Ohio State v. Penn State: Offensive Breakdown

By Ross Fulton on October 29, 2013 at 12:45p

Against Penn State, the Ohio State offense picked up where they left off against Iowa

Once again a defense sought to cheat additional defenders against the Buckeye run game and once again the Ohio State offense exploited the resulting openings. Specifically, the Buckeyes attacked the weak spots left by the Penn State strategy in both the horizontal flats and with play action down field. Braxton Miller also demonstrated the shortcomings of blitzing the Buckeye offense, as he repeatedly eluded rushers to gain yards scrambling or hit open receivers. 

Once Penn State had to widen to account for those deficiencies the Nittany Lions had no chance against Carlos Hyde and the Ohio State run game.

The Buckeyes made one sizeable improvement in comparison to the Iowa performance, however. The Buckeyes were perfect in turning red zone opportunities into touchdowns, resulting in a jump in points and forcing Penn State to play from behind.

Below I address how the Buckeyes responded to Penn State's defensive game plan and left the Nittany Lions nowhere to turn, how Ohio State addressed their red zone deficiencies, the difficulty defending Ohio State, and the corresponding growth of Miller. 

The Song Remains the Same

Penn State employed many of the same tactics utilized by other defenses against the Buckeyes. The Nittany Lions operated from a cover 4 shell. Upon the snap, Penn State would play cover 4 or rotate to a middle of the field safety look to bring an additional defender in the box. The Nittany Lions also cheated an outside linebacker off a slot receiver into the gray area, i.e. the opening between the receiver and offensive tackle.

Penn State cheating an OLB into the slot.

As with opposing defenses before it, Penn State's overarching goal was applying additional defenders against the run. 

On passing downs, defenses have adopted one of two tactics against the Miller-led passing attack. Defenses either drop into coverage, trying not so much to rush Miller as to fence him in the pocket, or blitz Miller in an attempt to force quick decisions. Penn State adopted the latter tactic, often bringing five or six man overload rushes. 

Penn State's five or six-man overloads

But its not quite working

But as with Iowa, Ohio State picked apart Penn State's strategy all evening. The Buckeyes used the same formula to do so, namely exploiting areas left open by run-focused safeties and outside linebackers. The Buckeyes threw a number of flash screens. With flash screen the outside receiver comes inside to catch the football with the slot receiver kicking out the corner. 

Perhaps no play better epitomizes the Buckeyes' offensive growth then the increased use of flash screen. Since 2012 defenses have consistently cheated defenders against the Buckeye run game, but Ohio State could not or would not consistently throw flash screens with success.

That has changed in recent weeks. Flash screen is often used as a packaged play. The offensive line and Hyde will run inside zone or power, while the wide receivers run flash screen. Miller reads the backside defender and has the option to either hand to Hyde or throw the flash screen. Miller is showing an increasing confidence and understanding in when to pull the football and throw the screen. The Buckeye receivers have also been far better at getting up field and gaining yards after the completion. 

With Penn State cheating an outside linebacker inside the Nittany Lions had no ability to cover the play as the Buckeyes had an easy 2 on 1 against the corner.

The Buckeyes also utilized Dontre Wilson in the flat, again taking advantage of the fact that Penn State's defense could not play cover 4, defend the inside run game and cover underneath.

From there, the Buckeyes exploited Penn State down field with deep crossing routes off play action, exploiting Nittany Lion linebackers and safeties focused upon run action.


They'll take even odds anytime

In response to Ohio State's success, the Penn State defenders had to increasingly expand horizontally and vertically. Once Penn State did so the Buckeyes were able to run at-will. 

The Buckeyes had extensive success against Penn State running inside zone slice from pistol. The offensive line blocks inside zone, with tight end Jeff Heuerman blocking back across the formation, opening big cutback holes for Hyde.

It is unlikely that any defense that is unable to devote additional defenders in the box can consistently stop the Buckeye run game behind its offensive line and the tandem of Carlos Hyde and Miller. The Buckeye offensive line is elite and Hyde has taken his game to another level. He continues to runs violently, but is now able to combine good vision with an ability to run outside the tackles. The offensive line generally gets Hyde unscathed past the line of scrimmage. From there, Hyde runs with an incredibly high success rate, as defenses struggle to bring him down with the first would-be tackler and he always falls forward. 

About that Whole Blitzing Thing

Penn State's blitz happy strategy also ran head first into an improved Braxton Miller. Penn State was able to generate some pressure. But Miller generally eluded would-be tacklers, either picking up yards with his feet or opening opportunities to throw down field. 

