Please tackle better than this, thanks. (Photo credit: Eric Francis/Getty Images)
On Saturday, Michigan plays a 6-5 team coming off two straight losses—one to Purdue, of all teams—that can barely complete a forward pass and is already ironing out contract details with their next head coach. In a world where I maintained my knowledge of college football but had entirely ignored the happenings of the past year, I'd guess Michigan was facing bizarro Northwestern, but these are your 2011 Ohio State Buckeyes.
Thank you, Terrelle Pryor.
In a scenario nobody saw coming before Tat-gate, and really not even then, Michigan is the team entering the final week of the regular season with a great shot at a BCS bowl while OSU is content to play the spoiler while hoping for a brighter future. This week's FFFF looks at Ohio State's 20-14 loss to Penn State, a game that had me asleep on my living room couch early in the third quarter. Big Ten football: Taste the excitement!
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Hybrid. Ohio State mainly uses the I-form, especially on early downs, but will also throw in a fair amount of the pistol as well as the shotgun, though they often keep fullback Zach Boren in the game and have two backs flanking Braxton Miller in the gun.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Ohio State runs all the time—Miller's two highest number of pass attempts (18 and 17) have come during comeback efforts in the last two weeks, and otherwise his season-high is 13 back against Colorado—which may have you thinking MANBALL, but they're zone blockers. You'll see the occasional pulling guard and some QB power, but mostly they let Miller and Herron pick a hole and go.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Miller has turned in three 100+ yard efforts in the last four weeks (sacks excluded), and has really become the most dangerous rushing threat on the OSU offense. He's clearly still a freshman and will make some bad reads, but he has deceptively good speed, solid power, and great change-of-direction skills. His freewheeling style born of inexperience, while sometimes detrimental, also makes him largely unpredictable and can be an advantage, as you'll see later. I have no choice but to give him a 9.
Dangerman: WR Devier Posey (#9). After multiple run-ins with NCAA law, Posey finally made his season debut last week, and he managed to catch four passes for 66 yards from Braxton Miller, which is wildly impressive. He can do this...
...which, like, wow. Posey's four-catch-per-game average places him well above any other member of the Buckeyes—tight end Jake Stoneburner leads the team with 13 catches in 11 games—and there's an outside chance he becomes the team's leading receiver in just two games. It's safe to say Posey's presence entirely changes the outlook of Ohio State's offense.
Zook Factor: The worst thing Luke Fickell did against Penn State was call for a punt on 4th-and-13 from Penn State's 35, which of course went for a touchback and netted all of 15 yards. That isn't a good decision, but again, Ohio State can barely complete a forward pass. I still would've called for a QB draw just to see if Miller could break something open there. So, yeah, good news—Fickell's definitely got some Zook in him.
OVERVIEW: Man, I want to sound all smart and write a detailed breakdown of Jim Bollman's complex and imaginative offense, but it's just not possible. They run a lot, mostly with zone blocking. Miller and Herron are both good-to-great with the ball in their hands, and backup RB Carlos Hyde is a big back who's good for picking up around five yards per carry (Jordan Hall gets nearly as many touches as Hyde, but I don't know why, as he's stuck at an even 4 ypc this season).
As BlueSeoul pointed out, they like to run from unbalanced sets—whether it be from the I-form (like in BlueSeoul's picture pages) or the pistol—forcing the defense to make on-the-fly adjustments and stay extremely disciplined because of the threat of Miller. Despite Ohio State's impressive rushing numbers, the offensive line appears to be mediocre—they're kinda big and slow for zone blocking, and you'll see some blatant whiffs, especially if the defense brings pressure.
The Buckeyes pass only when absolutely necessary—or when their first-down run gets stuffed and they think it's surprising to pass on 2nd-and-11—and will usually do so out of the gun, though on occasion they'll try a play-action pass from the I-form. Those are usually a terrible idea, as between OSU's plodding offensive tackles and Miller's inexperience, they give up 3.27 sacks per game, good for 116th in the country—Miller usually tries to escape pressure by stepping up in the pocket, and he has a habit of stepping right into defensive tackles and linebackers.
