyes combined coverage beaters. The coaching staff combines a shallow cross or double slant from one side with a vertical route by the opposite wide receiver such as a comeback route. Below the Buckeyes used a switch route in combination with the shallow cross.
Not your daddy's Wisky
Under new Head Coach Gary Andersen the Wisconsin offense looks similar to years' past. The same can not been said about the Badger defense. New defensive coordinator Dave Aranda Wisconsin has installed a 3-4 front. From the 3-4 the Badgers generally blitz at least one linebacker and play aggressive fronts. The Badgers often stay with that look even against spread personnel.
The Wisconsin defense against Arizona State provides an apt example. Like Ohio State, the Sun Devils base from 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB). Wisconsin often remained in its 3-4 against this grouping, with the weak side linebacker splitting the difference between the tackle and slot receiver.
The Badgers often blitzed the front inside linebacker on run downs. Behind that front Wisconsin generally played cover 4 or cover 1 in the secondary. To go nickel, the Badgers simply insert a defensive back for the weakside linebacker and often play the same fronts.
Aranda likes employing a UFO front on third down in an attempt to disguise blitz packagse. Arizona State gained several first downs running inverted veer on third and long against this look. The Badgers also like using Chris Borland as an edge rusher in passing situations.
Last season the Badgers had success against Ohio State using an aggressive cover 4 look. The safeties would quickly come up on run action, with the goal of containing and preventing Miller from getting to the edge. Look for Wisconsin to take the same approach this season in an attempt to force Ohio State to beat them with players other than Miller.
The Buckeye offense is more diversified this season, however, providing them options against such an approach. One primary method is to use inverted veer to attack the edge . The Buckeyes did not have a non-Miller edge threat last season. They were nonetheless able to get past Wisconsin by giving to Carlos Hyde on the play to win in overtime. This year the Buckeyes can use Jordan Hall and Dontre Wilson and put the cover 4 safety in a bind. The Buckeyes must also continue to utilize wide receiver screens if the Badgers leave slot receivers uncovered.
More generally the Buckeyes must successfully throw the football. The Buckeyes are an improved passing attack from last year's poor showing in Madison. Last season Wisconsin tried to force Miller to remain in the pocket. The Buckeyes must continue to use play action and movement passing to change the launch angle and draw Wisconsin's safeties up to beat them over the top. Against cover 1, Buckeye outside receivers Corey Brown and Devin Smith must win their matchups. Look for the Buckeyes to utilize many of the same man beater routes in an attempt to force the Badgers out of their run focus.
The Buckeye goal is likely to use up-tempo early to attempt to establish a lead and take Wisconsin out of their comfort zone. The biggest question remains Miller's health. As good as Guiton has played, Miller brings added dimensions to Ohio State's offense. The biggest piece remains Miller's ability to create explosive run plays. But Miller's arm strengths also permits Ohio State to throw 15-20 yard routes. Assuming Miller is healthy, Ohio State should be able to run its full spread read and QB designed run game for the first time this season.