Ohio State v. Purdue: Offensive Breakdown

By Ross Fulton on November 5, 2013 at 12:45p

The Ohio State offense continued to click on all cylinders in quickly putting away Purdue Saturday.

The Buckeyes threw early and often in the game's first half, taking advantage of Purdue's 3-3-5 defense.

In so doing, Ohio State used the game as a glorified passing scrimmage, but also as a way to put a marker on film for future opponents who hope to devote additional defenders against the Buckeye run game.

The Buckeye game plan continues to show lessons learned from earlier this season, as Urban Meyer and Tom Herman are making better use of play action early in games to first hit the horizontal flats and then get the football downfield. The result was a career game for Jeff Heuerman, as well as another extremely efficient performance for Braxton Miller. 

Below I look at the Buckeyes' road map against opposing defenses, the cohesiveness of the Buckeye offense, and how it sets up Ohio State moving forward. 

Throwing to set up the run

Purdue operated from a 3-3-5, two high safety defense. The goal of the 3-3-5 is use the two hybrid outside linebackers/safeties cheat inside against the run and to keep the offense confused in the zone read game.

Purdue's 3-3-5

In the back end the Boilermakers primarily employed cover 2 or cover 3 zone. 

In response, the Buckeye offense used the same formula they have successfully utilized since the second half against Northwestern, namely taking advantage through the air of defenses that are devoting additional defenders to the run game. Specifically, the Buckeyes used play action to throw early, first by hitting wide receiver screens and flat routes, and then throwing the football vertically.

Once defenses are forced to honor the passing game then the Buckeyes run the football downhill. In other words, the Buckeyes open with the constraint plays before turning to their base package.


The game plan has been so effective because the play calling is functioning as a cohesive whole. Against Northwestern the Ohio State offense sputtered at times in the first half, as Ohio State sought to force the football down field off drop back passing against a defense focused on not getting beat deep.

Since that half Urban Meyer and Tom Herman have done a far better job attacking underneath against defenders with run responsibilities. It begins with play action off the inside run game. The Buckeye coaching staff does a nice job making their plays look alike, forcing a defense to respect the run.

Here, the Buckeyes run a bootleg flat route off inside zone slice. Inside zone slice is inside zone from the pistol with the tight end blocking back across the formation. On the same series the Buckeyes already given to Carlos Hyde on the play for a ten yard gain.

The Buckeyes then fake the exact same play, with Nick Vannett slipping out into the flat for a touchdown.

Relatedly, the Buckeyes use packaged plays to stretch the defense. This is the ultimate in making plays look alike, because the offensive line and running back are executing the base run play. It is up to Miller to give or pull the ball and throw. This is most often used with wide receiver screens, but the Buckeyes will also use with a quick hitch route.

Purdue's zone defenders could not account for the Ohio State run game, wide receivers down field, and horizontal throws. The Buckeyes repeatedly created open receivers with a basic curl/flat combination, leading to easy catches for Jeff Heuerman and Ezekial Elliot, among others. 

From there, the Buckeyes can fake quick hitting routes to open opportunities down field. Here, the Buckeyes fake a flash screen to throw a switch route. 

The Buckeyes particularly like faking such plays with Dontre Wilson in the flat.

The Buckeye offense is thus forcing a defense to defend the field both horizontally and vertically. But the key is that everything is built upon the Buckeyes' prolific inside run game. As the great Homer Smith said

Every primary backfield action needs to threaten all 11 defenders. What a primary play needs is good counter plays. Every defender needs to be worried about the ball coming to his area – on a throwback screen, a reverse, a play-action pass, or whatever – as a play begins.

Trigger Man

The Buckeyes are able to operate such a multi-faceted offense because Miller's decision-making is much improved. He is consistently making solid decisions in the read game in determining when to give, keep, or throw on packaged plays. He is also far more decisive in his progressions in throwing the football, moving through his reads and often making the correct decision when to move and when to escape the pocket.