Miller has demonstrated a much improved ability to move in the pocket as well as make the correct decision regarding when to tuck the football and run. It is increasingly difficult for defenses to blitz or use man coverage against Ohio State, as Miller is too effective in creating opportunities scrambling.

Miller is also increasingly accurate in stepping up in the pocket and throwing down field. When Miller's footwork is good his arm is strong enough to make any throw accurately. This touchdown to Corey Brown may well be the best throw of his Ohio State career. 

Fool Me Once

But the Buckeye offense was also incredibly efficient against Iowa. What generated Ohio State's jump in point total against Penn State (along with an increase in possessions) was 100% red zone efficiency. The Buckeyes' recent dip in red zone performance has been correlated with defenses playing cover 0 inside the ten yard line. Penn State adopted the same goal line tactics, meaning man coverage with no safety help and eight defenders in the box.

Penn State playing cover 0 in the red zone.

The Buckeyes utilized two strategies in response to overcome the defense's numbers' advantage. The first is featuring Miller on quarterback power. By using Hyde as a lead blocker, the Buckeyes gained an additional blocker, allowing the Buckeyes to apply seven blockers against Penn State's eight man fronts.

The Buckeyes also used sprint out with a snag route combination. The effect was to set a pick against man coverage to free the inside receiver.

The Buckeyes red zone success was critical. Not only did it put up points, but it also set up the Buckeye defense for success. Playing from behind, Penn State was forced to be more one-dimensional, creating a snowball effect.

 Forward Momentum

Going forward, the Buckeyes' goal must be to continue this multi-faceted approach. Ohio State's next two games are against poor opponents in Purdue and Illinois. But it does give the Buckeyes the opportunity to demonstrate they can be as efficient on the road. This is particularly critical for Miller, who has yet to play away like he has in recent weeks away at home. A good road showing will be crucial to preparing for later in the season. 


Comments Show All Comments

Stinson's picture

Bravo. I don't know how you can stop this offense. 

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." -Wayne Woodrow Hayes

GoBucks713's picture

The Billy Blanks method. Bring a pistol.

-The Aristocrats!

Borrowed Time's picture

this is what we waited for all of last year, especially that Wisconsin game - a way to punish teams for loading up to stop our running attack

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Loved it as usual.  Thanks for your hard work and effort.

Read my entire screen name....

misterbulbous's picture

Great work.  I noticed once or twice that when Wilson went in motion (sweeping across the field) it left OSU's tight end wide open down the middle of the field - as the defense was clearly focused on Wilson - even when he didn't receive the hand-off.

Ethos's picture

Yeah I bet you 5 bucks Meyer and Herman noticed it too.  He did make a comment in his presser that he wants to get his TE's the ball more.  It's just insane how many options he has.  The only thing we have to hope and pray for is that this O-line stays healthy.  

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

Blue Eyed Buckeye's picture

Urban said "we need to get the ball to Heuerman more" in his press conference yesterday, right?  Perhaps this is what me meant.

MassiveAttack's picture

I noticed this too.  Also during XBrax's short TD run, Heuermann popped open directly in the "throwing lane" that Braxton ran through.  Several other times I noticed him open, but we had other successful/better plays as a result.

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Hovenaut's picture

That's an A+ in film study Mr.....as Ethos stated it sounds as if Meyer/Herman are noticing this too.

dwcbuckeye's picture

Thank you so much Ross for this analysis.  It is awesome.  I do have one other statement and then a question for you:
Statement:  Looking at the GIFs I am sooo impressed by the blocking that springs either Hyde or Dontre for big gains.  Everyone is getting into the act.
Question:  How do does the blocking you see from an UM coached team compare to the past teams?  Curious, because I don't recall this type of blocking, but it also could be because no one has called it out to me before either.  I just thought the TB was so great and didn't notice the blocks.

ibuck's picture

Yes, good blocking is a big piece of offensive success. For several years, I've wondered why OSU's linemen didn't block as effectively as Wisconsin or other teams did on sweeps, etc. And the Buckeyes are now doing that, to great success.
I'd also like to hear Ross' comment on that.

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Blue Eyed Buckeye's picture

There have been reports that Tress' o-line coach had no clue what he was doing.  We've heard anonymous stories of ohio state linemen that have to be completely re-coached after they got draftd because they were taught habits and techniques so at odds with what is done at the NFL level.

Earle's picture

I would love to see them use Wilson for some flash screens, or at least put him outside as a threat.  Our wideouts do a nice job of picking up positive yardage on the quick throws, but they're not exactly gamebreakers out there.  If defenses account for him by moving the extra man outside, they could make it a read play instead of a packaged play and just run zone read off of it.

