Film Study: How the Buckeyes' Game Plan For Penn State Could Lay the Foundation for Future Success

By Kyle Jones on October 30, 2017 at 11:30 am
J.T. Barrett's big game against the Nittany Lions may be a taste of what's still to come this fall.

By Sunday morning, we'd all heard of "817 Y-Seam Look-Back."

Ohio State Football Film Study

Not long after putting the final strokes on his masterpiece, J.T. Barrett was asked to describe the final pass, the one that found Marcus Baugh streaking past the Penn State linebackers. Though Urban Meyer had revealed the play's name to the world for the first time in his media availability, crediting coordinators Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day for the call, it was the Buckeyes' senior quarterback who'd get to explain its origins.

"We actually put that in like Wednesday," said Barrett. "And then the play action definitely helped. But I mean, I'm looking at the safety to see which one he picks because whoever he does he's wrong."

817 Y-Seam

While the lofted throw over the outstretched hands of a Penn State linebacker may be the lasting image of one of the most memorable games in Ohio Stadium's illustrious history, it was just one of many impressive throws made by the conductor of an all-gray orchestra that afternoon. But just as using only the final bar to describe a concerto would be unfair to the composer, choosing to highlight only the final 16 of 529 total yards fails to highlight the brilliance of the Buckeye offense in its most important, and impressive, outing of the season so far.

This masterwork was far more than a collection of plays, though, as the work Ohio State put in over the past five games paid off. Though Penn State often employed the same aggressive strong-side run-blitzes that Meyer saw on film in the weeks leading up to the game, the Nittany Lions were forced to deal with the multiple options offered to Barrett on any running play.

Despite regularly seeing an eight-man box from the defense in running situations, the Buckeyes were still able to move the ball on the ground. Fans groaned as Barrett kept the ball on the team's opening play from scrimmage, worried they'd see another conservative game plan based on quarterback runs, but what they got was just the opposite, as Ohio State tallied 201 rushing yards at 5.2 yards a clip.

But the stats don't truly capture how efficient the Buckeye running game was, as the outside relief passing threats presented by flare routes and bubble screens kept the Penn State pressure at bay. Even as the defense began to recognize the tactic, blowing up a few quick screens, Wilson and Day countered by pressing the tempo and catching the defense while they were still getting lined up.

OSU goes uptempo

Additionally, when Barrett did let the defense to get in formation, he was given the option to survey the field and make his decision in a run-pass option before the ball was ever snapped, basing his read entirely on alignment and distributing the ball quickly.

Given the way these quick throws spread the defense to open up the run, it's more realistic to say the Buckeye ground game was responsible for 50 additional yards amassed by K.J. Hill, Mike Weber, and others, giving Meyer the balanced attack he craves. Truly, this performance more than any other may be the type of offensive attack the Ohio State head coach has been waiting for, as his troops dominated the line of scrimmage with a physical rushing attack that wore out the Penn State defense before hitting them over the top.

As we've seen for weeks, the Buckeye passing game still relied heavily on the now-famous Mesh series, with Barrett hitting crossing routes in stride and moving the chains when needed. There also seems to be a bond forming between the QB and X receiver Austin Mack, who hauled in most of his six catches on short, three-step routes when the defense played off-coverage. But this game plan also gave Ohio State fans that hit they've been waiting a full year for, as a vertical passing game finally emerged.

While the Penn State defense continued to slant the defensive line away from a run blitz on early downs, Wilson and Day could easily predict their spots against a weakened secondary often playing zone coverage with one less defender. Not only did the constant play-action fakes suck the linebackers forward, but they kept the pass rushers in their expected lanes and made protecting Barrett easier on the offensive line.

These concepts might seem new to Ohio State fans, but as has been the case all year, Ryan Day's time spent with Chip Kelly can be credited for the insertion of Yankee, Smash, and Switch, all of which were favorites of the former Oregon, Philadelphia, and San Francisco head coach.

Thanks to the rhythm he'd built from the quick passing game, Barrett looked extremely comfortable throwing the deep ball, missing only once on an underthrown route down the down the sideline to Johnnie Dixon in the first half, one of only two non-drop or throwaway incompletions he'd have the entire day. As we know now, though, he found a groove after halftime, completing 16 straight and leading three consecutive touchdown drives to bring the Buckeyes back and take the lead in the final minutes. 

And on those drives, Barrett seemed to find a new level as a passer. Whether it was from a new-found confidence in his arm or his receivers, or simply his reaction to the significance of the moment, we'll never know. But some of the throws he made in the fourth quarter were unlike any we've seen from him this fall, anticipating the break of his receiver and throwing him open, often while stepping right into the teeth of a blitz.

The result was a magnum opus from the three-time captain, empowered by a game plan with which he was comfortable from weeks of steady practice, yet also aggressive enough to allow the offense to overcome the comedy of errors on special teams that put the team in an unnecessary hole. Maybe Barrett is never asked to make some of these throws if the Buckeye kickoff team hadn't been such a mess, but in a way, that may turn out to be a good thing.

Once Barrett connected with Devin Smith on a 44-yard bomb in East Lansing three years ago, that version of the Buckeye offense would find another gear entirely. While their driver, then just a young redshirt freshman, wouldn't ultimately get to ride out the full journey, that performance gave the entire unit an identity that would carry them to a title.

This iteration of the scarlet and gray attack now also has a distinct character of its own, with a running game that will stretch defenses across the width of the field, an underneath passing attack capable of carving up both man and zone schemes, and now, a play-action game that will force opposing safeties back onto their heels. The best part of it all is how replicable the model should be moving forward given how familiar the unit has already become with its tactics. 

Though the pieces add up to something that looks like the 2014 offense, the same core philosophies are assembled altogether differently, and Wilson and Day deserve credit for transforming what many believed to be an outdated ideology into something terrifying, as the unit sits second nationally in yards-per-game. But even though the Buckeye offense appears to be a freight train headed down the tracks to Iowa City, it's OK to just enjoy the brilliance of that final play, at least according to the guy in charge.

"The game-winner," Meyer answered after the game when asked what play stood out to him. "I remember the call. It was 817 Y-Seam Look-Back. And they gave us the look that we needed. And those guys upstairs did a very nice job and executed to perfection."

View 64 Comments