Filling Braxton Miller's Production: How Ohio State Hopes to Use its New Space Players

By Ross Fulton on August 21, 2014 at 1:45p
Dontre Wilson will be one of many Buckeyes counted on to help replace Braxton Miller's production.
54 Comments

Heading into the 2014 season, commentators were abuzz with Urban Meyer implementing aspects of his Florida offense that have been largely absent in his first two years with the Buckeyes.

The hope stemmed from Meyer's recruitment of space players – skill athletes with the lateral quickness to get the ball in space and create explosive gains. The most likely candidates to fill those roles included slot receivers Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, and running backs Ezekiel Elliot and Curtis Samuel. The thought was this foursome could reduce the need to rely upon Braxton Miller as the sole outside rushing threat, thereby reducing Miller's exposure to hits.

With Miller's season-ending injury the hoped-for luxury becomes a necessity. In a recent radio interview, Meyer indicated that Miller's play making accounted for approximately 100 yards per game above what the play would have otherwise generated. The Buckeye offense must replace this production.

Nowhere was Miller's ability more important than creating explosive plays on the edge and in the pass game. Generating explosive plays (often defined as run plays over 15 yards and pass plays over 20 yards) is perhaps the most critical aspect to successful offense. A team's win percentage is directly tied to its points per play. This is self-intuitive. It is much easier to score off several big plays then stringing together multiple long drives. For Ohio State the previous two seasons, Miller was largely the method by which the Buckeyes gained chunk yardage.   

But Meyer believes he now may have an answer to replacing some of that production – the H position. By distributing the football to players such as Wilson and Marshall in space, Meyer hopes to replace the edge threat and yardage provided by Miller. Although the hype surrounding this foursome is currently based more on hope then proven production, it is undoubtedly true that Meyer and Offensive Coordinator Tom Herman will rely more heavily this season on plays exploiting this skill set.

The H Position

Any discussion of Meyer's offense in space must begin with what Meyer called the Cadillac position of his offense – the H. More commonly known as a slot receiver, the position is Meyer and Herman's primary method to exploit defenses that cheat additional defenders against the run game.

In overview, a common tactic defenses use to defend spread-to-run offenses is sneak a linebacker/nickel player that is covering the slot receiver into the box.    

Cheatin' LBers vs. slot

One response is to quickly throw the football to the H receiver in space. Meyer thus wants a player in that position who can create plays in the open field.

But Ohio State's options in this regard have been limited in Meyer's early tenure. The primary H receiver was Corey Brown. But his strength was more in the short to medium passing game. The Buckeyes lacked a receiver that could fully exploit such openings.  

Wilson, Marshall and Samuel more neatly incorporate the running back skills necessary to make plays in this role. And Meyer recently made clear Ohio State would more heavily rely upon the quick passing game. So how will Ohio State do so? 

Packaged Plays

As recently discussed, one method to both take advantage of a cheating defense is to package run and pass plays. This begins with simple wide receiver screens. The Buckeyes build quick screens into their base tight zone and power concepts. If the quarterback reads the slot defender overplaying the run, he can pull the football and throw the bubble or flash screen. 

Tight zone flash screen

In the past two seasons the Buckeye offense has left easy yards off screens to uncovered receivers on the field. Part of that was not trusting a less experienced Miller to consistently make the correct read. But it was also a function of Ohio State not having the potential for explosive plays off screens. As Meyer indicated, they preferred to rely upon Miller, Hyde and their offensive line. 

Packaged plays increasingly became a part of the Buckeyes repertoire last season, however. And Meyer stated he intends to deploy more sophisticated packaged plays this fall. Namely, routes that get the football down field. As Meyer diagrammed, one such example is tight zone with a stick route.

Meyer tight zone stick

Such routes use the same packaged play principles, while getting the football down field vertically.

Short Passing Game

Another Meyer staple is featuring the slot receiver underneath in the drop back passing game. One such favorite is H-option. The slot's goal is to attack the underneath defender and get open inside or outside, depending upon the coverage. In essence, it is organized backyard football where you want your athlete to get open and let him make a play.

Pivot routes are another favorite. As the name describes, on a pivot route the inside receiver begins inside as if on a shallow cross and then breaks back outside. The concept is thus conceptually similar to an option route. 

Building upon that route, a staple concept for Meyer is follow-pivot. The H receiver executes a pivot route while a receiver on the opposite side runs a dig. The goal is to create a hi-lo stretch on an inside safety or linebacker.

