Ohio State v. Iowa: Offensive Breakdown

By Ross Fulton on October 22, 2013 at 12:45p

Ohio State put together perhaps its best all-around offensive performance of the Urban Meyer era against Iowa Saturday. The Buckeyes rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense, had a .862 drive efficiency and did not punt once.    

The Buckeyes' offensive efficiency, not coincidentally, was led Braxton Miller's best overall game to date. With Miller healthy and effective in the passing game, the Ohio State offense demonstrated how difficult it can be to defend. A defense must account for Miller and Carlos Hyde behind a dominant offensive line, an efficient underneath passing game and the ability to hit deep routes.

Despite the effective performance, the Buckeyes only scored 34 points. One area where the Buckeye offense has sputtered in recent weeks is in the red zone. Just like at Northwestern, Ohio State settled for two red zone field goals against Iowa. The Buckeyes also turned the football over on downs. This is a step back from the previous year and a half under Meyer, and is preventing the Buckeyes from more quickly putting teams away. If the Buckeyes correct this recent blip their points total should quickly increase.

Below I examine how Ohio State attacked Iowa's cover 4 with an increasingly diversified run and pass offense, Miller's performance, and the Buckeyes' goal line difficulties against cover 0.

The Ole' Picking of the poison

Under defensive coordinator Norm Parker, Iowa has traditionally been a 4-3 over, cover-2 team.  But the Hawkeyes largely abandoned cover 2 to employ tactics better calibrated to defend the Buckeyes' spread to run offenses. Instead, Iowa mixed quarter-quarter half with cover 4.

Iowa's quarter-quarter half coverage against Ohio State.

On third down, Iowa often played variations of man-under with linebacker delayed blitz support in the hopes of containing Miller.    

The goal with the cover 4 variations is simple – have two safeties who are able to quickly come downhill to provide force support. The cover 4 safeties trigger upon the number two receiver to their side. If that receiver run blocks or sets up for a screen the safeties flow down against the run. This frees the interior six defenders to focus upon the Ohio State inside run game.

Fool Me Once...

Such a plan has previously been effective against Miller and Ohio State but failed for Iowa. And the reasons it failed demonstrates the increased versatility of the Buckeye offense.

As seen above, Cover 4's weakness is open space in the underneath flats and the Buckeyes exploited the Hawkeyes' vulnerable perimeter in the run and pass game.

As to the former, Ohio State's outside run game is becoming increasingly effective. For Meyer's tenure the Buckeyes have primarily been an inside run team while seeking to get Miller outside. But Ohio State has flipped this formula in recent weeks. Hyde's increased versatility – along with the contribution of Dontre Wilson – allowed the Buckeyes to get their backs outside an Iowa defense focused upon containing Miller. More specifically, the Hawkeye defense never had an answer for the Buckeyes' running backs on jet sweep action (titled bash under Ohio State's terminology) off read plays.

This was true on the Buckeyes' base inverted veer play (Mickey Bash in Meyer terminology, where Mickey stands for power blocking and Bash for jet sweep), but even more so on 13 Bash. Thirteen Bash is a tight zone play for the quarterback. The offensive line blocks inside zone and the quarterback reads the backside end. The running back, however, runs jet sweep away from the inside zone action. If the defensive end crashes, the quarterback gives on the jet sweep. If the defensive end stays, the quarterback keeps and runs straight up field. In other words, the play is an inside zone where the quarterback and tailback trade responsibilities.

Ohio State's 13 Bash play

Thirteen Bash is a counter to a team seeking to scrape exchange against base inside zone read (i.e. 13 Bible, where bible indicates read). Bash was open because, upon seeing the line blocking inside zone, Iowa's ends would slow play Miller, opening the outside for Hyde. Tight End Jeff Heuerman would seal the play side linebacker, providing Hyde an alley inside the wide receiver's stem block. 

Tight end Jeff Heuerman sealing an alley for Carlos Hyde

From there, Hyde generally did the rest.

Throw it Where they Ain't

While the run game is increasingly versatile, the Buckeye passing game has made even bigger strides. Like Northwestern, Iowa had its corners take deep drops in an attempt to prevent the Buckeyes from throwing the football down the field. This week, however, offensive coordinator Tom Herman did not force the issue. Instead, Ohio State took what was available and consistently completed curls, out routes, tight end flat routes, and flash screens all in the areas vacated by the Hawkeye corners. Outside receiver Devin Smith and Heuerman were the primary beneficiaries, having their best receiving games as Buckeyes.

