Fee Fi Foe Film: Ohio State Offense Comment Count

Seth November 24th, 2016 at 9:00 AM

[Happy Thanksgiving! We’re on holiday. Hope this is enough to chew on]:

I’m guessing you don’t need to be told what we’re up against. The spread offense liberated running games from under center, and with it came all the fun stuff like little athletes juking people in space, big ones running deep downfield in man coverage, and all sorts of defenders standing around wishing someone—anyone—would at least try to block him. Each early adopter added a wrinkle: tempo, bubble screens, wide splits, quick folds, receiver route trees, lazy verts, and run-pass-options. Urban Meyer’s innovation was to assimilate all of it into the Earl Bruce power offenses he grew up in.

At Ohio State Meyer found he could tap Big Ten resources and fall back on SEC attitudes to convince athletes from all over America to bring their biological distinctiveness to its least charming truck stop. There they are assigned mundane designations like “Corey Brown” or “James Clark” and adapted to serve wherever it’s most efficient—usually as a diversion from running up the gut.

They are the Borg; resistance is futile, unless it rains.

Personnel: A star-studded diagram:


click to lightbox it bigger, open in new window for even greater largosity

Everybody was a top 250 recruit except the kicker, a backup tight end, and the best interior lineman in the conference. They have a Heisman candidate, and it’s not the starting quarterback who was a Heisman candidate at the beginning of the year. We’ll talk about the backfield in dangermen and the OL in the overview.

If you’re new to Meyer offenses, one slot WR position is just called the “H” now that “Percy Harvin’s position” is a dated reference. It’s a running back/slot receiver hybrid that does whatever the latest guy is good at. Curtis Samuel is the current guy. Last year he stole half of Braxton Miller’s playing time. He’s kind of a big deal.

They have a stable of 4- and 5-star receivers who are worth discussing here. Noah Brown is the Darboh but they have to create Chesson in the aggregate. Parris Campbell is the nearest approximation and though he doesn’t “start” he’s getting the starter snaps since Secret Weapon™ Corey Smith has had his hand in a cast all year. Smith’s role and nominal starts go to Terry McLaurin, who’s a throwback to the Odoms/Gallon Rodriguez-era mountain goats, right down to a listed height of two inches greater than plausibility. Backup H Dontre Wilson is a Norfleet. Those five guys will be in for two-thirds of the snaps; the remainder is split evenly between the next four: slot receiver KJ Hill is a good route runner. James Clark is an athletic deep threat who wasn’t connecting. Other extant cardio-pulmonary systems who’d have 1500 yards in the MAC are Johnnie Dixon and Austin Mack. OSU will rotate them heavily and send them sprinting downfield until your cornerbacks’ lungs burst from their chests—actual throws come less than once per drive.

Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid: Spread, which for lack of blocking TEs and superb blocker Ezekiel Elliott is back to being an actual spread:

Form Rn Pass RPO PA WRs Snaps Dwn Rn Pass RPO PA
Gun 20 20 10 4 1 1 1st 10 6 5 5
Pistol 1   6 2 2 1 2nd 7 6 8 1
Ace 2       3 38 3rd 6 8 3  
4 17
5 8

Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? A 60-40 mix in favor of manball. They use a lot of zone on their QB and zone read runs, but Inverted Veer/Power Read is still their base play.

Hurry it up or grind it out? Hurry up and wait. On third downs they usually will take their time getting set up and snap it with three to six seconds left. Otherwise the snap came with the clock between 16 and 25.

Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): 8, effectively 9. We’ve always struggled to nail Barrett to a number on this scale because he’s a good runner but not Gardner-level. What he lacks for in whoop he makes up with vision, patience, and leaving all of his bad decisions for off the field. Against Michigan State I charted JT a perfect 19/19 on zone reads. That didn’t include the RPOs, which he also, on review, chose correctly every time. There’s a serious there, there, which is a big deal for an offense that has to stay ahead of the sticks.