Although this has long been a Meyer favorite it has been used sparingly by the Buckeyes in his first two seasons. But it was frequently utilized this spring and seems a favorite of new quarterback JT Barrett's.

And Ohio State has even simpler methods to quickly get the football in space. For instance this spring the Buckeyes repeatedly repped flash screens from quad formations.

The goal with packaged plays and the underneath passing game is ultimately the same – quickly get the ball to a receiver on the perimeter in open space vacated by a defender overplaying the run. By getting the ball quickly in the hands of an athlete in the open in a relatively high percentage manner, Meyer and Herman believe it is a simple manner to create explosive plays.  

Such options are far more attractive, however, if that receiver can make something happen when they catch it. As Meyer stated

I’m hoping he can throw some short balls and they turn into long gains. We haven’t had much of that around here.

Meyer and Herman hope they now have the athletes to do so.

Jet Sweepin'

A versatile H can also be featured in the run game. One primary method is motioning the H into the backfield to run a jet sweep.

One limitation with shotgun is that it signals that certain plays must go to one side based upon the halfback's alignment. Motioning the H into the backfield creates a balanced look and prevents a defense from running games based on the halfback alignment.

And a jet sweep is another simple method to get an athlete the ball in space. When combined with power read, it stresses a defense by forcing them to contend with either the quarterback keeping or the ball getting to the edge. In limited attempts in the Spring Game, Barrett demonstrated a knack for making the correct read and threatening the defense should they not account for the quarterback.

Lightening the Load

Over the last two seasons Ohio State relied upon Hyde between the tackles and Miller on the perimeter for explosive plays. That production is now gone. 

The Buckeyes concluded last season by seeing in person how effective quick hitting edge plays can be when you get the ball to a Sammy Watkins. The potential of players such as Wilson and Marshall in space provides optimism that the Buckeyes can expand their game plan this season.

But except for spurts from Wilson last season, such potential must still be realized on the field. Meyer has repeatedly stated he wants to identify his six best play makers and get them the football.

Following Miller's injury he asserted that those playmakers will now receive four additional touches per game. If Wilson, Marshall and others can fulfill expectations, the Buckeyes' offense can expand horizontally. Getting the football to such players in space is likely the Buckeyes' best hope to begin to fill the void left by Miller's injury.

54 Comments

Comments

Balkestud's picture

sorry to get a little off topic here but I sure hope that Christian Kirk is paying attention to what is going on. Braxton coming back after a year of film study and mental reps so he should be even better. JT and Cardale will be better due to much needed experience gained this year. If I am Mr. Kirk I am thinking that OSU will have the best QB situation of any of the schools I am considering. 

It gets kind of rough in the back of my limousine,

 

 

+3 HS
PittBuckeye's picture

Film study and mental reps are nice, but he needs live snaps than he needs time watching. 

Balkestud's picture

Obviously Pitt, but if he was getting live snaps he wouldn't be back next year. My point is Dr. Andrews will have Brax back by spring ball next year and with Kirk possibly early enrolling we could have a top 3 WR corps of Dixon, Thomas and Kirk in the spring. That would be a devastating offense and with the expected improvements by the defense should make us favorites for a playoff spot

It gets kind of rough in the back of my limousine,

 

 

+2 HS
Amalgamate's picture

I think it's highly unlikely for Brax to be back for Spring ball given the 6 month unsuccessful recovery time on the first surgery. He probably won't start throwing until early next summer. He's not going to be in any rush to get back out there with his career on the line should his shoulder give out again. 

+1 HS
whiskeyjuice's picture

True but I think there may have been a little more to the story. Don't forget that Braxton was spending summer Friday nights throwing to his receivers. And it was mentioned that he was throwing every other day. Miller could have brought himself back too soon which could have led to all this.

"You'll find out that nothing that comes easy is worth a dime. As a matter of fact, I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face." -- Wayne Woodrow Hayes

PittBuckeye's picture

Aside from the leap that we get Kirk, Thomas balls out this year and becomes a big time WR, Dixon steps up big as a freshman, and even the leap that Brax is full go by spring ball. That still leaves the fact That Braxton has to learn to read defenses better than he did last year or a young Randy moss won't carry them. Which again mental reps isn't going to get him. I like that you're looking at the positives and all I just don't agree that it's that big of a positive. 

+1 HS
kalabuckzoo's picture

Sammy Watkins game against us should be cut and paste into our playbook.  Of his 16 catches, not sure more than 3 were made beyond 5 yards from the line of scrimmage.  Most were screens or dumps.  We've got athletes who can do damage with those types of plays.