The result was an efficient pass offense, as Iowa did not have a method to play the run, prevent the deep pass and not give up short and medium range throws. Ohio State was particularly effective throwing on first down. Unofficially, Ohio State attempted to throw approximately 18 times on first down, resulting in 14 completions as well as a Miller first down scramble. This kept the Buckeyes ahead of schedule and in numerous second and short situations. 

Ohio State also exploited Iowa's cover 4 scheme for Miller's 58 yard touchdown to Philly Brown with play action off inverted veer. The benefit to this play fake is that it looks exactly like mickey bash, presenting the defense with the same blocking scheme. Below, Iowa's play side safety bit on the run fake, opening a large void for Brown's post route.

The mother of all play-action calls.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Buckeyes' wide receiver screen game was certainly the best its been since Meyer and Tom Herman's arrival. Smith was particularly effective here as well, as he was able to use his speed to get outside the stem block.

Ring leader

The key to making this diverse offense function was Miller. With a healthier knee and several games under his belt, Miller exhibited the improvements that many expected this season. His arm was as strong as ever, allowing him to throw outs and curl from one hash to the opposite side of the field before Iowa's corners could react. But he was also accurate, completing over 80% of his passes. 

As, if not more importantly, Miller's improved pocket presence is making him a growing threat as a scrambler. As discussed, for as good as Miller is as a runner, he was a poor scrambler last year. He would often sit in the pocket without a good feel for when to run. He has vastly improved in that attribute, making several critical third and long scrambles to pick up first downs (in addition to a fourth down run that was called back for holding). His ability to do so will greatly diminish the ability of defenses to use man coverage on third down.

Miller is also more aggressively running north and south, showing less effects from the knee. If anything, he is now missing potential big plays by not bouncing outside. 

As is shown by the effectiveness of the Buckeye outside running game, teams will continue to focus their efforts upon containing Miller. The test for Miller is now consistently playing at this level.

Red Zone Deficiency

Despite this multi-faceted attack, the Buckeyes still faced difficulties in the red zone, kicking two field goals. The question is whether this is schematic or a blip. Like Northwestern, Iowa went to a cover 0 look with no deep safety help at the goal line, which has caused Ohio State issues in recent weeks.

The Buckeyes in some ways effectively dealt with this coverage. For instance, the Buckeyes threw a tunnel screen to Devin Smith, blocking back against the man defenders.  

With the first field goal, Braxton Miller was throwing to an open Evan Spencer on a double slant route in the end zone, and would likely have been a touchdown but for a defensive line deflection. Without that batted ball perhaps the Buckeyes' red zone offense is a non-issue.

Nonetheless, Ohio State can expect defenses to continue to use this aggressive defensive strategy. The Buckeyes must be prepared to run man coverage beaters at the goal line. The Buckeyes should perhaps also treat certain third and mediums as four down situations, allowing Ohio State to run on third down to set up fourth and short.

Miller's improved running ability should also help address this issue. As noted, a team should not be able to play man coverage and account for Miller. For instance, on the third down before the Buckeyes' last field goal, if Miller immediately cut back to the other side of the field he would have likely scored. Look for OSU to increasingly rely on him to run in such situations.

Meyer's Ohio State offense has generally been very good in the red zone, so perhaps this issue will be quickly resolved. If it is, look for the Buckeye point total to quickly jump because of how efficiently the offense is playing.

The Buckeyes' success begins up front. One facet that Ohio State can always count on is the ability to grind out yards with Hyde and its offensive line. Meyer and Herman can now combine this with the run threat of Miller, as well as exploiting the horizontal throws offered by defenses focused upon the run game and deep passing game. So long as the Buckeyes continue to efficiently throw the football, defenses will have a difficult time defending all aspects of Ohio State's offense. 


Comments Show All Comments

Buckeye06's picture

My second favorite column on this website, behind the defense breakdown. 
If you are a DC, and you have good talent, what is the most effective way to shut down OSU's offense.  OSU seems to shut themselves down often, so I would like to know how a team with time to prepare could come at us

4thandinches's picture

NW and Iowa both had two weeks to prepare for us. And they brought it. Just a true testimony to our coaching.

I wasn't born a Buckeye but I became one as fast as I could. 

whobdis's picture

I think Iowa played their D about as well as they could. They were trying to force us into long drives..hoping a penalty or turnover would occur. It's not a bad plan..Miller used to force the long ball at times and ignore medium range open receivers. I always thought if he starts hitting those..and with Smith/Brown deep..Hyde with the power..it's a tough offense to defend.