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DMcDougal24's picture

I love the two-back sets with Miller, Hyde, and Wilson in the backfield. Defense has to respect Wilson horizontally, which opens up the middle for Hyde. The defense has to respect Hyde, which opens up the flats for Wilson. Or you can run Wilson outside in motion (opens up the middle) and run QB power. This provides so many different looks that defenses just can't handle.
I've also been impressed with Braxton beginning to take what the defense gives him. Ever since second half of Northwestern he has been more willing to throw it to the dumpoff guy (usually Hyde), throw it away, or scramble ahead for < 5 yards. In the past he was too focused on the big play rather than getting positive first down yardage. 

kalabuckzoo's picture

Power back, speed back, and shifty back with those three in the backfield.  makes me smile.

Blue Eyed Buckeye's picture

I've never been a fan of 2 RBs on the field at the same time.  Wilson can't catch or block like our WRs and TEs can.  I'd rather have another WR blocking downfield than Wilson trying to be a decoy on a Carlos Hyde carry.

darkhorse3d's picture

The down field blocking from these receivers and Heuerman has been incredible. Check out the block on that wilson TD catch. They hold their block and they know where to be. This O is mechanical. 

Toilrt Paper's picture

Everyone remember, Wilson is not really a "running back". He is the slot back. The Harvin back. You will see him all over the field. Making it MUCH MORE difficult for defenses than if he was just a "running back".

NEWBrutus's picture

Something I noticed in this game:  We often went with the read/screen play, and Braxton a handful of times didn't throw the screen right away.  Perhaps PSU was jumping the screen route.  One time, he pivoted and hit Carlos in the flat, and another time he improvised and either threw it away or scrambled. 
It is amazing what strategic play calling combined with high quality personnel will do for an offense. 
Just good stuff!

Seattle Linga's picture

Great breakdown Ross and well put together. Your job must be fun when we are playing this way.

osuguy2008's picture

How do offenses get around illegal men downfield with the flash screen shown above?
Since the first part of the play is a possible run then the lineman would be moving forward; but normally if there's a pass isn't that illegal men downfield? 
Or is the work around because it's a screen pass thrown no further vertically than parallel to the line of scrimmage?

CALPOPPY's picture

I think that ineligible man downfield is not possible if the pass is thrown behind the LOS. So, if I understand your last sentence correctly, this is what you are trying to say?

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Jack Fu's picture

From Chris Brown:

Linemen are actually allowed some leeway in getting downfield on pass plays. In the NFL, they can be a full yard downfield when the ball is thrown. As Littrell says, they tell the linemen "to block the run scheme that's called and we'll get the ball off quick enough to where linemen aren't downfield."

yrro's picture

Not Ross, but in general:
1) Illegal blocking downfield is not a point of emphasis in college, and is rarely called.
2) Usually you get the ball out quickly enough that they don't have time to get to the second level and get into trouble.

Ross Fulton's picture

This.  You usually have about 3 yards to work with and the ball is out so quickly no one calls it.

osuguy2008's picture

I would imagine that this works primarily for shorter passes as opposed to 5 step-7 step drops (posts, corners, in/out routes, etc)?

Jack Fu's picture

For a variety of reasons, I think they would always be for these kind of short passes. First and foremost, those throws are constraints. OSU wants to run its bread-and-butter up-the-middle plays - they think if the defense is playing honestly, they can run their base stuff and pick up yards. Penn State was not playing honestly at the start of the game, as they were cheating extra defenders into the box (as Ross said, they were shading that linebacker off the slot receiver and into the box). In so doing, they left space out wide. OSU exploited that space out wide with what amounted to high-percentage long handoffs to the receivers. This not only picked up easy yardage, it also forced Penn State to stop cheating and cover those receivers. When that happened, as Ross said, OSU pounded away with Hyde.

Toilrt Paper's picture

All of this, these days comes into play with the no huddle offense. Someone in the press box see's an open area, an area being cheated into by a LB or safety and a check comes down to the sideline and a signal is given to the offense and an open area can be attacked on that play instead of on the following play, when the D may change. Today's game. The game the Saban and other SEC coaches HATE and think should be made illegal.

rjsmitty's picture

Calpoppy is correct. If a pass is thrown behind the LOS lineman may be downfield, and you can initiate a block while the ball is in the air.