Love these breakdowns Ross.

+4 HS
Dmac3212's picture

To this day its amazes me the lack of adjustments made in that game. Bill Belicheck says that great coaching is defined by tin game adjustments. All year Ohio State struggled with making early adjustments. There must have been some type of lapse in communication. In this game in particular, how do you continue to play off Sammy with such a large cushion. Offensively it took them until halftime to spread Clemson out when they were stuffing the box. It amazed me that us fans were calling for these things from our couches, and it took them so long to adjust. I give Urban the benefit of the doubt, his resume speaks for himself. But if something doesn't change this year, especially on the defensive side of the ball, I am going to start doubting his coaching ability. I know this sounds crazy, with his 24-2 record, but OSU has a severe talent advantage over most teams the play. I want to see him match Dantonio's ability to coach up the young players. 

+1 HS
Squirrel Master's picture

It wasn't a lack of adjustments, it was a lack of a scheme that works period! They didn't teach press man, so they couldn't adjust to that anyways. They just couldn't change the whole defense on the fly like that, even if they wanted to.

and as I said below, didn't help that the top two DBs were not in the game. Maybe they could have made that adjustment with Bryant and Roby healthy and playing. It might not have made a difference. The limitations of the group of players and the game plan really made them vanilla.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

+2 HS
Dmac3212's picture

That sounds ridiculous. You really think throughout Spring/fall/entire season they didn't practice another defensive scheme. Even if they didn't there should still be in game adjustments. Without getting into details about Cover 3, it makes sense to bring the corners up to take away the bubble screen. There is safety help over the top. No one said anything about press coverage. Do i really need to say everyone favorite quote, the definition of insanity. 

nikolajz1's picture

Problem with pressing Watkins is he'd blow by every one of our corners. 

+2 HS
OfficerRabbit's picture

Exactly, perhaps Roby could have stuck with Sammy Watkins, but he was smart enough to know he had a lot more to lose than he had to gain by playing. I know he was injured, but even at 100% it would have been a tough match-up for him. Watkins is/was a rare player, nit sure we could have stopped him even if we had all of our starters playing.

 

 

Dmac3212's picture

You ever here of safety help.

Squirrel Master's picture

what blows my mind is that we had a solid two score lead in the third quarter and that was with Vonn Bell and a depleted secondary covering that guy! Even with Vonn Bell making rookie mistakes, the buckeyes were in the game longer than most want to admit. The defense was horrible before that game but with Roby and Bryant out, I keep thinking it should have been worse.

Bell and this years group should be ready this time.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

+3 HS
Dmac3212's picture

We would have won with all the defensive deficiencies if Philly brown didn't muff that punt. That was the ultimate momentum killer. Braxton was about to put the dagger in clemson. 

GVerrilli92's picture

Well this wasn't hard to watch at all..

I was at that game, most frustrating thing in the world to watch our corners being forced to play that far back. I haven't watched the game too many times on TV for obvious reasons. But I couldn't help but notice how relaxed Tajh Boyd looked on the flash screen passes. He knew it was free yardage on the pitch and catch. Too easy. 

Sammy Watkins was the aggressor all night and not one person laid a good hit on him throughout the game.

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

+3 HS
D-Day0043's picture

The defensive played scared against Watkins. It was a chicken sh** game plan by Whithers. If a man beats you, he beats you, but get up in his grill and not act afraid to lay a hand on the man. Watkins was a great player but they gave him entirely too much respect. They gave him about 200 free yards in receptions playing soft, he only had to earn about 50.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

+2 HS
Poe McKnoe's picture

This video could have easily have been titled "LOL CJ Barnett WTF".

+1 HS
GVerrilli92's picture

Would give this 50 upvotes if possible.

He looked absolutely scared/lost/slow. This comment made me laugh so hard

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

droessl's picture

Great stuff Ross, as always. I truly believe that Miller's injury forcing the offense to be less reliant on the QB to do nearly everything will make OSU's offense more dangerous. I'm sure there will be timing/learning issues early, but the glut of speedy playmakers we have, and getting them the ball quickly bodes well for us. 

NEXT. SATURDAY.

+3 HS
Dmac3212's picture

I always wish Herman would call place for Braxton as if guitar was in the game. Offense was to Braxton centric, I wanted to see other playmakers get the ball in their hands. Unfortunately I get my wish, but without braxton. 

