Film Study: How to Watch Ohio State's Opener Like a Pro (or Don't Watch the Ball)

By Kyle Jones on August 25, 2014 at 11:30a
To get the most out of games, watch Devin Smith and other players away from the ball.

After nearly nine long months of waiting, college football has finally returned.

But as millions of college football fans sink into their couch for hours on end this Saturday, consuming hours of nonstop pigskin delight, they'll be missing a huge chunk of the action on the field. While football continues to be the true national pastime in this country, the presentation of the game on TV has been refined and cut down to allow anyone to follow the basic action on the field. 

In an effort to follow the most important person on the field at any one time (the guy with the ball), the remaining 21 players on the field are often an after-thought until it's their time to touch the ball. As cameras zoom in on quarterbacks in the pocket, running backs looking for a hole, or even a returner waiting to bring to catch a kick, fans at home are directed where to focus their attention unlike in any other sport. In basketball and hockey, fans are able to see one entire end of the playing area at once. In baseball, though adjustments in the positioning of fielders is often kept off-screen, viewers are able to see the entirety of the pitcher versus batter duel, which is the vast majority of action within a game.

Luckily, we're here to help. As the Ohio State Buckeyes open their 2014 campaign on the road in Baltimore, most fans will be watching from the comfort of their own home (or local watering hole). In an effort to help you sound more intelligent than your buddies during or after the game, here are a few tips on how to watch a game on TV.

Who's there?

With 22 players on the field at one time, it's important to recognize that it's nearly impossible to track the movements of every single player at one time. Even the best scouts often focus on one area of one side of the ball when watching a live game. 

One of the first places to start is by recognizing the changes in personnel and formation from an offense. Since Urban Meyer's arrival in Columbus in 2012, the Buckeyes have operated almost exclusively out of "11" personnel (1 tight end and 1 running back). 

OSU base personnel

Over the past two seasons, the starting "H" (slot) receiver was Corey "Philly" Brown. However, there were times when he moved outside to allow freshman Dontre Wilson to come into the game at that position. This small tweak in alignment acted as a signal to players, coaches, and fans alike, that something was about to happen. Very often, Wilson was called upon to act as a primary ballcarrier or decoy, becoming a critical part of any play called when he was on the field. 

Simple adjustments in formation can take place from week to week in any offense, such as lining up a tight end in the slot, looking to take advantage of a particular weakness that has been identified in their opponent. The key for fans at home is to recognize these adjustments early in the game, and look for patterns in how they're used. 

For the 2014 Buckeyes, there are a number of such adjustments worth looking for, such as the use of both tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett at the same time. Is one lined up out wide as a receiver? In the slot? In the backfield?

Additionally, questions remain about the young wide-outs. When Wilson lines up in the backfield like a running back, who takes his place at H? Does that guy just block, or is he an athlete like Jalin Marshall who now steps into the role of playmaker, with Wilson as the decoy?

Recognizing patterns in personnel and alignment go a long way toward giving the TV viewer a better idea of the chess match between opposing coaches.

Read the Guards

Although cameras like to focus in on the quarterback at the snap, TV viewers are also given a good look at the battle between the offensive and defensive lines. There is perhaps no better place to start when trying to understand what's actually happening in the chess match of X's and O's between two teams than this particular battle.

In particular, the offensive guards often tell the true story of where the ball is going. In fact, linebackers are often taught to follow the guard on the first day of pee-wee practice. 

In the following examples from last season, the paths of OSU guards Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall gave us clues as to where the ball would go.

OSU Inside Zone

As the Buckeyes look to run the ball inside with the Tight Zone, both Hall (#79) and Norwell (#78) drive straight upfield, sending a clear message that Hyde will be following right behind them. In particular, with no defender immediately in front of them, both Hall and Norwell move quickly downfield to block linebackers at the second level, with Norwell laying the key block that springs running back Carlos Hyde for a big gain.

OSU Play Action

In this example of a play-action touchdown pass out of the same formation, Norwell and Hall once immediately again show where the play is going. Like the first example, the two guards don't have any opponents lined up directly across from them. But even though the action in the backfield appears the same at first, the big men on either side of the center don't move towards the linebackers, instead protecting their spots in the pocket to keep Braxton Miller from getting hit, and showing that the play will be a pass after all.

