How Urban Meyer Plays the Chords: Adding Variation to Base Run Plays

By Ross Fulton on July 29, 2014 at 1:15p
Braxton Miller got free against Michigan
32 Comments

For all its accomplishments, Urban Meyer's run offense consists of just a few plays. Inside zone, power, and counter trey comprise the vast majority of run calls. But therein lies Meyer and his offense's success.

Using a minimum of base concepts provides the offense countless practice reps. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman has stated that opposing defenses know that the Buckeyes will run inside zone or power in short yardage. But the Ohio State offense runs the play so many times that Meyer and Herman like their chances.  

And by limiting themselves to a few core concepts, Meyer's staff can deploy minor formation variations and adjustments to confuse defenses. To do so Meyer simply tags subtle changes to the backfield and wide receiver responsibilities. Everything remains the same for the offensive line and other skill position players. So it largely the same play, reducing the need for additional practice time, an asset in short supply in college football.

But the adjustment looks different to the defense and forces the opponent to adjust its responsibilities.

Case Study: Power Read

James Light's insightful analysis of Ohio State's power read game against Michigan last year provides an illustrative example of this principle in action.

As the name implies, power read deploys power blocking. So the play itself is a variation of the power play, another Buckeye staple.

The offensive line still deploys the power blocking concept. The only difference with power read is rather than kicking out the defensive end, the quarterback will read the end and determine whether to give the jet sweep or keep and follow the pulling guard in the C gap.

Against the Wolverines, Meyer made further subtle adjustments to power read to counter how Michigan was defending the play. The Buckeyes' "H" slot receiver motioned in the backfield, creating a split back look.

In so doing, the defense cannot assume the run play will go away from the halfback. This limits the defense's ability set itself pre-snap, specifically by using pre-called scrape exchanges. And it provides an additional blocker at the point of attack. (H/T: James Light).

Split back power read

Game vs. Game

In response to the motion, Michigan began slanting their front side defensive line towards the jet sweep. Meyer and Herman simply altered Braxton Miller's launch point. Miller aimed for the front side B gap or inside the 3-technique. The front side guard and tackle took the defensive tackle where he wanted to go, allowing Miller to cut back inside. 

B-Gap Power Read

This inside-path had a corollary benefit. As Light demonstrates, Michigan's backside safety would mirror the H-back's motion and jet sweep action to provide an additional play side defender. This created an assignment conflict for the safety, because he was Michigan's backside force support.

In theory, this concern should have been mitigated because power read only attacks the front side edge. So the thought is to get an additional defender across the center-line.

But when you have an athlete like Braxton Miller he can quickly attack the whole field. And Miller took advantage of this opening, using the inside angle to cut back across the grain to the open space, right where Michigan lacked force support. 

In the clip below, you will see Michigan's safety come into the picture with the H-back motion and then follow the jet sweep action, opening the cutback.

power read cutback

In sum, the split back variation created a conflict of responsibilities for the backside safety, leading to several explosive plays.

Such subtle variations are possible precisely because Ohio State limits their run concepts. The coaches and players understand the play so well that they can judge how a defense is playing the concept and adapt. These alterations can often more effectively constrain a defense then a different play. This is why offensive coaches such as Meyer increasingly recognize that less is more

32 Comments

Comments

Groveport Heisman's picture

In other words..We bout dat action Boss.

Mark my words..I don't need acceptance. I'm catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.

+15 HS
Killer nuts's picture

Great analysis as always, Ross. Helping make us the smartest fan base one article at a time

+6 HS
ISURVIVEDCOOPER's picture

Thanks Ross - nothing like watching the game and having somewhat of a clue as to what might unfold

"I don't apologize for anything.  When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes

+3 HS
Killer nuts's picture

In the second video we have a guy come across the screen from right to left (Heuerman maybe?) and make a second level block on a Michigan LB coming across the play (Jake Ryan?). The block turns what could be a 5 yard gain into 15. My question is this: Is that his assigned blocking assignment (a sort of second level crack back block) or was that a heady play that he made because there was no one in front of him to be blocked? It is an interesting scheme because he is lined up as those he'd be the lead blocker for the sweep but actually comes back against the play and picks off a defender in pursuit

+3 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

That looked to me like it was by design. And he absolutely crushes one of those ugly helmet dudes (yes, it was Jake Ryan).

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

+2 HS
LOVEITORLEAVEIT's picture

It's by design, "Y Crack". Jim Light breaks it down more in depth in the link. 