For instance, Miller did an excellent job going through his progressions on his first touchdown throw to Jeff Heuerman. Miller faked the zone run and then turned to throw the fake bubble screen vertical route. But Devin Smith got knocked off course. Miller then reset and turned to the other side of the field. There, the Buckeyes were running a post corner combination. This provided a horizontal two on one stretch on Purdue's cover 2 safety.

Attacking Purdue's Cover 2

Purdue's safety played the post route, leaving Heuerman wide open to the corner.

Heuerman all day

Here it is in action.

Earlier in his career, Miller could not consistently operate the offense at this level. Defenses could thus overplay Miller and the Ohio State run game without the same consequences. Even with a defense focused upon Miller and Hyde, Meyer and Herman felt more comfortable running the football than relying upon the passing game or consistently using constraints such as wide receiver screens. It also helps that the wide receiving corps is far more effective both as runners and blockers. 

Now, however, Ohio State is able to run a cohesive offense without even relying upon Miller as a runner. He only kept once against Purdue, namely on an inverted veer play that resulted in a first down. Miller's legs now provide the Buckeyes an edge in games where his running is needed, rather than being the primary engine for the Ohio State offense.

Setting a Marker

The Buckeyes' pass happy game plan had an additional purpose. It was a message to future opponents that if they want to focus upon the Buckeye run game Ohio State will look to exploit the resulting holes.

Defenses are thus put in a bind. An opponent must account for the Buckeyes' run game. That is the strength of Ohio State and the effectiveness of that run game is what makes everything work. Defenses must also account for Miller as a runner, even if he runs less frequently, because he remains the Buckeyes' biggest threat.

But a defense must also try and defend the Ohio State passing game, both underneath and down the field. The inability to do all those tasks explains why the Ohio State offense has been so good, scoring the most first quarter points in college football. The hope of Meyer and Herman is that, by throwing the football so often against Purdue, it forces future opponents to prepare to play the pass early in the assumption that Ohio State will throw to begin games. Meyer and Herman's hope is that the result is defenses defending the Buckeyes offense more honestly, allowing Ohio State to run the football even more efficiently.



boojtastic's picture

Awesome read, Ross. If you were gameplanning against the Buckeyes, which defensive scheme/base do you think is best suited to stop them?

mh277907's picture

If I were gameplanning against OSU, I would try to have my offense on the field for 40+ minutes.


Ethos's picture

this.  The key to stopping a high powered offense, is to keep them on the sideline.  Tressel used that strategy against Oregon, and with a few great defensive stops included, we owned those fools.

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

bigbill992001's picture

yeah, all the pundits were saying that Ore would hang 50+ on us.

HYDEYOKIDS's picture

Great breakdown as always Ross. In your opinion, do you think there is any defense right now that can hamper our offense when Braxton plays like this? I think we are almost at the point where our offense is diverse and consistent enough to be able to put up points on any defense in the nation.

yrro's picture

The real question is whether Braxton can continue to play like this against a defensive line that isn't being manhandled by our offensive line.

Ross Fulton's picture

I will try to look at how someone would defend OSU more in-depth next week. It depends on the talent level of the opposing defense. An Alabama would likely try to play a lot of cover 1, which is what they did against Texas A & M. They may be able to cover the OSU WRs somewhat effectively but the limitation is a) you can run off the corners in the run game and b) lets BM scramble. Obviously Bama didn't have a ton of success doing that.


What has made MSU so successful is their aggressive press cover 4. That is what they played last year against OSU -- to varying degrees of success. OSU is a much better O than last year but I would suggest that recap if anyone is interested.

Ethos's picture

Hey Ross!  Could you do me a favor and NOT do that article?  NO need to provide the other guys some help.  I think we wait till after the bowl season, then you say "this is what you idiots should have done".
Buckeyes Everywhere.

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

DMcDougal24's picture

Here's a quick link to 2012 OSU-MSU offensive breakdown

darkhorse3d's picture

I think an interesting question would be "How does Dantonio gameplan for this offense?"

