It seems to be a new everything for Ohio State football this season, not the least of it being on offense. Jim Bollman and Nick Siciliano are no longer in charge of our offense, which is an unqualified good thing. As we saw last year, the offense Ohio State put on the field, even with limited personnel, was cro-magnon at is worst and inefficient at its best. In comes Urban Meyer and Tom Herman, two offensive minds at head coach and offensive coordinator that are children of the overall spread revolution in college football. After observing the success of both Meyer and Herman at their various other stops, there is considerable excitement among Buckeye fans for what we all hope is an offense capable of putting up Playstation-type numbers.
I’ve never been wedded too strongly to the idea of “spread” as normatively good thing. I just ask that whatever we do on offense works and makes sense in light of base and constraint logic. Today against the Redhawks, the Buckeyes had a play where it worked magnificently. After Armani Reeves had a good kick return to set up the Buckeyes at their own 35 to start the second half, Braxton Miller scored on a QB keeper on the first play of the second half. I liked it. I’m not sure how regularly I will be able to do a feature like this, but, here, I hope to show you how that play worked to our delight.
Ohio State begins the series in the formation you see below. Apologies are in order for yanking this screencap off YouTube from a guy who uploaded the footage from his camera phone, but it is passable for now. Ohio State is lined up with three wide receivers, all to the right of Miller. Jake Stoneburner lines up on the line of scrimmage at tight end (his old position), opposite the left tackle, Jack Mewhort.1 His presence as an eligible receiver is what keeps that defensive back in position. Philly Brown is lined up furthest off the line of scrimmage and closest to Miller and Carlos Hyde. Evan Spencer is split furthest right and is on the line of scrimmage. Devin Smith occupies the slot between the two. Notice, importantly, the alignment of the tailback and quarterback. In this play, the Buckeyes are threatening inside zone read to the right hand side of the formation (between the right guard and right tackle).
From there, Philly Brown motions to the backfield. As such, it was apparent after this game concluded that Urban Meyer will use Philly Brown as a proxy for Percy Harvin, which may or may not change when Jordan Hall returns to the fold. This motion, I think, is called a “Hic” in Meyer’s nomenclature. However, notice the alignment of both Brown and Hyde in this backfield. Unlike most of what I remember seeing from Meyer’s days at Florida, both are threatening inside zone to either side of the line of scrimmage rather than outside zone. Actually, I think Philly Brown is a bit misaligned, which may indicate some growing pains with a new offense and a new way of doing things.
If this formation looks familiar, it should. Urban Meyer very liked aped this play from Chip Kelly, something for which Ohio State fans hope that Meyer’s year off coaching turned into a glorified research project for our benefit. What will follow is referred to as a “straddled triple option”. Unlike conventional triple option plays, Chip Kelly has used this formation to threaten inside zone to both guard-tackle gaps. Why is this relevant? In doing so, defenses are, on paper, forced on their heels a little bit. They are no longer able to overload one gap or the other, lest they risk conceding a big play. A straddled triple option, with inside zone to one side of the formation and a speed option to the other side of the formation, threatens all sides of the field and all defenders. This is exactly what offenses should do in theory, and something for which Ohio State was not as good during the Tressel era.
With this in mind, Ohio State snaps the ball and Braxton Miller makes his first read. This is the inside zone read part of the straddled triple option.
Here, Miller is reading the defensive end (#93), who you can see, in part, near the “x” in between the hashmarks. Jake Stoneburner has released to block the safety (#29), allowing the defensive end to be optioned rather than blocked. If the defensive end crashes, Miller keeps. If the defensive end sits, the backside pursuit is contained and Miller hands the ball to Hyde. Really, I think Miller could have handed off this ball to Hyde and it would have been a positive play. The defensive end hesitated enough to neutralize himself, and then overpursued Hyde once Miller had already made the decision to keep. This suggests either a really bad mistake by the defensive end, some good ball-faking by Miller (an important component to any play action), or both. Notice the blocking on the inside zone read as well. Our center, Corey Linsley, passes off the defensive tackle to Andrew Norwell, who, with Mewhort, goes hat-on-hat to push their blocks back and consume a linebacker as well. Meanwhile, Corey Linsley is already at the second level and has neutralized a linebacker. Assuming #48 for Miami can arm tackle Carlos Hyde (a big assumption), this play would have gotten at least five yards if Hyde took the ball. However, Miller withdrew the ball and was fortunate that the defensive end he was optioning got lost in the shuffle and could not chase him in the backfield.
Thus begins the speed option component of the straddled triple option, which you can see below.
The defensive end, #93 to Miller’s right and near the right hashmark, is now way out of position and has no hope of doing anything of consequence. Better yet, Jake Stoneburner is now in perfect position to block the safety, #29. As you will see below, only one defender, at the top of your screen, is capable of doing anything to prevent this from being a big play.
At this point, this lonely defender is wrong no matter what he does, pending diligence by Braxton Miller and Philly Brown. If he drifts toward the pitch man, Miller is off to the races. If he goes for the killshot on Miller, which he probably should have done, Miller pitches to Brown and Brown is off to the races. What he did do was get himself slightly out of position toward Brown, expecting the pitch. This was made more apparent when Braxton Miller faked the pitch and made him 100% wrong on his decision. After this point, as you will see below, this is at least a 30 yard play for the Buckeyes.
Yeah, this will not end well for Miami.
After this point, the only question is how many yards Miller will tally on this first down play. Miller thrives in shaking players like that Miami defender, but is not necessarily a speedster or a long strider like Terrelle Pryor. #6, who was the deep high safety that you did not see at the beginning of the play, is the only one that has an angle on Miller and can push him out of bounds at the thirty yard line of Miami. By this point, Miller would have gotten a 35 yard gain on first down, and all the safety can do is stop the bleeding. But, our quarterback can apparently do this:
And it worked.
And Miller scores.
What does this tell us about Ohio State football this season? Not a lot, but it gives us a glimpse into what Ohio State football will try to do this season and what it believes will work against defenses, all else equal. Miami would have been wrong on this play no matter what happened. Ohio State had enough blockers for any part of this play to work. Miami’s numbers in the box were insufficient to make this a negative play. Our players are better than their players. Some individual mistakes on top of that by the two optioned players made this a fun touchdown for Ohio State fans. Nonetheless, what we saw on this play represents a change in the overall implementation of what are otherwise common ideals of Tressel Ball and Meyer’s spread. The idea is the same, but the application should be more efficient and easier for everyone involved to execute.
- No comment will be made about their summer activities. [↩]