+2 HS
Space Coyote's picture

As Ross and Jim Light explain, it's by design to prevent a scrape exchange call (most likely a straight check from the H motion into the backfield) from making Miller's read wrong. By cracking the LB, it seals that player inside. If Michigan here is running a scrape exchange, Hyde cannot get to the LB before the LB gets to his spot in the exchange; if the exchange is coming from the CB instead of the LB to make Miller's read wrong, the WR has a difficult time adjusting quick enough to pick up that block. The Y-crack gives both Hyde and the slot an easier assignment on their blocks and counters and scrape exchange call, essentially making it so that Michigan can't make Miller's read wrong.

The reason this isn't automatic is because Michigan could eventually make an adjustment with their front side safety. If they see that crack come inside and not release vertical, the frontside safety should "crack exchange" and essentially take that WR out of the play (he is now not in a good position for play action, and has forced OSU to lose their numbers advantage playside). So that's the chess game going on in this situation.

breakdownsports.blogspot.com - A B1G Football X's and O's site. @SpaceCoyoteBDS

+3 HS
TMac511's picture

Check the analysis link, James Light showed that the crack back is designed. Heuerman does it in all three videos, but in that one he frees Miller up for a big gain. In the first video, he and the pulling guard (Eiflen), are both there to block somebody but there was nobody there to block.

I noticed the same block in the second clip, and the block Norwell laid on that lineman. That offensive line last year was a thing of beauty, and those guys will be sorely missed.

+1 HS
Ross Fulton's picture

Great analysis by all.  As people said, it by design.  The crack back block is made possible by the split back look. Normally the Y arc releases and blocks the first defender to show in the alley. But because that responsibility is given to Hyde, Heuerman can crack back.

The play is set up for Miller to ideally keep and create the vertical alley.

Gametime's picture

I think I speak for a lot of folks when I say: Damn I wanna watch a game with ya man!

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

+3 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

OK, folks, it's certainly feeling like September outside. I know the team needs August to prepare, but I'm ready to just skip ahead to August 30th!!

Can't wait to see year 3 of the Braxton/Herman/Meyer/Warriner project! 

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

+3 HS
Space Coyote's picture

I'll add (if I can figure out how to post it here), that OSU utilized a slightly different adjustment vs MSU's cover 4. I prefer video, so hopefully this works.

Anyway, MSU's method of defending this play is to crash the frontside safety down to take away the H-back, and stay at home in the box to defend the QB (OLB will also crash immediately outside, not allowing Hyde to block both defenders). In addition, they will rotate their backside safety over the top to help with the #2 receiver playside.

To take advantage of this immediate movement from MSU, OSU called a standard two high defeating playcall, that includes a post, streak, and wheel behind it. In this case, the post is flattened into a streak to get over the top of the backside safety quickly and not allow him to rotate over the top. It also doesn't give the frontside safety time to recover. This results in a TD.

breakdownsports.blogspot.com - A B1G Football X's and O's site. @SpaceCoyoteBDS

+3 HS
TMac511's picture

Pat Eiflen seems pretty nimble footed. Excited to see what he brings to the table for a full season.

+2 HS
CGroverL's picture

That is one very good reason to have Miller running the offense. If Miller reads the "scrape" play correctly, he keeps the ball and supposedly runs right into a LB that is licking his chops to put a hit on Miller. When Miller does face this "scrape" play and reads it, he has to keep as the end is nowhere in sight...but I have noticed teams use this against Miller many times where Miller is able to use his feet well enough to make the scraping LB miss and Miller ends up with an 8 yard gain. When the defense plays this "scrape", they must stop Miller because if Miller can make that LB miss, an 8 yard gain is GOOD for the defense as a lot of the time (with proper WR blocking) this scrape play can backfire for a play where Miller is off to the races. By the numbers and on paper, the scrape seems like a great counter to Miller's option...but in my opinion, that scrape play puts a ton of pressure on that LB as if all blocks are made, it is a huge play for the Buckeye offense if the scraping LB doesn't hold Miller at bay...and Miller vs. a LB???? I'll take Miller every time.

"I hope they're last in everything"

Thanks, Urb!

+1 HS
CGroverL's picture

Oops...great breakdown by the writer. Go Buckeyes and 11W!

"I hope they're last in everything"

Thanks, Urb!

Run_Fido_Run's picture

This is why offensive coaches such as Meyer increasingly recognize that less is more. 

I'm glad that the coaching staff is now looking to apply this "less is more" principle to the defense, too.

+2 HS
Firedup's picture

Seems that the Core philosophy is 5-7 Base Run Plays that are the same for the front 7 and then +9000 formations to confuse the hell out of LBs and DBs and their assignments 

"Making the Great State of Ohio Proud!" UFM

MN Buckeye's picture

The O-line last year was amazing, just crushing defenders.

ISURVIVEDCOOPER's picture

Given that our defense is supposedly improved, I am convinced that we are going to see more offense this year than last year, and I wouldn't be surprised if this leads to a higher scoring avg than last year, too - regardless of competition.

