Fee Fi Foe Film: Ohio State

Submitted by Ace on November 21st, 2012 at 2:13 PM

Keep better contain than this, plz

In Columbus, Michigan faces their toughest test since the season opener against Alabama. An undefeated Ohio State squad awaits—can Michigan spoil their hopes for the Big Ten title BCS championship AP national title? After watching the Buckeyes struggle to put up points on Wisconsin, ultimately winning 21-14 in overtime, I think they've got a good shot. Let's go to the breakdown:


Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread, of course. Urban Meyer's run-heavy offense operates pretty much exclusively from the shotgun.

Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? OSU's rush offense is mostly zone-predicated though they'll throw in some gap blocking wrinkles, including one I'll cover in the play breakdown.

Hurry it up or grind it out? The Buckeyes rarely huddle, though they don't quite run Oregon pace either; you'll see the offense get to the line and then look over to the sideline for a playcall, much like Michigan did under Rich Rodriguez.

Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): I probably don't need to tell you about Braxton Miller, who leads the Buckeyes with 1214 rushing yards on 207 carries and is second to Carlos Hyde (15) with 13 rushing TDs. While he doesn't have the straight-ahead speed of Denard or Taylor Martinez, he's got more power than either of those two and shows impressive vision. He gets a 9, with a bullet.

Dangerman: Yeah, it's Miller. The offense is based around the threat of his legs, especially on the edge, which opens up room both for the running backs on the interior and the downfield passing game.

Zook Factor: Urban Meyer didn't make any egregiously bad decisions in this game, so I'll note that Bret Bielema punted from the Ohio State 30-yard line(!!!) in the first half instead of kicking a 47-yard field goal or throwing on 4th-and-12. The punt, of course, went for a touchback, netting a whopping ten yards.

HenneChart: I'm making the tweak that Brian is strongly considering for next season and counting scrambles as a positive when calculating Downfield Success Rate; with Braxton Miller, it's certainly appropriate. Even with that adjustment, Miller did not have a great performance against Wisconsin:

Wisconsin -- 7 (2) 2 2 3 2 1 4 3 45%

A quick sanity check against Miller's final numbers: 10/18, 97 yards. With a couple throws by Miller that easily could've been intercepted, that sounds about right. Most of his throws came either off play-action or on designed rollouts, and most of the routes were of the short or intermediate variety. There were a couple attempted deep shots—again, off play-action—but nothing that connected.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]


Before I go any further, I must recommend you read as much of 11W's Ross Fulton as you can—he does a far better job than I can of breaking down the specifics of OSU's offensive and defensive schemes. His offensive breakdown from the Wisconsin game is especially relevant, since Michigan will likely defense the Buckeyes in a very similar manner.

As said above, everything is based around the threat of Miller to run. The bread-and-butter plays for this Ohio State team are the inverted veer and the zone read, but they throw in several wrinkles to keep the defense off balance. With Wisconsin focused largely on keeping Miller off the edge, Ohio State's most successful rushing play against the Badgers was actually what Ross calls the "inverted belly"—an inside zone to the running back:

Ohio State's overtime score came from this look as Carlos Hyde ran into the end zone untouched, and a similar run—with power blocking, instead of zone—got Hyde in from 15 yards out for OSU's only other offensive score (their first touchdown came on a 68-yard punt return by Corey "Philly" Brown).

Hyde is a solid downhill runner with good power, and he's averaging a tick over five yards per carry this season, largely on runs like the above. Miller, of course, is the edge threat. Ohio State has a tweak to the inverted veer that I'll cover below; another way they get Miller in space is with a QB counter, which is covered extensively by Ross in his breakdown from the Nebraska game.

How was Wisconsin able to limit Miller to 65 yards on 20 carries (sacks removed)? They played almost exclusively Cover 4, which allowed their safeties to come up and play very aggressively against the run on the edge. This helps eliminate the natural numerical advantage that comes from running with the quarterback. Check out the safety to the top of the screen on this QB counter:

Now ask yourself: can I see Jordan Kovacs doing this?

Yes. The answer is yes.

As for the passing game, most of Ohio State's stuff is simple underneath throws designed to keep the defense from completely selling out against the run. Corey Brown is the go-to receiver with 52 catches—nearly double any other player on the roster—for 572 yards; the big-play threat, however, is Devin Smith, who averages 19.8 yards per catch and leads the team with six TD receptions.

