Ohio State v. Wisconsin: Offensive Breakdown

By Ross Fulton on October 1, 2013 at 12:45p

The Ohio State offense – in its first game at full strength – exhibited its potential but stalled late in its victory over Wisconsin. The Badgers' focus was taking away the inside run and containing Braxton Miller. This provided Ohio State opportunities on the edges and over the top, allowing the Buckeyes to build a comfortable lead.

But the Buckeyes wasted several opportunities in the third quarter. Perhaps because of this Urban Meyer decided to Tresselize the game's final quarter, playing field position and betting that Wisconsin could not string together the drives necessary to overcome its deficit. This strategy was successful but made it difficult for the Ohio State offense, as they ran headfirst into the Badgers' run-focused strategy.

Below I examine the Wisconsin 3-4 defense, Ohio State's offensive strategy, Miller and Carlos Hyde's return, and the Buckeyes' fourth quarter.

Plus One

Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's philosophy is to apply one additional defender in the box to stop the run. The Badgers' maintained their 3-4 look against the Buckeyes' 11 personnel, generally seeking to cheat their outside linebackers off Ohio State's slot receivers. The Badgers also often employed a modified Bear look, putting their defensive ends in a 4i technique. 

In the secondary the Badgers operated from a cover 4 shell. At times they brought one safety in the box to play cover 3, particularly on third down. Harking back to last year, Wisconsin instructed their linebackers and safeties to play outside-in and contain Miller. 

Lessons Learned

The Buckeye coaching staff correctly predicted that Aranda would employ this philosophy and corrected some of last year's mistakes. Ohio State split Jeff Heuerman out, utilizing 4 wide receiver sets to pull both Badger linebackers outside the box. The Buckeyes utilized heavy doses of play-action to take advantage of Wisconsin's run-first focus. Below the Buckeyes run a switch route off inside zone. Wisconsin's cover 3 safety came flying up to contain Miller, creating an easy two vs. 1 on the cornerback.

The Buckeyes also ran play-action off inverted veer, making the run action convincing by using the same power blocking. Wisconsin's back seven focused upon containing Miller, opening chunk yardage plays.

This overlapped with another Buckeye game plan. For the first time this year Ohio State used Dontre Wilson as a decoy in an attempt stretch the defense horizontally. This pulled Wisconsin's safeties outside in contain, creating opportunities inside and in the passing game. Note below how Wisconsin's safety backside safety flies up following Wilson.

Changing It UP

The Buckeyes also altered Miller's read on inside zone. Rather than reading to give or keep, Miller read the backside linebacker to give or throw a bubble screen.

The Buckeyes likely did so in response to how tight Wisconsin played their defensive ends and wide they played their linebackers. It would be difficult for Miller to keep and get outside the linebacker's contain. As such, if the backside linebacker stayed inside H receiver Corey Brown Miller would throw the screen.

But if the defender stayed wide Miller gave to Hyde.

Ohio State also mixed and matched their passing game based upon down and distance. In first and second down the Buckeyes responded to Wisconsin's aggressive safety support by attacking vertically off play action.

On third down Wisconsin often played cover 3. The Buckeyes responded with mid range throws, such as cover 3 beater all-curl or shallow crossing routes such as mesh. Below Brown does a nice job sitting down on mesh between the underneath cover 3 defenders.

Slow Down

Ohio State's offense slowed down as the second half progressed, however. Part of this was self-imposed mistakes. Ohio State's first four drives of the second half all entered Wisconsin territory but only resulted in seven points. What happened on the other three drives? 

  • Devin Smith dropped a potential touchdown pass.
  • On 4th and 1 the Buckeyes ran a six man power play into an 8-man front. Chris Borland came through unblocked and stufed Hyde, resulting in a turnover on downs.
  • On 3d and 4 from the Wisconsin 28, Corey Linsley missed a block, causing Miller to scramble and slip. This forced the Buckeyes out of field goal range.

Perhaps as a result, Meyer decided to play conservatively (and make no mistake, game management strategies rest with Meyer). The problem was that the decision played right into Wisconsin's game plan. In fact, Wisconsin doubled down. The Badgers played seven defenders in the box, utilizing cover 0 on the outside and daring Ohio State to throw. 

In response, the Buckeyes attempted to use lead QB or speed option plays with Miller to minimize the numbers' differential. But Wisconsin still had an unblocked defender.

The Buckeyes faced the same problem on the aforementioned failed fourth down run. Wisconsin had eight defenders in the box against the Buckeyes' six-man blocking scheme for one back power.

The Buckeyes had no chance to block every defender. A tight zone dive play perhaps could have worked because of its quick hitting nature, but power takes longer to develop. Pulling guard Andrew Norwell had to choose between two unblocked linebackers in the hole, ending all chance of success. 