-1 HS
Ross Fulton's picture

It's a question of trade-offs. Who would you have rather had with the ball in his hands last year then Braxton Miller or Hyde?

Dmac3212's picture

Both with a combination of other skill position players. The play calling was predictable, which is understanding because hw dominate Hyde/Miller were. But against great teams they needed another dynamic. 

Buckeye06's picture

Top 6 playmakers?

Samuel Wilson Marshall EzE R. Smith Thomas Dunn Ball D. Smith, Spencer, Heuerman, Vannett, C. Smith

That's twice that number, and it excludes Dixon as well as a couple of freshman who will likely RS.

I hope the weapons are there to do what we need to do, but looking at those names should make everyone feel pretty good

+1 HS
Killer nuts's picture

Everyone seems to forget James Clark. Might be the fastest guy on the team and was getting PT last year before his injury

+5 HS
Buckeye06's picture

I honestly didn't try and leave anyone off the list i put up, more just ran down the roster and picked out most of the names.  I hope Clark comes back healthy, and makes an impact.  A few of these guys could at least impact ST this year even if they aren't touching the ball in the offense

Squirrel Master's picture

COUGH, COUGH....Jeff Greene......COUGH, COUGH

we should also wonder if Marcus Baugh will get on the field too. he is no slouch when it comes to talent.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

+1 HS
buckeyedude's picture

Jeff Greene. All 6'5" of him. With college experience at a D-1 school.

 

 

DCBuckeye33's picture

Ross, never change! Love the breakdown, thanks man!

GO BUCKS

+1 HS
WezBuck28's picture

Very nice write up, thanks! Looking forward to seeing how this all pans out with all these athletes on the field..I'm ready to see some of these guys explode!

tussey's picture

Ross, great write up.  While I was reading the article, I was wondering if this year we would see a screen game similar to what Clemson has run in the past?  You mentioned Sammy Watkins and maybe hinted at it, but do you think that we will see an offensive passing attack similar to Clemson's?

d5k's picture

The basketball-on-grass type of spread offense was Herman's bread-and-butter before arriving if I am not mistaken.

Ashtabula's picture

If the goal is to get your best playmakers on the field, does anyone think there has been any thought to putting in a package for Marshall as QB?

THEOSUfan's picture

If you run and short pass against defenses, eventually you have to hit them over the top.  Ohio State's success this year could end up being directly connected to how well they do that.

+2 HS
Squirrel Master's picture

well as Ross pointed out, some of the plays are over the middle about 5-10 yards vertical. They might be short passes but they get open holes that allow them to make bigger plays. The running game that should make the safeties want to creep up will hurt them with these slot passes down the middle wide open. I also see JT being real good at the 15 yard slant to the TE.

True the short passing game opens up the deep passing game, and vice versa, but the read option running game opens up the short passing game and vice versa there too. I would be surprised if JT doesn't go deep 4-5 times a game to keep everyone honest, completion or not. And the speed of the outside players (Dixon, Devin and Corey Smith) will make the defenses aware the deep ball can happen at any time.

I also believe the power read pass or play action will allow JT to get those deep tosses. I see a mixed bag of fun coming our way.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

+1 HS
Ross Fulton's picture

I'm sure they will take their shots, particularly off play-action. But you can use these type of plays far more frequently.

THEOSUfan's picture

Great points, SM.  I get all that.

I guess my concern is that it amazes me how few DI/FBS/highly rated QB's cannot complete a pass to an open receiver 30-40 yards down the field.  It requires a certain touch and feel, and there really aren't that many who can do it consistently.  Can JT do it?  I don't know.  I hope he can.

But when you can't stretch the field that way, the defense shrinks the area you have to operate in - which works against the very essence of a spread offense.

But to your point, you can keep a D honest with 10-15 yard vertical routes, but can JT make those throws consistently?  I don't know that answer either, but I'm looking forward to see him give us the answer here shortly.

Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

Seeing a slant and crossing route being completed warms my heart.  Our short-intermediate passing game the past couple of years hasn't been very good.  

+1 HS
d5k's picture

It has mostly been neglected in favor of pounding the ball with Hyde and Braxton.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

In the first .gif, I'm not seeing the slot defender committing to the run, but rather the two CBs and S in a diamond formation that appeared to be more of a simple numbers game.

Read my entire screen name....

d5k's picture

Right, since we have trips to that side there should be 3 defenders covering the 3 players to thwart the screen pass and instead there are 2 defenders and then a LB cheated toward the LOS and a safety cheated deep.  It feels like that doesn't even need to be a packaged play as that LB is never going to actually cover the slot receiver if there is any run action.