[After the JUMP: inside the mind of the Collective]




Two favorites. There’s the shotgun 3-wide setup, with an inline tight end, from which they run their inverted veer game. The other is the pistol-H with an offset tight end, which base is inside zone with lots of RPO. They’ll also go empty 4-wide (above) with a tight end, since Barrett is his own running back. Ohio State also uses unbalanced formations to good effect.

Danger Man and the Dangermen: Slotback Curtis Samuel, quarterback J.T. Barrett, and running back Mike Weber (in that order) versus tackling will consistently get you 4-5 more yards per play than the blocking. Samuel has a Peppers-like ability to stumble forward for five years after he should have been down. Here’s an unfortunate preview of Samuel versus McCray and Stribling in space:

Weber is a magician at squeezing through small holes, and is built low with a great center of balance so anything less than perfect tackle form risks letting him escape.

Noah Brown is big, fast, athletic, and runs better routes than I’m used to seeing from Meyer wideouts. He did this against Oklahoma early this year; that threat established he will serve the Collective with with run-off-the-coverage fade routes and be fed exactly one target on a comeback per game until his NFL clock expires. The other receivers don’t get enough chances but they do get open downfield; as we saw last year if Barrett’s hitting them things get out of hand really fast.

Zook Factor: Didn’t play in this game but Urban has traditionally been kind of conservative with his fourth downs on the Ohio State side of the field. Once past the 50 he knows there’s no better offense in the country at getting 3 yards.

HenneChart: Low amplitude in the Ohio State game, and we all know Barrett’s got a wicked witch’s weak spot for getting wet, so I went over Northwestern as well.

  Good   Neutral   Bad   Ovr
MSU 1 7(1) 3   4 3   1 2 4(2) 2   58% ?
N’Western 4 11(3) 1   1 2   1 3 4 2   64% ?

Versus MSU Barrett was pretty inaccurate, with as many marginal-or-worse throws than otherwise—only his scrambling kept him above water. He was far more accurate against Northwestern, with some excellent downfield throws into coverage (one against a two-man rush).

They don’t ask him to sit in the pocket very long, since it doesn’t exist very long. Guys are open faster because his receivers are good and opponents are freaking out about the running game.

One of Barrett’s strengths is he throws a very catchable downfield ball. This was incomplete but falling backwards with a guy in his face he put it almost exactly where you’d want him to:

Barrett isn’t a great thrower, but Meyer makes sure the threat of his legs can cause all sorts of havoc on defenders who have to read before reacting. Here’s two Barrett throws in the same drive where he misread Cover 3 and threw a covered out route:

The second should have been an interception, yes, but the first could have been as well, but for safeties freezing at the JT Barrett run threat. If you remember your Cover 3 rules the curl-flat defender has to “check” the #2 receiver before going into his zone. That means get in the damn way so the quick seam won’t be open underneath your cornerback.


Barrett’s run step froze the strong safety (Montae Nicholson), allowing the Samuel to get wide open on his seam route, since there’s no way the cornerback or safety in deep thirds can get there in time.

But Barrett misread the coverage and threw the out-route that Nicholson should be all over. Except that safety is thinking about how he just let a Heisman candidate get behind him without a re-route, and freezes. You can throw this on the pile of MSU safeties are bad, but I thought this was a good example of how Ohio State’s system hides its players’ deficiencies and can totally short-circuit any defender tasked with reading and reacting. Contrast with when they ran it just four plays later: The nickel didn’t bite on the run step, and Barrett again misread the coverage, nearly giving up a pick six.



This offense is all about moving the chains and grinding you down with Barrett and Weber. When they get into long downs is where they get into trouble. Meyer avoids those with every kind of trick to keep your defenders the hell away from the Barrett/Weber inside run game. The RPOs are intended to keep your slot players outside. The constant jet motion keeps your OLBs wide. The receivers’ constant vertical routes get your secondary stepping back. Curtis Samuel is a big blinking “better watch me” sign to distract your safeties and overhang defenders.