Finally, guards in the Buckeye scheme are often the only ones that are asked to "pull" and move to the other side of the formation to give a block.

Hall pulling

In this example, while the rest of the offense appears to be going to their right, Hall immediately opens up and begins heading to the opposite side of the formation.

OSU QB Counter

As Braxton Miller and company are trying to act like the play will be a roll out or sweep to the right, Hall is busy kicking out the defensive end and creating the hole through which Miller would follow to the end zone.

Although guard might be the least sexy position on the field to many, never touching the ball like the center, or getting the love from NFL scouts like a tackle, they offer fans more insight into what's actually happening than anyone else. 

Meet the press

In case you hadn't heard, the Ohio State Buckeyes have a new face leading the defense. After finishing 112th in pass defense in 2013, Chris Ash was brought in to re-build the back line. Ash brings not only success at previous stints calling the defense at Arkansas and Wisconsin, but with him comes press, man-to-man coverage on the outside.

Since the late 90's, Ohio State has rarely asked their defensive backs to line up one-on-one and defend a receiver without help from a safety, yet that trend will change this year, and we'll actually be able to see it.

Although those of us at home often saw the end-results of a deep pass play last year, we rarely saw how the receiver got open in the first place. But with the installation of Ash's Cover 4 shell with two deep safeties and man-to-man coverage from the cornerbacks, we'll be able to get a much better picture.

OSU cover 4 shell

Now, the TV viewer is able to see these battles between receiver and defensive back, as we witnessed during the 2014 OSU Spring Game (h/t to reader Shaun OSU for the GIF below). At the top of the screen, Eli Apple wins the battle on this play, throwing off the timing of his opponent's route.

OSU Press

As we're able to see, Apple does a great job of keeping his weight back while still getting his hands on the receiver long enough to disrupt him. The cornerback doesn't need to stop the receiver completely, but just enough throw him off his route for a beat or two. 

With only one returning starter in the defensive backfield, these matchups will be critical for the success of the Buckeye defense this fall. If (and when) a young cornerback leans too far in one direction while trying to jam his receiver, he won't have much help over the top from a safety, leaving the possibility for a big play wide open. 

It takes some time to get used to watching football this way, as many of us learned and fell in love with the game by following the ball like the cameras instructed. But for those of you that want to know more about the WHY of football than the WHAT, using these tricks can help shed some light onto a beautifully complex game.

Welcome back, football.



Dayton Buckeye's picture

Having played offense and defensive lines I tend to focus on the blocking and stunting schemes.

+2 HS
sivaDavis's picture

Same here. Was a DE and my favorite stunt was "Nurse" which was a Nose under End stunt. Our nose tackle was 6'4 and around 340 but with fast feet. The guard was always so confused and would basically throw himself into the tackle when he saw our NT diving to the 4 which would leave me a gap and free run into the backfield.

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Great write up.  Thanks.

Read my entire screen name....

bbb's picture

Great analysis, as usual! Thanks

Hovenaut's picture

This write-up, those clips, it's game week...

Getting dusty in here.

+3 HS
73buckeye's picture

Geeez, I thought I was the only one that has the return of football bring tears to their eyes.


+1 HS
DCBuckeye33's picture

An excellent in depth analysis from 11 warriors that goes way beyond anything else out there, shocking!! Thanks for the write up


JohnnyKozmo's picture

One of my favorite part of watching a game in person is seeing the play develop.  TV just doesn't do it justice.  I can't wait for Saturday to the 2014 Buckeyes!!!  Also pretty interested in seeing the triple option in person.  

+1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

The Bump and run should also get the Silver Bullets more sacks... Can't wait to see the new Defense in action!

Crimson's picture

I agree that our corners will frequently be playing press, but I disagree that they'll also necessarily be frequently playing man.  As I understand it (from Ross), they'll be pattern matching.  This could mean that they play man with the guy that they press, man with a different receiver/TE/RB, or they could drop into a zone.  If this isn't the case, let me know.

cdub4's picture

From what I understand from reading Ross and Kyle, and it seems like you are saying the same thing in reality, pattern matching frequently ends of being press man coverage in reality on the edges, and more often than not the safeties will be matching in man also when not crashing the run.