In short yardage situations it is pointless to have wide receivers out wide if the defense is not going to respect the threat. The Buckeyes need to not predictably rely upon power and must be willing to take another approach.

The Buckeyes offensive line largely blocked the Wisconsin front well (with perhaps the exception of Borland) unless and until the Badgers were able to overwhelm the point of attack with unblocked defenders. The result was that the Buckeyes had difficulty gaining first downs to run out the clock, allowing Wisconsin to remain in the football game until the end.

The Prodigal Sons Return

As noted, Wisconsin marked the first game in 2013 that Ohio State's two primary threats from last season, namely Miller and Hyde, played together. Miller may be missing some of his lateral explosiveness due to his injury but demonstrated has improvement as a passer. He showed off his arm strength with deep vertical throws that were on a line and on point, but he also did a nice job making the correct reads against Wisconsin's third down coverage. Miller also showed better decisiveness scrambling when opportunities were available, getting up field for positive yards.   

I have previously noted that Miller must improve on read plays, reading what the defense is providing rather than pre-determining whether to give or keep. That was largely a non-issue against Wisconsin, however, because Miller was generally asked to read on the inside zone or throw the bubble screen. He also generally made the correct reads on speed option. Miller's decision-making in the run and pass game was by no means perfect but both were an improvement, particularly given that this was Miller's first game in 2013 running the full scheme.

Hyde came out of the gate strong but tired late. This was noticeable in that he was too high in both his running and blocking. Meyer stated that they wanted to rely upon Hyde given Wisconsin playing their ends in 4i techniques, but acknowledged it was a mistake not playing Jordan Hall more. At this point it makes little sense to play Hall at H and take away reps from Brown and Wilson. But Hall is a versatile threat at tailback. What is more, a back such as Hyde should not play every series no matter who the second running back is, in the interest of keeping him fresh. Expect Hyde to get the majority of carries going forward but for Hall to play about every third series.

Falling Back on a Crutch

In hindsight, perhaps Meyer believes the offense became too conservative too early. But Meyer explained the rationale for his approach.

Here is what is going through our mind is that and Tom is obviously not the Lone Ranger there, but we felt for them to consistently throw the ball down the length of the field, we were playing plan to win which is field position football. Every time we had the ball was near the midfield area, and we have a very good punter, very good punt team. I trust our guys we are going to down that ball and we are going to make them drive it 90 yards.

They run the style of defense, now that I look back that they don't allow you to just run the clock. There's so many people packed in there that you can tell the way we scored our points were shots.

That's not the kind of you'll see all year they are not the kind of defense that's going to give methodical, running the ball, they force you to take the shots. That's why we try to run Braxton a couple times and spread them out and they work very, very well. That's what goes into the process. The end of the day, you're up three scorers against a team that supposedly can't throw the ball as well as they did and we made a decision that the way we lose that game is turn the ball over, and maybe style points, I heard something style points, we're not really concerned about that but we won the game.

Running the football into the teeth of Wisconsin's defense was perhaps a sub-optimal strategy but, as noted, the Buckeyes' output was as affected by their own mistakes as attempting to run out the clock. 

Ultimately, in a tight game Meyer went back to what he did last season, which is run Miller. That is where Meyer will generally goes when the chips are down and he needs a play.

Even with the slow finish, the Buckeye offense was largely successful against Wisconsin, averaging .46 points per play.

With an important road game at Northwestern against a 4-2-5 over nickel defense this Saturday, Miller and Hyde should improve with a game under their belts. Their absence likely set back the coaching staff determining how to mix and match their personnel into a cohesive whole. Look for the Buckeyes to fine tune how they use players such as Hall and Wilson going forward.  


Comments Show All Comments

idontsmellgood's picture

Thanks for the analysis, Ross!
In the 4thQ could we have beaten the coverage with some simple/safe screens?  If they are in Cover 0 wouldn't that give us a great chance to keep the chains moving and/or take one to the house?

"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

Ross Fulton's picture

Yes but the limitation to that was that they were covering up every WR to force the Buckeyes to throw downfield.

I would have liked to have seen some double slants and flood routes off bootleg. Keep it simple, but at least force Wisky to defend the pass.

Earle's picture

The near-refusal to throw the ball late makes me wonder if the coaching staff is not completely comfortable with Miller's decision-making in the passing game yet.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

rglic001's picture

Thank you Ross for providing a logical explanation to the play calling.  Honestly, it was getting a bit ludicrous hearing "Tresselball" being thrown around, and even some people calling for Herman's head.  They made mistakes and will correct them going forward.  