PLAY BREAKDOWN: Here's two plays for the price of one (I'm so generous!). As BlueSeoul pointed out, Braxton Miller will often just improvise and go wherever he wants instead of sticking to the design of the play. Sometimes this fails miserably, but other times it works like the first play in this clip, in which he sees a lurking Devon Still on a speed option and makes a sharp cut up the middle instead of trying to keep the play outside—it cannot be emphasized enough how important it is for Michigan to maintain gap discipline, as Miller is liable to end up just about anywhere. On the second play, Miller once again finds a seam up the middle, then makes a great cut to the outside and cruises to the pylon for a touchdown:
This is, well, scary. There's only so much you can do to prepare for a quarterback like this, because Miller won't always do what is intended on a given play, making it really difficult for the defense to stuff a play even when making the proper read. He'll reverse field, go through the wrong gap, wait around in the backfield until he finds a crease—there's just no guessing where he is going to go. The best way to defend this is through dominant defensive line play, and luckily Michigan has had that in spades recently—it's going to take a big day from the entire line, as well as the linebackers, to keep Miller from amassing 100 yards.
- Miller is progressing a bit as a passer, and the return of Posey really helps, but he's still just not very accurate. That said, however, he does a surprisingly good job of not turning the ball over—on 109 attempts this season, he has just three interceptions, and only one since October 1st—and he very much prefers to scramble instead of force a throw into coverage.
- When the Buckeyes get into the red zone, pay close attention to Stoneburner, who becomes Miller's favorite target near the goal line. He came up with a nice seven-yard touchdown catch on an out route, and seven of his 13 catches this season have gone for touchdowns despite him averaging just 12 yards per catch. If Miller is looking to go deep, he'll obviously target Posey, but also 6'3" freshman Devin Smith, who averages 22 ypc on his 11 receptions this season. He was a complete non-factor against Penn State, however, and we'll just have to see how much playing time he gets now that Posey is back in the picture.
- The Buckeyes busted out the wildcat with Carlos Hyde a couple times, and it really makes zero sense for them to do so. Hyde is a big back with less speed and big-play ability than Miller, and he's even less of a threat to throw, so why bother to put him out there when defenses are already loading up against the run? Wait, what am I saying? Run the wildcat all game, Bollman. That Miller guy totally sucks.
- As evidenced by the atrocious sack numbers, Mattison's blitzes should hit home with regularity. Both Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts looked very susceptible to speed rushes off the edge, and also will inexplicably blow assignments—this sounds like the perfect storm for an Okie zone blitz bonanza. If Michigan finishes the game with fewer than three sacks, I'll be very surprised.
- Center Mike Brewster, a preseason All-American candidate, had a lot of trouble with his shotgun snaps, including one comical third down where he snapped the ball into his own ass while Miller was in the gun. Not sure how much this will play a factor, but it certainly made me laugh.
After the jump, I take a look at Ohio State's defense. Jump!
(Wait. Which one is Michigan playing again?)
About Last Weekend:
No. 16 Nebraska 17, No. 18 Michigan 45 (W)
"Guess why I smile a lot."
"Uh, 'cause it's worth it."
The Road Ahead:
Ohio State (6-5, 3-4 B1G)
Getty / via the Huffington Post
- Akron, 42-0 (W)
- Toledo, 27-22 (W)
- @ Miami, 24-6 (L)
- Colorado, 37-17 (W)
- Michigan State, 10-7 (L)
- @ No. 14 Nebraska, 34-27 (L)
- @ No. 16 Illinois, 17-7 (W)
- No. 15 Wisconsin, 33-29 (W)
- Indiana, 34-20
- @ Purdue 26-23 OT (LOL)
Last game: No. 21 Penn State 20, Ohio State 14 (L)
Recap: Recap. Have to do a recap. Last recap. Gotta finish by the end of Tuesday. Tuesday's over. Damn. Gotta finish by Wednesday. One-day-late Championship recap. Okay.