+1 HS
Fugelere's picture

Yes, against vertical routes you are essentially playing man to man but it looks like zone against horizontal or crossing routes.

+1 HS
Barnsey69's picture

As hard as I try, I still follow the ball during live action for the most part. The I usually re-watch the game and try to focus on the player-player-scheme match-ups. Not to mention when I am watching Buckeye games on TV it is usually with a bunch of drunks (including me) so attention to detail can be a little bit challenging. 

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

+2 HS
rjenkins26's picture

I have the same problem at my house. Plus, people usually come over to my house to watch the game, and for some reason, people get really upset when i pause or rewind the game. So i usually sit down the next day (when sober) and watch each play in depth.

Vinsaniti's picture

Thanks for the new perspective as I usually see this stuff after the game. Should be fun to watch at game speed on saturday.

QBYBuckeye's picture

One of the reasons we have the best fans is that we have the best informed fans.  One of the reasons we have the best informed fans is articles like this.  The reason we have articles like this is that we have people like you writing them.  Keep up the good work.

New York Buckeye

+8 HS
pcon258's picture

Couldn't agree more. At this point, 11W readers probably make up about 25% of the fans at Ohio Stadium on any given Saturday. 

This community is special in that it keeps us well-informed (perhaps better informed than any other college football site), and perhaps more importantly, it takes a stand against trolls and bad fans. The 11W commentariat is among the harshest critics of OSU fans acting inappropriately. That absolutely makes an impact.

for example: tweeting at recruits. The 11W staff has (rightfully) taken a stand against this practice. Though it seems obvious to many of us, I have no doubt that it has caused people to think twice before sending that tweet. 

keep on keeping on 11W. Buckeye nation needs you. 

+3 HS
joejoe04's picture

The side view of football has always annoyed me. Like you said, the ball is snapped and the receivers all run out of view. It's rare, but I love when they show a play in the view from behind, like in the Madden games. You get to see a better view of almost everything, from the receivers running routes, to lineman opening up holes. I really wish they would go to this as the default.

+1 HS
ibuck's picture

Agreed, TV coverage frequently zooms in too close and we miss what's happening. I would much rather see what's developing than the partial glimpse of a player's expression (hidden by a facemask). 

I used to cringe when a network would brag about the 27 cameras to be used in a broadcast, thinking, "Crap, will we get to see any of the game?"

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

cplunk's picture

On offense, blocking is so much more important than what goes on with the actual ball.

I love when we have blowout games because I can do something I can't/won't do when the game is competitive. If we hit the fourth quarter of a game that is no longer in doubt, I use my DVR and watch each play three times- once live, once in slow mo focusing on the O-line (usually one side of the line or just one particular player), and then once in slow mo watching some other aspect (depending on the view this might be the routes developing and the secondary responses or it might be focusing on the RB or TE and how they handle blocking assignments and their routes).

ibuck's picture

Wish we had a DVR option to do this automatically, maybe with split screen so as not to miss any play. 

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

pcon258's picture

Love the article. 

took exception to the comment about baseball broadcasts though. To me, baseball is the sport that translates worst to a tv broadcast. Gives you a great view of pitcher-batter duel, but there are so many more nuances that you miss out on by not being at the ballpark. Fielder adjustments, base running/leading, etc. are all lost on the screen. Just my two cents. 

IGotAWoody's picture

They show baseball on TV? Well. I'll be darned.

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

Bamabucknut's picture

Thanks you. Great article.

BucksfanXC's picture

Are we going to try to do the game charting stuff again this year? It didn't really take hold much last year but I think we have to keep up with it.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

TURD_BUCKET's picture

Great write up!

Thats why I always enjoy sitting in C deck ( between the 40s ), so I can see ALL of the field / players and watch it all develop.

“Being average means you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top.” John Wooden

rkylet83's picture

The offensive line was amazing last season.  The just simply crushed people.  If teams didn't rush 6 or more Braxton would have all day to throw.

