The Ohio State offense overcame the elements and injuries at the wide receiver position to put up yet another solid performance in its 42-14 win against Indiana. The only thing that held back the Buckeye offense (other than the wind and snow) were three turnovers that prevented an even more efficient display.
To deal with the wind and receiver limitations, the Buckeyes often used two tight ends to run the football. The Buckeyes received the usual stellar performances from the offensive line and Carlos Hyde, as well as excellent running from Braxton Miller. Miller was also able to deliver some crisp throws down field once the winds died down.
Below I address the Buckeye game plan, Miller's return to running form, the limits on the passing game, and what Ohio State might expect from the Michigan Wolverines.
Going to 12
The Hoosiers employed a defensive look by now familiar to Ohio State. The Hoosiers operated from a base cover 4 look, bringing either the slot defender or safety into the box as an additional run defender.
In responding, the Buckeyes were faced with two impediments. Not only did Ohio State have to deal with a significant wind that both Urban Meyer and Tom Herman said made it difficult to throw the football, but number one receiver Corey Brown was extremely limited due to injury. In response, Herman and Meyer employed a significant amount of 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 WR, 2 TE), far more than the Buckeyes have heretofore utilized, with Nick Vannett on the line of scrimmage and Jeff Heuerman working in the backfield.
From 12 personnel, the Buckeyes often ran power. The Buckeyes have featured power in recent weeks, as it exploits the skill of guards Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall pulling, and fits well with Hyde's running style of pressing the hole and then bouncing outside. Unlike last season – when the Ohio State offense was noticeably left handed – the Buckeyes can run power or other run plays with equal skill left and right, demonstrating the strength of Ohio State's offensive line across the board.
Against Indiana, in a slight adjustment, the Buckeyes ran power with Hyde in the halfback position, as opposed to the pistol. This makes the Buckeyes' pre-snap alignment look just like Ohio State's other base run play, inside zone. When the Buckeyes run power to the open side (as below) the tackle will base block the end, with the rest of the line blocking down and Heuerman and the pulling guard leading through the hole.
Here it is in action:
Gettin' on the edge
The Buckeye coaching staff also counterbalanced a limited passing game by attacking the edge horizontally against Indiana's cover 4 force support. Ohio State did so with passing plays that function as an extension of the run game, such as the touch pass sweep and packaged wide receiver screens and quick hitches.
The screen game provided Jordan Hall his first opportunity to be featured at the H position, and he demonstrated that he can effectively utilize his quickness on such plays.
In the run game, the Buckeyes used a variety of plays that combined jet sweeps (or as Meyer calls it bash) with Ohio State's base blocking schemes. The most obvious was inverted veer, but the Buckeyes also ran bash away from the base blocking scheme. The goal is to slow the defense's linebackers. Miller reads how the backside linebacker reacts to determine whether to give on the jet sweep or keep and follow the blocking scheme.
For instance, the Buckeyes ran tight zone bash, with the offensive line blocking inside zone away from the jet sweep. Ohio State also utilized jet sweep away from quarterback counter trey on successive plays, with Miller giving on the first and keeping with the second.
Finally, the Buckeyes successfully ran speed sweep. With this play, the center and playside guard pull. Miller reads the defensive tackle. If he follows the sweep, Miller keeps. If he stays home Miller gives on the jet sweep. Reading the defensive tackle allows the offense to get their pulling lineman outside without having to devote a lineman to blocking back on the defensive tackle.
The Buckeyes' edge focus allowed Herman and Meyer to make Dontre Wilson a focal point. Wilson's increased role was critical with Brown's absence, but also reflected an adjustment in the Buckeyes' substitution pattern that paid dividends. In previous weeks, when Hyde needed a breather the Buckeyes brought in Ezekiel Elliot. But they would inevitably pass or feature Miller on a lead run, thereby telegraphing their intentions. Against Indiana, however, the Buckeyes generally brought in Wilson, which stressed the defense in a different manner and alleviated Herman's concern of providing Wilson touches without taking them away from Hyde.
Running with a Purpose
Ohio State's offensive output was led, however, by explosive plays from Miller. Miller was perhaps his most aggressive running the football since late last season. Playing the first game without a knee brace since his MCL injury, Miller attacked vertically, cutting with a purpose and finishing off runs.
Indiana's defensive strategy provided Miller ample opportunities to do so. Not unexpectedly, as the Buckeye offense has become more diversified, teams are devoting less resources to containing Miller. For instance, against inverted veer the Hoosier linebackers aggressively flowed to the jet sweep. One nice seal block from Norwell against an over pursuing linebacker later, and Miller was into the second level.
Similarly, the Hoosiers' cover 4 matchup zone provided Miller with run opportunities on third and short.
Defenses likely cannot continue to play Ohio State in this manner, however, as he remains the Buckeye most likely to create explosive plays. If Miller continues to run with this abandon the Buckeye offense has the potential to play at an even higher level.
The Buckeye offense still did not operate to its fully capacity, however, because of the limitations on the passing game. The wind clearly limited Ohio State's ability to throw the football down field. Brown's absence, meanwhile, seemed to inhibit the Buckeyes' mid-range passing game, as Miller was without his security blanket.
But the Buckeye passing game was not as vibrant as in recent weeks. Fortunately for Ohio State, however, the wind died down in the third quarter, allowing Miller to deliver several strikes down field. For instance, on Miller's touchdown pass to Devin Smith the Buckeyes utilized Wilson as a decoy, sending him to the flat to hold the cover 4 safety. The Buckeyes ran a post-dig combination behind, and Miller delivered a perfect pass to Smith.
Even more promising, leading up to the touchdown toss Miller delivered what Meyer titled Miller's "best play as a college quarterback." On third and 17, in the face of an oncoming rusher, Miller stepped up in the pocket and delivered a well thrown ball to Heuerman on a three verticals divide route.
Ohio State's hope is that those throws provide Miller additional confidence as a passer moving forward.
Deja Vu All Over Again
Ohio State now turns its focus to Michigan, which will likely utilize a similar defensive game plan as previous opponents against the Buckeyes.
Last season the Wolverines operated from a cover 4 shell. Upon the snap, Michigan Defensive Coordinator Gregg Mattison would generally execute one of two plans, depending on Hyde's alignment. If Hyde was to the boundary, Michigan's field side safety would come down into the box, with Sam linebacker Jake Ryan cheating off into the gray area and Michigan playing a soft cover 3. If Hyde aligned to the field, the Wolverines often used a form of cover 4 with the slot defender accounting for Miller in the read game.
Meyer and Herman successfully addressed Mattison's strategy much in the same way they have done this year. The Buckeyes exploited the wide side flat against Wolverine slot defenders overly focused on the inside run with wide receiver screens and jet sweeps. Ohio State also attacked the boundary bubble to the three technique with inside zone and power. Look for the Buckeyes to again run inside against the Wolverines' undersized defensive tackles. Michigan was able to keep itself within striking distance by limiting the Buckeyes to field goals in the red zone, however, an issue the Buckeyes must rectify.
It is a given going forward that Miller and Hyde will receive over 50% of the touches. The Buckeyes now hope (assuming the weather cooperates) that with Brown's return for the remaining snaps they can return to a more diversified passing game, mixing horizontal plays to Wilson, Brown, and Hall, with the midrange drop back game and shots down field off inside zone and inverted veer play action.