The Buckeyes tried to keep the Badgers honest with a couple early quick WR screens to the perimeter, then threw in an interesting wrinkle that should've netted them a big gain but for some bad luck. Here they fake the outside screen and tight end Jake Stoneburner—at this point, basically an enormous slot receiver—feigns a block and heads out on a wheel route; he runs wide open but loses the ball in the sun:

Another reason why Ohio State runs a fair amount of quick throws is that their line isn't stellar in pass protection; they're 88th nationally in sacks allowed despite having a very mobile QB, and Miller came under heavy fire several times against Wisconsin. The Badgers run a very similar third-down blitz package as Michigan—the okie look, with seven guys on the line providing a wide variety of zone blitz possibilities. Ohio State had trouble picking this up, so look for Mattison to dial it up with regularity on passing downs.

The Buckeyes will also try to run on what one would expect to be passing downs. Twice against Wisconson they ran a QB draw from an empty set on 3rd-and-7, both times against an okie front; on both occasions, an unblocked man stuffed Miller well short of the sticks. That was a little fortunate, however; that front is liable to leave a large gap in the line, and if a draw is called to the right spot at the right time it could produce a big gain.


Okay, let's look at Ohio State's variation on the inverted veer, a fake veer sweep. Here they line up in the gun with two backs flanking Miller; the depth of the backs suggests a veer is coming:

After the snap, Miller fakes the give to Hyde, while the other back—Rod Smith—heads to the edge; he'll act as a lead blocker. OSU also pulls left guard Andrew Norwell (#78), giving them plenty of blocking power to hit the edge on a sweep. On a normal inverted veer, Miller would head downhill from this point, and you can see Wisconsin's linebackers—and, more importantly, the defensive backs up top—staying at home on the interior:

The right tackle heads to the second level to pick off a linebacker as Norwell latches onto the playside end, while Smith heads for the cornerback (#24, playing down due to OSU's pre-snap alignment):

This leaves Miller with a huge seam to get the first down and more:


How can Michigan counter? Well, Wisconsin adjusted later in the game by played their safeties more aggressively; a later attempt to run this same play was stuffed in the backfield as the strong safety bolted for the edge as soon as he read run. Michigan is going to need a stellar game from Jordan Kovacs to replicate Wisconsin's defensive effort. Luckily, he's Jordan Kovacs.


Base Set? 4-3, with strongside end Nathan Williams often playing from a two-point stance.

Man or zone coverage? Ohio State plays a lot of Cover 4—man on the outside with zones underneath.

Pressure: GERG or Greg? The Buckeyes are able to generate a lot of pressure with their front four, and in the early going against Wisconsin they were content to sit back and rush four. In the later going, however, they started dialing up the heat; we'll see if they're willing to do that against a more mobile quarterback than Curt Phillips.

Dangerman: DE John Simon played out of his mind against the Badgers, destroying their tackles to the tune of four sacks. He leads the team with 14.5 TFLs (tied with WLB Ryan Shazier) and nine sacks. Simon is a huge end who holds up well against the run and has surprising quickness in the pass rush, though he generates most of his pressure from pure brute strength. A matchup with Taylor Lewan will be fun to watch; if he's lined up over Michael Schofield, it's advantage Buckeyes, and that's not a knock on Schofield.


It's really tough to glean too much strategy-wise since Wisconsin's strength—the interior running game—is Michigan's biggest weakness (plus there's the whole mobile quarterback thing), so I'll stick mostly to personnel here.

The front four is very, very good. Behemoth DT Johnathan Hankins demands two blockers on the interior; while he's mostly a space-eater, he'll make a few plays that show off frightening quickness, which is why he'll be a top ten NFL draft pick. Garrett Goebel is solid, not spectacular, at the other tackle spot—while he doesn't make a lot of plays, he holds the point of attack well. Nathan Williams is also in that mold—not a huge playmaker, but not a weak point. That allows Simon to do what he does, and Michigan would be wise to avoid him as much as possible.

While WLB Ryan Shazier is still prone to missing assignments and allowing big plays, he's come a long way as a sophomore; he was all over the place against Wisconsin, racking up nine solo tackles, three TFLs, and a forced fumble against Montee Ball on the goal line that (temporarily) preserved a late one-score lead. He'll make several athletic plays that hold down should-be big gains; he'll also probably bust one or two, as well, and that could prove costly with Denard and Devin in the backfield.