Seeing that it is only week 5, and this is only the second game Braxton and Hyde have been together, they did well.  Braxton looked smoother in his drops, and the wide receivers did very well.  Philly did a good job of sitting down in zones, and also getting up-field on screens, rather than dancing around trying to elude tacklers.  Devin Smith did a good job of running sharp routes, and using shoulder and head fakes to freeze corners.  They both look like they're developing in to reliable wide receivers.  Their play on Saturday really stood out to me.   

cal3713's picture

Also, I think it's important to note that our Tresselballian 4th quarter would have looked a lot different if Hyde hadn't mistakenly run out of bounds 1 yard short of a 1st down during the quarter.  He could easily have dove for the first, which would have dropped another 2 minutes off the clock... instead, we punted back to Wisconsin and then the game got interesting.

Ross Fulton's picture

Or if, after a six yd Hyde run on 1st down, Linsley didn't snap it over Miller's head, killing another drive.

Estrada's picture

THIS.  We pick up a first down and that's likely the end of the ballgame.

Earle's picture

I think the interesting thing about this game, is that while the Buckeye defense forced Wisconsin to be one dimensional and throw the ball all over the place, the coaching staff forced the Buckeye offense to be one dimensional with a big lead, and left a lot of potential big plays out there.  I feel good about the offense, knowing that the lack of scoring in the second half was largely self-imposed.  Not to mention that the WR's dropped a couple of catchable balls earlier that would have been big plays.
And Borland is a heck of a player, but he's even better if you don't block him.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

m4's picture

The conservative playing calling started late last year in the Wisconsin game in the second half, and then the Michigan game the following week and into every game in the second half this year. That seems to be the pattern now.

holtzy's picture

After reading Meyer's quote it makes sense.  Basically we need to burn clock, but they were totally selling out to stop the run....thus, limited gains for us in the 4th quarter.  However, I have to think we have some safe plays we could run besides Hyde up the gut.

BuckeyeMike74's picture

I agree whole heartedly.

MassiveAttack's picture

My thoughts exactly!  Go back to the WR/bubble screens.  Safe and conservative plays, just tell the receivers to stay in bounds.  I really think Wisky is the only team we have to take this approach against, until the bowl game.  Urban's quote about them being a team that will not allow you to run the clock out speaks volumes.

The Ohio State University - "Haters love us!"

kalabuckzoo's picture

it was good to see wilson used as a decoy this week but i'd like to see him stay on the field for more than one play at a time.  it was clear to me watching that he'd either get the ball or be used as an obvious decoy.  as soon as the defense can tell the ball is not going to him they can abandon him.  if he were on the field for consecutive plays (3-5 in a row), his use as a decoy would really pay dividends.

Estrada's picture

Part of that could be due to how much of the playbook he's grasped by this point.  If I recall correctly, he initially had a very stripped down version where there were a handful of plays they wanted/needed him to know.  I don't know if he's been able to add to that substantially in season.

d5k's picture

We did hit him on the wheel route on the sideline which broke the tendency you are describing I believe.  But that is the value of having a guy like that, you make the box softer or get a good chance of getting a big chunk of yards if they don't play him honestly.

InHartWeTrust's picture

Wilson is a great weapon for this very reason.  You have 3 things with him:

  1. He comes in, he gets the ball, and he almost always gains 10+ yards (I forget what his yards per touch is this year, but I am almost certain it is above 10).
  2. He comes in, we use him as a decoy, the defense respects him and cheats to him, and it opens things up for the actual play that is being called to someone else.
  3. When we do #2 enough, as you said, they decide not to cover him or cheat towards him...then he runs the wheel route, or another route, and we exploit that.  That wheel route has a chance to gain HUGE yards every time.

When a player commands that much attention, it is a huge asset to your offense...whether he is actually getting the ball or not.  That is why I want to see him on the field more (and feel he will continually add snaps each game) once he expands his knowledge of the playbook, but as others have said, it's tough to decide who you take off the field for him to come in.

Ross Fulton's picture

It's a balancing act because to put Wilson in you are taking someone out. Generally you are either taking Hyde/Hall out of the backfield or Brown out of the slot. So those are some pretty big play makers for you.


Hard for me to know how much of the offense Wilson has mastered. He can be far more effective if he is a threat as a route runner. But I do think you will only see his role grow.

kalabuckzoo's picture

wouldn't he cut into Heuerman's or Spencer/Fields (where was he) P/T more often.  I don't have the ability to find the times he was in the game but in looking at the highlights it appears Hyde and Philly were both on the field on the wheel route and on a fake option to Wilson that Hyde took for a first down.  Either way, yes someone has to be removed for him to see the field but I'm looking forward to his mere presence causing issues for opposing teams.