... Ohio State fell into a hole early. Penn State RB Stephfon Green took a run up the middle, evaded some tackles, and sprinted 39 yards for a touchdown. 7-0 Nittany Lions.
The ensuing Buckeyes drive stalled because Ohio State C Mike Brewster snapped the ball into his ass while QB Braxton Miller was in shotgun formation. (I think this is when this particular bad snap happened. Bad snaps happened many times throughout this game. I think Brewster ended up blaming it on his gloves.)
Penn State drove and got a field goal, miring the Buckeyes in their third 10-0 deficit in as many weeks.
Ohio State wasn’t dead, though. Not yet. Miller ran the option to good effect and scored on a 24-yard keeper; most of the Buckeyes’ large chunks on the ground came from his option keepers, which is to say he kept the ball every time. He and Denard are both members of the “never pitch” movement.
That’s not anything relevant, but I google imaged “option keeper” and it’s what I got.
Also, WR DeVier Posey returned from suspension. He didn’t make a huge impact (4 catches, 66 yards), but he was pretty much the entire passing offense, and he did do this.
All of this game’s points were scored in the first half before the allure of B1G football got the better of both teams. Penn State scored another touchdown and field goal in the first half but failed to convert on a redzone opportunity in the second half when Ohio State turned the ball over on a fumble.
On that possession, the Buckeyes defense mounted an impressive goal-line stand to keep the Nittany Lions out of the end zone.
The second Buckeye touchdown came in the second quarter when Braxton Miller found TE Jake Stoneburner on a deep crossing route in the end zone. It was an impressive throw. Something tells me that he might eventually be pretty good when he’s given a real offense to work with.
You probably know the rest. Ohio State drove ferociously for a Hail Mary opportunity in the final minutes, but the first fourth-down conversion fell short when a Miller scramble, set back by a false-start penalty, fell short of the first down marker. The second attempt after a quick Penn State three-and-out fell incomplete because Penn State actually knows how to cover receivers. Unlike you, Wisconsin. For shame.
Right now they are as frightening as: Voldemort down to his last Horcrux.
Michigan should worry about: When you look at Miller’s highlight reel, the thing that stands out is that he scrambles effectively to buy time for his receivers to get open. He keeps his eyes downfield, and his instincts are usually good when it comes to finally tucking and running. A lot of his game-winning or almost-game-winning touchdowns came when he danced around in the backfield for some length before finding his target.
To get to him, Michigan’s secondary will need to stay on receivers for a lot longer than they’re used to, and D-line discpline will be essential. If he’s able to break through the containment, Miller will make plays.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: The Nittany Lions rushed for 239 yards on not that many carries. Their running backs consistently found enormous holes in the Buckeyes defensive line and frequently had to be tracked down from behind by linebackers. It looked like Ohio State’s defensive line was caught in pass rush mode at the wrong times -- the ends were way overcommitted, allowing the backs to run right by them.
Next game: No. 15 That School Up North
(more after the jump)
Know your enemy
Not much time this week, but I wanted to put up some plays from the OSU games, Neb game wrap will come out during the down time before the bowl game. Win or lose vs TSIO, revisiting the beatdown will be something fun to do in a week or so.
OSU used a lot of unbalanced sets against Purdue, so our CB's have to be ready for it and talk to the LB's so that we can get properly aligned.
On this play, the boilers are in man coverage so when the TE flops, the OLB goes with him. This means the the DE no longer has contain so both he and the DT on that side shift down a gap. The OLB needs to be aware that his man is now ineligible to go downfield, so he doesn't have any coverage responsibilities, or he's got backs coming out of the backfield.
Purdue is betting against Miller's passing game and has 8 in the box, 9 if you count that CB who is kind of playing center field on the backside. The two receivers are man'd up by the CB and FS
OSU continues to have problems identifying who to block with their zone scheme. Both the split end and the LG completely whiff leaving the two frontside LB's unblocked.
There is a danger of a playaction rollout on this play. If that safety is so far off of the split end, there's a lot of room for him to do a post deep cross, so it's important for the backside DE to keep contain and respect Miller on a rollout.