"I don't apologize for anything.  When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes

Fugelere's picture

With the way the safties chase that jet motion I'm suprised we didn't murder people with the play action more often than we did.

+2 HS
Zimmy07's picture

With the way the safties chase that jet motion I'm suprised we didn't murder people with the play action more often than we did.

If you go the the full field view of the miller cutback play we have the strong side WR man to man with no safety over the top - I suspect you could get 15+ yards on that every time with a comeback, deep in, deep out, etc.  scroll to the bottom for video of full field here:

http://jimlightfootball.com/2014/07/06/ohio-state-power-read-blocking-sc...

+1 HS
Fugelere's picture

In the clip it looks like the WR runs a route (a post or a dig possibly) instead of stalk blocking him.  The DB would get used to seeing that on running plays and set himself up even more for a play action shot.

Space Coyote's picture

OSU ran a package play quite often from this same look. Typically, if the corner is in tight man, the WR will simply run him off. If the CB is playing off, OSU WRs will run a quick hitch and Miller has the option to throw it out to him in those cases.

breakdownsports.blogspot.com - A B1G Football X's and O's site. @SpaceCoyoteBDS

+1 HS
Holzjef's picture

If the play side defensive end crashes does the pulling guard log block him or does the pulling still work his way to the second level regardless of what the defensive end does?

Jeff holzaepfel

Fugelere's picture

Since it's a read play the QB would give it on the sweep to the H back.

As for the blocking assignment, the coaches can change that depending on what the defense is doing.

Space Coyote's picture

Theoretically the pulling guard would pass up the crashing DE and still work to the LB. As the poster above said, the DE is "blocked" by the read. You block everything else straight up and make the correct read and it should work for big yards.

breakdownsports.blogspot.com - A B1G Football X's and O's site. @SpaceCoyoteBDS

GVerrilli92's picture

This offense produced Tim Tebow - possibly the least talented player to ever win a heisman - because design does all of the work if the QB is smart enough to make 100% correct reads.

The stupid thing is that Braxton is so gifted as a ball carrier he can gain positive yards even after making the wrong read. I would honestly say that his reads were at less than 75% last year.

Imagine if he gets that up to just 90.

How many cheeseburgers are you gunna drive into that dirty old cheeseburger locker Brady Hoke?

-1 HS
Holzjef's picture

I would say we're running a more pro style spread offense than the offense Urban ran at Florida. A lot more emphasis on the running back setting up the play action pass but we have a quarterback that can run. IMO

Jeff holzaepfel

Holzjef's picture

Think San Francisco 49ers 

Jeff holzaepfel

whiskeyjuice's picture

I agree but that may have been the style because of what Carlos Hyde was bringing to the table. Does Urb/Herm run the same offense with Elliot or Smith in place of Hyde? I would have to think that a lot of the same concepts will still apply but I see getting more use out of other players. Last year, especially towards the end of the season, it seemed that Miller and Hyde were 90% of the offense. I suspect that the WR's, slot, H-back type positions will produce much more than last season.

"Championships are not won on Saturdays in November. Championships are won on Tuesdays in August." -- Kerry Combs

Holzjef's picture

Good point. We might resemble more of Oregon in terms of how we run the spread until we find our power back. It will be easy to run the offense the first half of the season without a power back but I hope to god we find one because in the Big Ten you won't survive without one. I also Herman's version of the spread allows Braxton to be more of a quarterback when comes to the passing game than most spread offenses in country. 

Jeff holzaepfel

GVerrilli92's picture

I wasn't talking about the type of runs, just the amount of cue-based reads there are in our playbook.

I'm willing to bet that our percentage of read-based plays is one of the highest in the country. Even PA pass is completely predetermined, meaning the QB doesn't have a decision to make other than who to throw it to. We don't have very much of that at all, there's always an immediate post-snap read that the QB has to make to still determine what variation of the play is going to be run. If Brax can get THAT immediate post-snap decision to 100% - like Tebow did - we are unstoppable. We have all kinds of combination plays that at pre-snap have just the same chance of being a pass as it is a run, but then it's up to the QB to make the correct decision on the give or the pull based on the cue he sees. Braxton was terrible at this by Urban's standards.

Urban and Herman believe in putting that amount of trust in the QB. Yeah, we line up and do what we do best sometimes. But the real advantage comes in creating the false tendencies at the second level of the defense and calling the appropriate read-based restraint to capitalize on that tendency. You're focused on taking advantage of tendencies within a play (read-option) rather than taking advantage of tendencies over a sequence of plays (the PA)

How many cheeseburgers are you gunna drive into that dirty old cheeseburger locker Brady Hoke?