"I don't wanna coach average! To hell with that!"  -UFM

AndyVance's picture

These next few games have to be about perfecting the offense and developing that muscle memory, if you will, and getting reps for some of these younger guys who are going to be the backbone of the offense for the next few years. Seeing Cardale getting some reps last week was good, and I love seeing EZE out there running the ball... When El Guapo is rumbling along on Sundays, that young fellow is going to be making a heckuva name for himself on Saturdays.

Breakawayspeed's picture

FTA: Going forward, the Buckeyes' goal must be to continue this multi-faceted approach. Ohio State's next two games are against poor opponents in Purdue and Illinois. But it does give the Buckeyes the opportunity to demonstrate they can be as efficient on the road. This is particularly critical for Miller, who has yet to play away like he has in recent weeks away at home.
The next step in the progression of Braxton Miller QB.  Take the swagger you earned from the Penn State (and second half of Iowa) and deploy it on the road against Purdue, Ill and TSUN. Make it look so easy like last Saturday!
Get to the B10 Championship game and destroy MSU!  Hang 50 on the nations " best" defense.
Yep!  That's the ticket!

45OH4IO's picture

I want to see this offense against a great D Line. The OL is the power source of this offense. Would love to see this OL against MSU's DL in the B1G championship game and then I will know how I feel about the bowl matchup. Until then, I still have questions in the back of my mind.
And Ross summed it up well commenting that the best medicine for this defense is TD's from the offense. It makes defense a lot easier to play when your offense is humming.

OldColumbusTown's picture

Another great read, Ross, as usual.
First of all - that throw by Braxton on the TD to Philly was a thing of beauty.  That is an NFL throw if I've ever seen one.  Closely covered receiver, and Braxton used his God-given arm talent to put it on Philly in the perfect spot with tremendous velocity.
There is a lot of football left to be played, and a long road ahead still before it may happen.  But I'll be interested to see, if the time comes, how this Urban Meyer offense compares to those he had at Florida, and then how it matches up with Nick Saban's defensive philosophy.  Saban had developed a pretty good plan at defending Florida during Tebow's last year or two.  It would/will be fun to see how the two match up now.

d5k's picture

I would say the last 2 games are the first time we have approached the Florida peak years level of efficiency.  The only thing Braxton was missing compared to Tebow was in the preparation and execution of the offense.  Tebow would complete some bombs to Louis Murphy but other than that it was a ton of short passing concepts and the read game.  If your QB is executing flawlessly and you have weapons then you are going to be in 2nd and short all the time and move up and down the field.  Braxton's ceiling is higher than Tebow's from an arm talent and playmaking perspective.  Tebow obviously was an all-timer from a preparation and work ethic standpoint and really executed the scheme well.  If Braxton prepares and plays like he has the last 2 weeks for the next ~20 games (assuming he's coming back) there's no stopping him.

OldColumbusTown's picture

I really wasn't referring to how efficient or how "good" this offense is compared to the Tebow-led offenses, but instead what concepts this group falls back on as compared to Florida.  Ross has done a great job previously outlining the Urban Meyer offense and the base plays his offenses normally rely on in certain situations.
My interest mainly is how does this offense differ from those Florida offenses, and how did Alabama attempt to slow down those Gator teams (force Tebow to give, make him keep, take away certain routes, numbers advantages in the box/coverage, etc.).  I think it would be interesting to know if Urban really has built a "different" offense, either by play design, scheme, or personnel, that combats what Saban's defenses have done in the past.
Again, that matchup is a long way away, and a lot has to happen between now and then for it even to become a possibility.

d5k's picture

I think the broader college football theme the last 5 years has been the X's and O's chess match between offenses like ours and defenses like Saban's.  Our inability to throw last year led to crazy things like auto-blitzes from the edge on run action.  With a more balanced approach I would also like to know what Saban's and other top defensive coaches' approach would be.  In theory they would hope to be able to stop our run game playing 8 on 8 in the box and playing a lot of single high safety variations and mixing up how they attack up front (don't just scrape exchange every time).  They would also hope their blitzers could get Braxton on the ground better than PSU.
Talent is the great equalizer but it would be interesting to see what Saban would choose to do against our offense or Oregon or Baylor or FSU even.

Toilrt Paper's picture

Urban's Ohio State offense is completely different than what Saban defended when Urban was at Florida. Braxton is a MUCH better passer than Tebow and Urban's power run game came from his QB Tebow. Saban never saw anything like Carlos Hyde in Urban's Florida Offense. One of Ohio State's speed runners comes from the QB position. Not saying Saban can't defend Urban's Ohio State offense, but he must change a lot to stop Urban's Ohio State offense vs Urban's Florida offense.

geoffrsc's picture

Always appreciate these write-ups. I learn something every week. Thanks.