Etienne Sabino has recovered from a leg fracture to re-take the starting SLB spot, and he's a steady senior presence there. Where OSU is weak on that front seven is at middle linebacker—Zach Boren had to make a mid-season switch from fullback with Storm Klein struggling and dealing with a herniated disk. Boren got the start and nearly all the snaps last week. Klein is currently listed as a co-starter this week, so we'll see how that goes. If Michigan had an interior run game, I'd say they could attack this, but... yeah.

The back four is pretty strong in coverage, though Wisconsin picked on cornerback Travis Howard early and often in man coverage against Jared Abbredaris—Michigan doesn't have an Abbredaris, but the quickness of Jeremy Gallon could give Howard some problems. Their big bugaboo, however, is tackling; the secondary gave up some huge plays, especially early in the season, due to downright-awful tackling—if Michigan can get Denard and/or Gardner free on the second level, big plays are liable to occur.

I expect Michigan to build on the grab-bag of misdirection with Denard and Devin in the backfield that they showed last week, and against this defense that's the right way to go; Shazier busted on a couple misdirection plays, and keeping Simon from being able to bull-rush at Gardner is key. If OSU sits back in Cover 4, Michigan should also be able to get Gardner some solid yardage scrambling, a threat they Denard didn't often utilize.


The lack of Fitz Toussaint means Michigan may not even attempt to establish a traditional running game; if they do, let's hope Boren is the man in the middle. Here he is pulling an Ezeh, hesitating and eating a block:

And here, on Montee Ball's touchdown, he hesitates, attacks the wrong side of the hole, and gets sealed off:

I've got Thanksgiving off, so no recruiting post tomorrow, but there will be a gifs post on Friday and I'll be heading to Columbus for the game. Until then, Go Blue, and Beat Ohio.



November 21st, 2012 at 2:33 PM ^

I know Brian seemed to question on the podcast whether OSU could exploit us with tight ends, but every time i turn on an OSU game this year, it seems like Stoneburner or Heuerman is wide fucking open to have a chance at a huge play. I'm resigned to the fact that OSU probably gets at least 1 td and a few big plays like that, where we cover all the threats except for a wide open tight end.

I still think this will be a high scoring game, where wasted opportunities and turnovers decides who wins. I don't expect either defense to look dominant, at all.

Naked Bootlegger

November 21st, 2012 at 2:43 PM ^

I attended the OSU-UW game.   My astute observations:

(1)  Bret B. opting to punt from the OSU 30.   WTF?!   UW has endured PK issues this year, but c'mon.   That was embarrassing.  Sure...the kick was against a slight wind.   But to net 10 yards on the punt was beyond stupid.

(2)  Miller threw two deep balls all game.  One was the ill-timed sun ball, the other a deep pass up the seam where he overthrew everyone out of the end zone by a country mile.   I was surpised at the lack of vertical passing, but this might be symptomatic of deep drop protection issues.   I fully expect some vertical passing against us, though.  

(3)  When flushed in the pocket, Miller lost his senses and took a couple of bad sacks.  He had ample time to throw the ball OB, but chose not to.   He didn't bust many long scrambles against the Badgers - something I was very surprised with.   Wisconsin did a great job pressuring and containing him.

(4)  Wisconsin's pass offense wasn't good.   Gardner/Robinson >> Phillips.

(5)  Wisconsin's running attack mauled OSU between the 30's, but the UW offense continually stalled or made gaffes.   A UW fumble at the goal line and a UW missed FG were the differences in this game.  OSU should have been handed a big ol' "L" in this game.

I left the game in much better spirits regarding THE GAME.  I think we match up well with OSU, and I usually have pessimist leanings.    I think our OL vs. their DL decides this game.

BTW, Buckeye fans are a-holes.   I sat near the Buckeye student section, and I can accept the fact that they were a-holes.  No harm done there.  But the Badger fan I chatted with after the game was almost in tears over the behavior of non-student Buckeye fans in her vicinity. 






November 21st, 2012 at 2:43 PM ^

For us, 1st down is critical, we need to put Miller in as many 3rd and 7's and 8's. offensively, it comes down to taking care of the ball as well as establishing some sort of a running game from someone. It would be nice for devin to get off to a fast start so that he can gain confidence, particularly in this environment. I hope we are ready, I have had a good feeling all week, but this write up has me a little worried now.


November 21st, 2012 at 2:45 PM ^

Quickly, as I am not the schematic genius I claim to be...