+1 HS
Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Exactly, the LB crashes down on the LOS immediately.  That's either completely undisciplined play or by design.  It looks like a blitz to me.

Read my entire screen name....

FitzBuck's picture

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

+2 HS
BoFuquel's picture

I don't see a need to change the offense that much. Just get ahead button down and keep the defense off the field. That's Ol' Herm's way and  tain't gonna change till he's gone. Sure seams like it's worked well the last two seasons, if it ain't broke.... GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

Squirrel Master's picture

Ol' Herm huh...

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

BeatTTUN's picture

So the Buckeyes are looking to make up 100 yards of Offense due to Braxton being gone.

A simple way to make up the yardage will be a result of the Defense getting stops and ending drives on the oppositions side of the field forcing them to punt inside their 20 yard line meaning the Buckeyes are getting the ball at the 35-40 yard consistently instead of the 20 yard line. Also the Punt & Kick return game should be significantly better this year getting a few more easy yards.

It is all Math Dudes

The skill players available are going to put a lot of pressure on defenses, the question to be answered is whether or not the oppositions X's are as Good as the Buckeyes O's.

Go Buckeyes Beat Michigan

whiskeyjuice's picture

The point wasn't just to make up the 100 yards, it was about making the 100 yards beyond what the play was designed for. Meaning explosive long plays. Also as mentioned, the idea or concept is to have playmakers that can break off impact TD's from anywhere on the field as opposed to sustaining multiple drives with 15 plus plays. It's the quick strike explosion plays that scares a defensive coordinator. The defense can't double cover everybody so if OSU has even 4 different players that can establish consistent explosive plays, the defense won't know what hit them. Urban has recruited these types of athletes so now is the time to see if it will work or not. 

"You'll find out that nothing that comes easy is worth a dime. As a matter of fact, I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face." -- Wayne Woodrow Hayes

BeatTTUN's picture

RB- Samuel

H-B- Marshall

WR- Dixon

WR- Clark

TE Baugh

that isn't even the 1st-7th grouping of personnel and it is stocked with equalizers that can make EXPLOSION plays.

The Buckeyes offense is going to put tremendous pressure on defenses to play flawless for 60 minutes.

Go Buckeyes Beat Michigan

buckeyedude's picture

Spread the ball around, JT. I like the way he stays in the pocket. I think this year is going to be really fun.

 

 

+1 HS
D-Day0043's picture

I just hope they open up the offense and don't play scared. Trust your playmakers to make plays regardless of experience. The more you limit yourself offensively, the easier you are to defend.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

+1 HS
whiskeyjuice's picture

I think that's the idea this year, especially with 50cal starting.

"You'll find out that nothing that comes easy is worth a dime. As a matter of fact, I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face." -- Wayne Woodrow Hayes

buckeyepastor's picture

If our receivers get jammed and taken off routes as they have in years' past, we may only win 8 games this year.   Under those same circumstances, even with Braxton winning the conference would be a tall order.   If the receivers can get separation and Barrett can get the ball to them on some high percentage throws, we will be in the hunt.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

Shangheyed's picture

Thanks Ross, you make me look like a genius when I am chatting with friends about the Buckeyes!

buckeye phi's picture

Still thinking it's kind of interesting that the changes the coaches were going to make before Braxton Miller's injury, actually require quarterbacking skills that come more naturally to J.T. Barrett.

Everybody knows Miller had explosive speed and an extremely powerful arm, but his game was far from flawless.  Many opportunities to score last season were missed because he didn't (go through enough of his progressions to) see the open man.

And often, when he did throw to the right guy, the ball would be behind the reciever - or - over the wrong shoulder.  It might sound like nitpicking - but while those plays usually resulted in completions, they would have been much bigger plays if the receivers had been hit in stride.

These are things they're saying Barrett brings to the position in a big way.  And while Braxton had to grow in to a leadership role, apparently, those qualities come to J.T. quite naturally. 

Sure it would be better if Braxton had picked up those skills.  After all, he'd still have that speed and that arm to fall back on.  Who knows - maybe the whole package will be on display next year.

In the meantime, this could be a very interesting season - there's just so much talent on hand to which J.T. can "distribute" the ball. 

There are still plenty of concerns about that inexperienced offensive line and the new (and hopefully much improved) pass defense.  But curiously enough, the coaching staff doesn't seem too worried.  That's encouraging.

Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement. - Will Rogers