The reason this year’s team needs more help in that department is they’ve got some holes getting masterfully papered. So umm…let’s talk about that offensive line. PFF calls them a top ten unit. Bill C gives them 3rd in the nation in adjusted line yards, and 2nd in both rushing and rushing success rate. And yet I put turquoise circles around 2/5 guys. What the hell, Seth? PFF:

9. Ohio State 83.0

Ohio State has worked hard to move up on the list, especially after their loss to Penn State, in which QB J.T. Barrett was pressured on 28 of his dropbacks. He’s only been pressured 28 times in the four games since as the line has improved greatly in pass protection. But where they separate themselves is in the run game where their 94.3 grade puts them at No. 2 in the nation. The three-headed rushing attack of Mike Weber, Curtis Samuel and Barrett have rushed for 2,819 yards on designed runs. Center Pat Elflein has rebounded for early struggles at a new position to rank 11th in the nation at 82.0 overall while guard Billy Price’s 78.4 grade ranks 36th at the position. Ohio State’s line is a bit one-sided, but their work in the run game has earned them the top 10 ranking.

Burly pivot Billy Price (+10.7) was moved to right guard to make sure Jordan and Prince each had an adult nearby. The agile and sometimes devastating Pat Elflein has a +14.7 run block but he’s been a far less effective pass blocker as a center than his right guard days. Most of the run game goes in their A gap.

The other holes are visible in the trees. Marcus Baugh was a historically very good pass-catching tight end who’s got a –11.5 to PFF for his blocking and doesn’t get a lot of targets these because he’s needed to help the troubled linemen. The prime beneficiary of said help is tackle Isaiah Prince, who has a good run blocking score—they often fold him inside Price to good effect—but a major pass rush minus, where he’s a little stiff and not very good at dealing with anything more complex than a speed rush.

The bigger problem is true freshman left guard Michael Jordan, who has a –12.1 on the season split between both run and pass. That checks out:

Twists and stunts are going to confuse young guys, but Jordan is just overwhelmed by everything right now.

Ohio State is mitigating this by running between Elflein and Price, and pulling whatever other material they need into that hole.


So how is this a Top 10 rushing offense? It’s that backfield talent and Urban Meyer’s offensive genius. Meyer mostly uses the threat of Samuel in space to create space for other runners. They use a ton of Jet motion, particularly on their unbalanced 3rd and short package.

Earlier in the year it was used to isolate Weber on a cornerback for big runs. Now this exists to get three yards when they absolutely need one.

Their favorite in this game was a SAM read with the H receiver running an out, with Barrett running up the gut if the SAM stays out of the box; the threat of Samuel in space usually ensures he does. On this one Chris Frey chases Samuel hard outside, giving Ohio State five blockers for the five guys left in the box and JT Barrett running it.


Here’s a less obvious run read:

Here’s a rare pass read:

MSU put a stop to this by putting the safety in man-to-man with Samuel.

Once you’re safely in man coverage Meyer will spread you out, run off your defensive backs, and shove inverted veers down your alley until you concede to keep reinforcements away from their preferred point of attack.

What did State do to keep them to 17 points?


This has always been a Michigan State thing, but they regularly went with their nose tackle in a 2i (inside guard’s shoulder) while leaving the center uncovered. Note the DTs in B gaps, linebackers leaning forward ready to attack the A’s.

That neutralized Elflein, OSU’s best blocker, by either wasting him on a double-team that his guard should already have won, or letting him release downfield for superfluous linebacker blocks. I already showed you this play to highlight Mike Jordan but it’s emblematic of Elflein’s day. Watch the center this time.

This got frustrating for him, to the point where he started helping Jordan when he wasn’t needed, leaving some very bad genes unguarded.


If you are wondering: no, “Self-Iso” is not a play.