Can someone please elaborate on the Cover 4? Particularly, what does "man on outside with underneath zones" entail?

Good luck in Columbus, Ace. Safe travels.


November 21st, 2012 at 4:25 PM ^

Great posts yet again Adam Sandler.  Please God Rawls fumble do not!!!  Turn overs will key this game.  The teams are just so evenly matched on both sides of the ball.  Ohio's D front and RBs may have a slight edge, but Devin's accuracy, Dilithium, Kovacs and Ryan balance that out.


November 21st, 2012 at 2:52 PM ^

we could hold them under 30, but that's if we play well. Our d-line is painfully average, and has no ability to pressure the QB w/out a safety blitz, but has come up big when needed. The key will be how our LB's cover in space. If we can get under the intermediate routes, we can wreak havoc and force Miller to be the one dimensional troll we all know him to be.

We should score about 30 on this defense and Denard should get about 15 carries.


November 21st, 2012 at 3:04 PM ^

I just don't understand how Ohio State can be so bad at pass protection.  If you look at sack rate (sacks / (pass attempts + sacks)), their 8.8% is 112th in the nation.  Even worse that the 88th you quote.  Last year, their sack rate was 15.8%, worst in the nation.

If the defense plays up to potential, Devin plays a good game and the turnover gods don't piss on us, we have a good shot of winning this game.  Very close to 50-50 on the road.


November 21st, 2012 at 3:14 PM ^

Miller to throw at least 4 deep balls. They almost hit on two last year and our secondary, namely Floyd, has shown a propensity to (although be close in coverage) get beat deep.

Hard play action or Miller faking some kind of sweep/iso and chucking it.

I don't feel good abou this scenario.



November 21st, 2012 at 3:15 PM ^


Sorry to put this here, but I don't have enough points for a separate thread. 2 years ago, there was a post on here about a Michigan friendly place to park for the game in Columbus. It was at a church or something, and I went there and it was great.  Anyone know if that is still a good place to go?  If so, can someone remind me how to get to it? I think I can find it, but a little help would be appreciated. Go Blue! 


November 21st, 2012 at 3:41 PM ^

A steady diet of deep outs to Philly Brown and Devin Smith is not sustainable for OSU; however, that plus Miller's running is.  I know Mattison said he didn't look too much at last year's tape but what are your thoughts on how he'll tweak the game plan for this year?  If I had to guess I don't think he's banking on Miller missing deep balls again.

The X-factor to me is Carlos Hyde - if he's able to get going, that'll really have me worried because on paper that should be the weapon we should theoreticaly be able to Le'veon into irrelevance.  (Then again, I was most worried about Boom Herron last year)

Smash Lampjaw

November 21st, 2012 at 4:34 PM ^

Braxton had a turrible scramble in the Wisconsin game, ending with a failed attempt to launch the ball on his way out of bounds after a big yardage loss. If buckeyejonross or urban warfare are on the blog today I would like to re-ask my question about how Braxton compares to Devin. With a few more games in evidence, I would say that Devin is the better passer and nearly as effective as a scrambler. We will know more after Saturday.

STW P. Brabbs

November 21st, 2012 at 7:45 PM ^

This is not intended to be any kind of generalization, and shouldn't provide a taking-off point for such. But man, Rodriguez and co. really fucked the pooch when they decided Hankins was too chubby to play at his dream school.


November 22nd, 2012 at 12:23 AM ^

What are the chances we take a page out of MSU's playbook in trying to stop Braxton? Considering the success their defense has had against Denard, it seems as though we would be smart use some of what MSU did against us to stop Braxton, a QB who has many of the same attributes (on the field of course, he will never compare to Denard off the field) and issues that Denard has. 

G Money

November 22nd, 2012 at 2:14 AM ^

"Downfield" is a term with a specific definition... Throwing downfield.
Scrambles don't have anything to do with that except to say, "I really like qb's who scramble".


November 22nd, 2012 at 3:23 AM ^

Well that's not true. There have been plenty of pocket passers whose "downfield" passing game has been greatly improved by well timed scrambling. Although I hate the Packers, Aaron Rogers is excellent at seeing there is nothing available downfield and scrambling for moderate gains. A QB who knows how to scramble well can add an extra element to the offense and shows good decision making in scrambling when there is nothing open "downfield." I will be the first to assert that the West Coast offense is the best, most consistent offense, but to say that a QB knowing how to scramble well and at the right time has no bearing on "downfield" passing is plain wrong.