With the missed block, this is an easy TFL for purdue, but their frontside defenders have also beaten their blockers since they maintained outside leverage and the LB forced the RB to bounce.
On this play we've got the same formation, but it's flipped. Again, Purdue is selling out against the run. They're showing 9 in the box as that CB is faking a blitz, but he steps back and is in man coverage with the split end. Again, the TE is inelligible, so guy #5 up there has contain on the strong side and guy #1 has contain on the weakside.
Again, there's a real danger for playaction on that post or crossing route. The SAM backer has to get into a pass drop if he reads pass blocking from the linemen. This play turns into a lead draw, so he's okay, but he's in a tough position because he has to help in coverage and watch for the cutback once he sees that the action is going weakside. Fortunately for Purude, the DE beats his block and the FB fails to pick him up.
So this results in another TFL, but if that SAM evacuates his area too quickly, there's going to be a huge cutback lane.
[ed: time to jump]
When you were considering coming back here, was being able to play in this rivalry game again part of your decision-making?
“No. Honestly I can’t say that. I mean, I’d like to say yeah. That goes with coming back to Michigan. If you coach at the University of Michigan, playing this game is the biggest rivalry in college athletics. But I don’t think you think about that and say 'I’m going to come back so I can coach in that game.'”
What memories of this game stick out to you?
“Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I can remember this game probably better than any other game. I had the opportunity to play them six times, five times here. They’re a good football team. There’s no question about it. It’s what college football’s all about, this game. You always remember those games.”
Everybody talks about scheme, but tackling is the foundation. How do you tackle well?
“By getting a lot of people to the football. I think if you watch any defense and you see one person trying to make a tackle, you’ll see a team that’s not a very good tackling team. But if you see a lot of people around that football, then you see teams that do well tackling. The big thing is, it closes the space. It closes the opportunity for a running back to cut.”
Is that effort or scheme?
“I think most of defensive football is effort. Wanting to get to the football. We talk about it all the time. When you look at somebody pursue, you always have to talk about ‘Why are you pursuing?’ Are you pursuing because that coach says you’re supposed to run to the football or are you pursuing to try to go make a tackle? I think that players understand that after a while that ‘Hey, my job is to tackle the football, so I have to pursue to get there,’ and that’s effort.”
(more after the jump)
Have you noticed any difference in Brady this week at all?
“Not really, no. I mean, it’s Ohio, so he’s fired up about that, but in terms of prep, no. It’s not just another game, but it is pretty much just the same preparation.”
How has the focus been?
“Well we haven’t practiced yet. We did a little bit Sunday, but it was off the charts. You can tell that there’s a little more pep in the step”
Was last Saturday as complete a performance you’ve seen from Denard this year?
“I think yeah, it would rank among one of the top ones. We’ve been encouraging him so much, and in this game particularly, to pull the ball down when guys aren’t open. And he did that, and it made a difference, so that helped us keep some drives alive. We’re going to continue to do that, but because the way they played their defense particularly … there were some opportunities to pull it down and run. He did [throw the ball], when there were open receivers … there were a couple throws that were a little ill-advised but for the most part he played a solid football game.”
What do you think has kept him from scrambling previously?
“Yeah, sometimes as a quarterback, and everyone I’ve had is like that -- they want to prove that they can throw the ball, but there’s a point where you have to use your skills. We talked about it before, I said, ‘You have to use your skills more. You have great skills. Let’s make these guys pay for some of this stuff.' He took it to heart. Here’s the delicate balance: you don’t want to turn down open receivers. If you start looking to run every time you drop back, you can’t pass the ball. You can’t do that. That has to be something that’s instinctive or just comes from a result from the receivers being covered. But you can’t drop back and say every play’s a quarterback draw and then if somebody’s open, throw it, and expect to have any sort of passing game. That’s absurd. I don’t care how good the running quarterback is. That being said, where does one start in the other end? But in this game we were a little more quarterback-is-going-to-be-the-check-down oriented. And we’re like that anyway.”
(more after the jump.)