Squirrel Master's picture

The game was won or lost based on what the Buckeyes did, not Wisconsin. Ohio State was in control and might have allowed wisky to hang around too much but at no point did I feel OSU was letting wisconsin dictate the game.
Again, games like this test this team for later in the year. They know they have the resolve to win a tough battle. I think next weekend they will not let it get to this point.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

kcbrez's picture

Someday, I'd like to understand ANYTHING as well as Ross Fulton understands football. Thanks, Ross. Excellent work, as always.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Ross, your excellent analysis (as usual) underlines two points:

  1. If the offense continues to execute in the 3Q, then Urbz/Herman would not have had to play run-out-the-clock in the 4Q. Instead, maybe they bring in Hall and/or Guiton to close out the game and they coast to a 17+ pt victory. But because of the 3Q mistakes, a higher degree of risk started to crowd-out the staff's range of options, and so the staff had to play the percentages. The coaches' Hippocratic Oath is, "first, ensure that we win the game."
  2. Ross runs a clinic on how to be incisively critical without being a negative nellie. Some of us need to take notes. For those who employ the strawman, "Pardon me if I don't worship every move the team/coaches make and always cheer, 'rah, rah, rah,'" please note that some of us blind homers are quite happy to read Ross's criticisms.      
d5k's picture

Some of it is actually knowing what they are talking about in addition to not abusing the strawman.

d5k's picture

I think we could use a basketball version of Ross too because the naive strawman arguments really go nuts whenever the basketball team doesn't win by 20.

Doc's picture

Another great article Ross, I feel like I'm getting my PhD in football sciences. 
The game really never seemed in doubt to me in 24C until the second half of the fourth quarter.  When we were unable to gain a first down and only ran about 16 seconds off the clock I started to get a little nervous.  I'm hoping another week playing together allows the offense to gel and play a full game.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

MassiveAttack's picture

Once again, excellent report, Ross!  This breakdown really explains the subpar second half. 
This whole season the 4th quarter has been a let down, with only 10 points scored.  I think that (only 10 points on offense) speaks more to the 17 points given up from our defense, than the defense's performance/tiredness.
Certainly I'm happy winning games with big offense, I would just like to see that same offense used in the 4th quarter.  Of course I'll excuse the Florida A&M game, but we did score 7 with our 3rd string QB.  Consider that: 3 total points scored in the 4th quarter of 4 games.

The Ohio State University - "Haters love us!"

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Fair enough, but the Buckeyes were ahead by 17, 35, 25, 69, and 17 points, respectively, going into the 4Q of those five games - so we might expect some serious drop off in the 4Q unless the staff had been intent on running up scores.

Maestro's picture

Those are impressive 3Q leads.  Curtains!!

vacuuming sucks

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Thanks for the rational approach Ross. Good to see solid evidence that Meyer and Herman can put logic in front of ego. "Tresselball" for all it's criticisms, has it's time and place in almost any game if used judiciously. I suspect there would be less nervousness/criticism about how Ohio State won a game if the schedule were stronger and there were less undefeated teams in front of us.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Great analysis.  The positives from this game were Braxton's throwing mechanics (can't believe how much he has improved, man, tight accurate spirals), the D line's ability to stop the run, and Johnston's ability to keep the ball deep in bounds in enemy territory.  Negatives were the pass defense and on offense the inability late to utilize our speed and get guys like Hyde and Wilson around the ends and in the seams.  Ross - why did the bucks not run the option more, which had worked to perfection the last few games?  Is it because it requires really good timing and Miller does not do it as well as Guiton, or did they want Miller to get a game under his belt before trying to pitch like that in future games, or was it something about the Wisconsin defense that discouraged pitching the ball more?

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

Ross Fulton's picture

If you're discussing speed option, OSU ran it at least 3-4 times. Miller kept on every one (correctly I might add). 

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Aha, more than I had thought, I stand (actually sit) corrected.  Probably don't want to go to the well too often on a somewhat high risk maneuver like that.  Thanks Ross.

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

d5k's picture

These plays and a few others are where you didn't see the typical video game juke once or twice a game that we are so used to.  He is still obviously a very effective runner but the injury might have prevented a couple big plays.

Ross Fulton's picture

I also think Wisconsin did a nice job playing Miller outside in and trying to contain him. Miller is most dangerous when he can bounce outside.

Dougger's picture

After reading I think they continue to make steps forward in some fashion. Braxton was throwing lasers out there; After watching the replay today I felt Braxton could have led better on a couple throws and the receivers could have made a couple grabs, but really positive overall
Is it just me or does it seem this the sixth different defense we'll be playing in six games?

I like football