Will in Arizona's picture

The easiest way is to get penetration with four pass rushers.  Of course, that's basically the way to stop any offense.  Nowadays, it seems that pretty much every team can move the ball to the 30 yard line or so.  Once there, and even more so in the red zone, the defense no longer has to worry about the deep ball, and moving the ball gets more difficult.
Iowa's gameplan was fine - they just didn't have the talent to pull it off.

Doc's picture

Ross, if you were a defensive coordinator what would you do to stop the Buckeye offense.  With it clicking like it is loading the box to stop the run will open the passing game and dropping 8 and rushing three will open the running game.  Would straight up man coverage be the way to go?

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Ethos's picture

shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh don't help the enemy.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Blue Eyed Buckeye's picture

You don't need scheme you need players.  You need a killer MLB who can ole' blocks and close on Hyde and a corner that can man-up on Philly Brown.
I don't watch anything more than sportcenter highlights of other teams to say whether anyone has those two variables this season.  But Philly Brown isn't *that* great that you need a once-a-decade CB to erase him, there have to be a few guys up to the challenge out there.  But an MLB that can dance around guards and torpedo into Hyde, not sure I've seen any in college football this season.  But if you can take away the inside runs and limit Philly Brown to short catches I think you make Braxton run and hit him hard, trying to make him cough up the ball with his upright running style.
Easier said than done, though, since I think Hyde is the best running back in college football this year.  It would take an equal MLB talent that I don't think exists.

Ross Fulton's picture

There's a lot of good points above about how to defend OSU. It obviously depends upon your athletes. I think Iowa had a good game plan, in that OSU had yet shown the patience to consistently take those throws underneath.


I agree with the point that OSU's WRs may not be good enough to consistently beat really good man coverage. The problem with playing a lot of man, however, is BM running. 


That being said, against A & M Bama played a lot of cover 1 robber.  I would expect an Alabama to mix and match cover 3 and cover 1, daring OSU to get open.


But the one thing OSU has going, more so than any of its competitors, is the ability to pound the football. I would put OSU's OLine up against anyone. It's really hard to not commit an additional defender against the run. Once you do that, you are opening yourself up against Miller and the pass game.


As Iowa showed, honestly the best defense against OSU right now is to beat the OSU D.

WC Buckeye's picture

Man, I just never get tired of watching Hyde's gonzo TD run. Magic. That could be the defining highlight clip for the season, although I don't think Miller's done wowing us yet.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

Earle's picture

Seems to me like a QB draw would be difficult to stop against man coverage in the red zone.  I'm not sure I remember having seen the Buckeyes run it this year.  I'd like Braxton's chances against a LB (or two) in the middle of the field once he got past the rush. Was it Cal that hurt the Buckeyes with QB runs in the red zone (not sure we would have been in Cover 0, as it seems we're rarely that aggressive on D)?

Snarkies gonna snark. 

d5k's picture

I would like more of the stacked receiver looks, or trip/quad stacks that we saw as a gimmick look against Buffalo I think (Braxton QB draw when they put 5+ guys on the 4 receivers).

Buckeye Chuck's picture

Miller had 13 touchdowns a year ago, none this year. He's definitely running the ball less in the red zone. Of course, there was the play against NW where he fumbled inside the 5. But I think for the most part, he's confident in throwing the ball into those tight spaces near the goal line, where in the past he would have been more apt to try to run. And we're calling fewer of the QB draws the close we get to scoring.

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Earle's picture

I've seen few (if any) true draws, at least that I can recall. Most of Braxton's runs are just keeps off of inside zone or jet sweep action (reads or otherwise).  I'd like to see the field spread, no play action, let the LB's get into their drops, and then let Miller do what he does.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

hcazualcc's picture

loving this offense more and more.  as teams sell out on one play type (e.g., inside zone) we are becoming more effective at capitalizing elsewhere (e.g., inverted veer, play action).  looking forward to seeing the offense continue to evolve.

BTBuckeye's picture

Dead serious, I think we should run the QB keeper out of the read option.

yrro's picture

That is the most hilarious fake I have ever seen. I can't believe it worked - he wasn't even pointing toward the running back.

Michael Citro's picture

Designed run or improvisation on a busted play?