Ethos's picture

I think he'll play like they have been, very aggressively, trying to force fast throws.  MSU has a defense that we have not seen all year, it will be an interesting game (that is unless we play minnesota! ha!)

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

darkhorse3d's picture

My guess is we go for 150 on the ground against MSU and another 220 - 250 in the air. I'd think we but up 31 - 40 points on them. They score maybe 17 - 23 on us. I don't see their Defense as good as they are being able to keep it close enough for them to beat us. Also if MSU is that aggresive against OSU they will get torched for big playes so they'd have no choice but to dial it back a bit. Our o-line is not the scUM O-Line. 

chethammer's picture

When a defense gets that aggressive they have a tendency to over commit.  That will open up some serious running lanes. UM's line is not even close to ours.  MSU gets too happy they'll do half our O-lines job for them.  UM had to commit Funchess to blocking (he's a horrible blocker) so that took a weapon off the perimeter (one they couldn't use anyway).  I don't think they will be able to do that to us nor will they be able to walk up the DBs and just take our receivers out of the game. Again, if they do that, then Heuerman and Van Net will have huge days.  

jccavanaugh's picture

Great article as always, Ross.
One technical note - when you (or whoever) are creating the GIFs, could you start them a frame or two earlier before the snap? It takes me a bit to study the alignment so I know what to look for once the ball is snapped, and that's hard to do with a GIF that you can't pause.
I actually prefer YouTube clips for illustrating these posts, FWIW, because of that ability to pause them and advance them slowly to see what's going on. It's been a big part of the HUGE football education I've gotten from reading these breakdowns.

Earle's picture

Yes, please.  I love to see the plays in action, but it's often tough to pick up the full play from the GIF's.

Your Noble Savage is a Straw Yeti.

Ethos's picture

A lot of peoples work (mine included) have you tube videos blocked...:(

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

jbcuky's picture

Mine instead blocks the GIFs (unless that's just a user error i'm not smart enough to figure out)

yrro's picture

Checkout out gif scrubber or similar - gives you controls on animated gifs like on movies.

Seattle Linga's picture

As always - nice breakdown Ross - it's amazing how we see something twice (one being live) and see remarkable different results. 

TheBadOwl's picture

Miller made the wrong read on that Hyde hurdle play, and if he'd kept it, he scores a touchdown on that play.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

ejoceans's picture

Can we give him a pass on this one? haha I hope people don't start talking about Kenny G starting again. lol not funny tho. remember just a few weeks ago people wanted to bench Miller? oh boy, good thing UFM knows better.

Lets do this Brutus

Ross Fulton's picture

Yes, you can tell that Heuerman read it as a QB keep, which is why he went past the DE...But I'm pretty sure Miller wasn't going to keep that game unless he HAD to...

Ohio Guy in Jersey's picture

I agree, Ross. The game plan looked to be about everything other than Miller running. That said, I hope he continues to make good reads when he plays better defenses.

SteveyWonder's picture

It seemed fairly obvious to me while watching that game that Miller didnt WANT to run ball a single time, despite having to once. He said he wants to be a passing QB and he is making massive strides towards dominating the Heisman race next year

The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture 2011

IBleedSandG's picture

Miller's legs now provide the Buckeyes an edge in games where his running is needed, rather than being the primary engine for the Ohio State offense.

This may be one of the biggest offensive improvements from last year to now. I think this something that can really give us an edge in the B1GCG & the bowl game.


MassiveAttack's picture

Excellent break down, as always.  The details of that first set above, really make it more understandable why Heuerman was so wide open on his TD reception.  That play is really confusing for a defense as it looks like run, then a screen pass, then BOMB! 
Go Bucks!

The Ohio State University - "Haters love us!"

d5k's picture

Is the wr screen game and the reads and fakes and counters you keep breaking down primarily something brought by Herman? My theory is Urban was looking for new ways to protect his running game with his OC hire.