Nutinpa's picture

Thank you, Ross.  I am not X and O expert...I leave that to you!  However, in advance of your Defensive breakdown of this past Saturday, I would like to ask:
1. What is it that Iowa and Penn State did schematically or simply through execution that had the Buckeyes completely reeling on their heels in both opening drives? Did he abandon his strategy too soon?  
To be clear and obvious, had Hackenberg thrown a TD instead of a INT on the opening drive, the Buckeyes still win a rout.  OTOH.....it certainly would have justified his pre-game scripted series focusing on 2 TE sets for perhaps much of the first quarter as it did with Iowa.  I realize I am going being a bit premature here in advance of your D breakdown, but I would be interested to read your thoughts.  
In my very humble opinion, I think BOB abandoned his pre-game philosophy too quickly and set his team up for a slaughter - or at least a track meet they could not win. 

MassiveAttack's picture

Thanks again for another excellent break down.  This explains very well why PSU was not successful in stopping our offense.

The Ohio State University - "Haters love us!"


We saw flashes in the 2nd half vs. NW of Miller playing better on the road. I hope he can come out in the first half vs. both Purdont and Illinois and keep those guns a' blazin'
I also noticed how the PSU defense reacted when Dontre was in the game. The scary thing is what's going to happen when defenses start ignoring him? I cannot wait for that day.

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

Maestro's picture

Miller continues to impress.  The fruits of his labor in the offseason and with Whitfield are shining through.  The ball doesn't sail and he doesn't sack himself with poor footwork as he did so often as an underclassman.

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Hasbro's picture

Why don't we see Wilson used downfield to stretch the defense?

Ethos's picture

he hasn't been blocking very well. They said he is steadily improving but he doesn't know all the plays and was struggling with the different blocking schemes.  Plus, he isn't the perfect catcher yet either compared to Brown or Devin.

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

Toilrt Paper's picture

You can see the symbiotic relationship exploding this year between Braxton, Philly, Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and Chris Fields. This has come about over the past 3 years and 1000's of practice passes with each. Wilson is a newbie, things don't automatically click without a thought with him.

RBuck's picture

Those GIF's were... well...touchdown heaven.

Long live the southend.

Blue Eyed Buckeye's picture

This was Urban's masterstroke of an offensive performance.  I felt like this was the first game where everything came together.
As you outlined, Ross, the defense couldn't defend inside, outside, and deep all at once.  The defense had to declare what 2 options they were going to try and stop and Ohio State went relentlessly after the 3rd.  They started by taking away inside and deep so they hit to the perimeter for big gains.  Then they creep towards the line of scrimmage to take away inside-outside and we hit them deep.
By the end of the game they were so confused they couldn't stop anything as Carlos Hyde ran it up the middle for 9 yards seemingly at will.
It was beautiful to watch, and fun to read your break down.

hetuck's picture

As good as this is, I still expect the diamond at some point, perhaps Ann Arbor (karma for Robinson's TD from it) or Indianapolis. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

brylee's picture

That last gif, with the following:

The Buckeyes also used sprint out with a snag route combination. The effect was to set a pick against man coverage to free the inside receiver.

I think this has to be the perfect play.  How do you defend against that in the red zone?

Doc's picture

If they would play zone instead of man where the three defenders stayed in their zone.  When the receivers started criss crossing the defender stays in his area and picks up whoever is there.  That would be my guess.

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hetuck's picture

The answer below of zone is correct. I just wanted to point out this is the David Boston play from the Rose Bowl. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

d5k's picture

They also have to execute the switch-offs in zone properly which is not that easy with even numbers.  I think they weren't actually in true man to man in that play if you watch the outside defender.  This play is good versus pattern match zone and the run threat of Miller puts the defenders in conflict too especially the interior safety who is in the grey area shading to the box.

MN Buckeye's picture

On Miller's TD run in the next-to-last GIF, Carlos had no one to block. The efficiency of the O-line, particularly in the run game, is second to none.

Seattle Linga's picture

Correct and I honestly think that we will see more of this in the next few weeks.

Frankly Scarlet's picture

We are finally starting to regularly see the utter chaos this offense creates on the defensive side of the ball. Watching it operate vs PSU made me recall how helpless I felt watching "41-14" unfold. Its like the offense has 14 players on the field vs the defense's 9.  

"Buclkle your chinstrap, we're gonna grind meat!" - Woody Hayes  

Davep160's picture

In the second to last vid, did you notice Jack Mewhort knocking the crap out of TWO guys to spring the touchdown?