Earle's picture

I wondered the same thing.  I think either Alex or the back went the wrong way.  The players are coached to run where the play was originally designed to go if there is a problem with the exchange.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

Michael Citro's picture

If it's a busted play, kudos to the running back for a nice seal block after the goof at the mesh point (whoever's fault it was).

vitaminB's picture

Who is the safety playing there?  #20?  I would bet he got an earfull during film session this week.

dwcbuckeye's picture

Great analysis as always.  Thanks!  A more obvious way the Bucks could have scored some more points is for the defense to produce some 3 and outs rather than have Iowa hog the ball most of the first half.  I say, the offense did a great job with the limited opportunities it had.

Enzo's picture

Not trying to be picky, but the 4th down scramble was negated by a block in the back by Brown, not holding.
Great analysis. I love these write ups.

d5k's picture

It was actually offsetting penalties, which in this case hurt us a lot more as we had the 1st down running or the automatic first down from if I recall correctly defensive holding in the secondary before the scramble.  If only the Brown penalty was enforced I believe it would've been a spot foul which would've made it 4th and less than 10!!  So enforcing both penalties resulted in basically the worst possible outcome.  Offsetting the penalties makes enforcement easier on the refs but often results in an unjust outcome.

Tim's picture

I was thinking the same thing -- why should a defense benefit from committing a penalty?  I was at the game so I didn't get to check, but I thought Brown's block in the back might have been 10 yards past the first down marker, so if it had been the only penalty, we still would have had the first down. 

Enzo's picture

Good point about the offsetting penalties. I think it would have been 4th and short if Brown had the only infraction.

Blue Eyed Buckeye's picture

Ross' articles enhance my game-watching experience more than any other column on the net.

AndyVance's picture

Ohio State put together perhaps its best all-around offensive performance of the Urban Meyer era against Iowa Saturday. The Buckeyes rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense, had a .862 drive efficiency and did not punt once.

This is the thing that surprised me the most last weekend given all of the Chicken Little chatter about the Iowa game: Ohio State's offense is really, really good, and trending better all the time. There are some exciting days ahead, my friends, 'cause this show is only going to get better.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Agreed sir ... what sayeth you about the defense in terms of potential improvement?

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

AndyVance's picture

I think there's room for optimism: we were really concerned about the front seven, and they've proven to be quite the asset. Lost one of our most valuable players to injury, had our All-American ejected on a bogus call, and still played an excellent second half against a Hawkeye squad that had clearly planned well to exploit our deficiencies. They ain't Woody's Silver Bullets yet, but they've got potential.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Professor Fulton, I bow to the football Buddha in you ... very informative and educational.  Man, the buckeye offense was so damn efficient, if Iowa had not held on to the ball so much in the first half the bucks could have really jacked up the score, but give Iowa credit for all the play action (correct me if I'm using the wrong terminology) passes to their fullbacks in the first half.

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

1MechEng's picture

Nonetheless, Ohio State can expect defenses to continue to use this aggressive defensive strategy. The Buckeyes must be prepared to run man coverage beaters at the goal line. 

Ross -
Another excellent write up as usual. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.
Do you think a tall (6'-3" or better) wide receiver who can really go up to get the jump ball or run the fade route against a shorter CB is what is missing here?!
Seems like we have targeted a lot of fast, shifty guys who can do wonderful things in space, but we lack the tall receiver who can go upstairs to get it (a la Megatron, A.J. Green, Randy Moss in his prime, etc.).

d5k's picture

The key for me is that spreading the field isn't going to help you in those spots unless all 4 receivers are a threat to do something with the ball.  I think lining up with 21 or 12 personnel would be a nice wrinkle rather than the typical 11 or 10 personnel.  If Spencer and/or Smith can't get open on the goal line vs. tight man coverage or they don't draw additional defenders, then you might as well have a tight end in the game imo.

Ross Fulton's picture

Agreed. I think they need to go 12 personnel at times, or alternatively bring Wilson in as a split back, depending upon down and distance.


I'm sure its a focus this week.

d5k's picture

Right, the Wilson decoy action could open up the passing game on the backside as the safeties are out of position for the jet sweep at the line of scrimmage and would have to sprint to beat Wilson to the pylon.

InHartWeTrust's picture

I love how Braxton just starts walking off the field after throwing to Philly on the TD.  As soon as he lets it go, he knows it's 6.  Using Dontre as a decoy to perfection there, I love it.

Will in Arizona's picture

Play action off of Inverted Veer in a trips formation works extremely well in the NCAA 14 video game :)  If any of the safeties bite, it's a huge gain every time - just as it was here.