+2 HS
cw823's picture

At times OSU has attempted the "12" personnel lineup but it has normally been flagged for doing so.

+1 HS
Chark's picture

This is the perfect level of detail. Jim Bollman can understand it, but it's just beyond Brady Hoke's reading comprehension level.

Neither one should pose too much of a risk should they accidentally navigate here. I've been told Brady is especially fond of the eleveninchwarriors web site.

Alcohol will not solve any of your problems, but then again, neither will milk or water.

chemicalwaste's picture

I have always hated how they zoom in on the ball. Even while a pa is in the air they zoom in ona ball in flight. How suspenseful!

Young_Turk's picture

The worst is when they interview some celebrity.  Microwave rage.


+1 HS
Zimmy07's picture

That play against Penn St. is awesome.  The 2 LB's who looked like they knew what was coming got taken out by the pulling RG and the LT who left the double team w/ the LG.  Hyde didn't even have to block anyone.

+1 HS
Firedup's picture

TV broadcast of football is definitely changing.  In our 2 games on FOX  last year that had a wide angle sideline view  that showed all 22 players at the snap.  It made seeing how really poor our pass D was when you could watch how exactly the WRs got open as opposed to an ESPN/CBS where the WR is magicallly open downfield.  I hope the trend continues in placing emphasis on all 22 players being visible 

"Making the Great State of Ohio Proud!" UFM

+4 HS
Fugelere's picture

I totally agree.  It's almost like watching coach's film.

BeatTTUN's picture

Hauerman & Vannett in the X & H

Dontre in the Z

Mike Thomas in a flexed TE


motion Dontre across the formation to a quick bubble screen as option 1

Mike runs a Post corner

EZE checks to block the backside first then sips out to the right flat

If the corner stays with Dontre then it is 1 on 1 with Mike and EZE with either a Safety or a LB on the backside

If the corner stays backside then it is a LB that has to pick up a quickly moving Dontre that just caught the ball and is moving rapidly toward the endzone untouched because to 6' 5" dudes just leveled the defenders that were asked to cover them.

The personnel combinations the Buckeyes are going to be able to throw at a defense this year is impressive.

Go Buckeyes Beat Michigan

+2 HS
Big Papa's picture

I want to watch our DB's and see if they turn and play the ball in the air. No more face guarding   Turn around and make a pick. 

"To be the man you've gotta beat the man and just when you think you have all the answers, I change the question." The Nature Boy, Ric Flair

Zimmy07's picture

Navy throws the ball, what? 10 times a game?

whiskeyjuice's picture

I didn't realize the tackles didn't pull as much.

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

Fugelere's picture

In some spread offenses they do.  Clemson's offense comes to mind.   But Urban's spread is based on more traditional one-back running plays (power, counter, and zones)

whiskeyjuice's picture

Yeah, I always thought tackles pulled all the time which is why you want athletic types for that position. What I meant to say is that I didn't realize they didn't pull as much for Urban.

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

Kyle Jones's picture

Tackles don't often pull outside of counters and the odd pin-and-pull outside zone play. In the vast majority of offenses, the guards are often the ones asked to pull. 

The reason you want athletes to play tackle though is for pass protection. They're asked to go one-on-one with freakish defensive ends, so you want a guy with quick feet who can stay in front of him. It's much easier to find an athlete and put weight on him (like Reid Fragel) than it is to try and make a fat guy more athletic.

whiskeyjuice's picture

Thanks for the info Kyle!!

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

Gunship_Buckeye's picture

I'm constantly getting in trouble for backing up the DVR and slow poke the last play and examine how it unfolded.  Family hates it when I do that but at least some commercial time is skipped!  I just have to SILENCE my phone because of the auto score updates.


“If you take it to ‘em, and you keep taking it to ‘em, hell, there’s no question who will win!” - Woody

jkrk's picture

Great stuff for an Xs and Os dummy like me.

buckeyelindz2004's picture

Great article! Thanks for this! Also, gives me some hope for our pass defense this year. Maybe I won't lose my voice screaming at my tv ala The 2013 Season.