Meyer attacked this by giving Weber a lead blocker. First by folding the RT:

And when MSU adjusted to that the TE would just roll in there and seal someone.

This run almost died because Jordan let his DT fighting back to A-gap. Bullough canceled that out by getting caught outside by the threat of Samuel, so Baugh’s block could help Jordan finish his. So it’s a gamble: you might dominate the non-Elflein line and stop them for no gain (which their backs will turn into a gain of 3), but if you don’t suddenly you’ve let a  blue chip RB and his raging Elflein free in your secondary.

Other Little Things I Saw

I’m going to report this because I thought I picked up on it, but I’m totally braced for smarter people to say “that’s always true” or “you’re wrong”. Anyway I played a game with myself with Price’s stance and could guess what he’s doing 90% of the time with it. His right leg will be kicked way back when he’s pass protecting and his stance isn’t nearly as wide when’s he’s pulling.


Normal                                    Pulling                                  Pass Pro

Glasgow has probably already downloaded Price and Elflein’s breathing patterns so this probably won’t mean anything.

Weber is also not very good at hiding his intentions, doing that thing we complained about Rich Rod backs (not Vincent Smith) doing all the time where they line up just behind the quarterback when they’re going to run him north-south, and next to or a bit in front of him if they’re having him run outside (e.g. their inverted veer) or pass block.


                                 Veer                                                       Downhill

Barrett appeared to talk to Weber about something after MSU came down particularly hard on a zone read, and it went away for a few plays.

Barring a random winter storm Michigan’s best hope will be to neutralize Samuel with Peppers, and Price and Elflein with equivalent talent so Wormley and Taco can go to work. Jeremy Clark will be missed.


Mr. Yost

November 24th, 2016 at 9:33 AM ^

They have to own their matchups. It's the only potential advantage we have out there.

I don't think we have a bunch of disadvantages, but Wormley and Charlton are clear winners in their matchups and it's time they play their best games of the year.


November 24th, 2016 at 11:50 AM ^

Mark my words:  If it becomes about matchups, Meyer wins an ugly blowout.  Not because our guys aren't good, but because Meyer will attack, and if Brown lets him then that's counting on Stribling to make a solo tackle in the flat.  Durkin was happy to make it about matchups and got destroyed.  The theme of this entire FFFF is that Meyer is second to none at creating the matchups he wants.  He adjusts quickly and adapts to whatever you do to counter.  Seth calls them the Borg for a reason.

Brown does not run a read-and-react defense, precisely because that's what coaches like Meyer feast on.  He shoots first and hopes to make the offense adjust to him.  If it works, it will be by far the most effective counterpunch to Meyer's shenanigans.  If it doesn't, Meyer will have Samuel with the ball vs. Stribling in acres of space.  But the one thing Brown won't do, contrary to his presser, is put athlete on athlete and see what happens.  He is going to blitz the crud out of that offensive line and try to blow up plays before they can develop.

More than any other game, this is going to be a scheme chess match, but I strangely don't think it'll be close.  One coach will win decisively.  There will be negative plays.  The question is whether the positive ones go for 3-5 yards or 30-50.  If it's 3-5, you can cause the OSU offense to misfire -- 1st and 10, 2nd and 6, 3rd and 9, and now Barrett's forced to pass out of trouble against Lewis/Hill/Thomas/Stribling.  A bad drive will be something like 1st and 10, 2nd and 12, touchdown.


November 24th, 2016 at 12:11 PM ^

Dies not preclude him bliyzing, and blitzing and blitzing so more. I think he is talking about putting one of the athletes on him in man coverage, while the blitz like crazy.
This will probably be the safeties in non passing down and Lewis on passing down, when he is in the slot. And peppers mirroring him from the back field on running downs.
You are right about scheme verse match up for the most part --I think they will have to scheme to cover the matchup problems on the line. I think Brown's blitzes and multiple formations will give Meyers all kinds of problems. He strives on defense staying in the same sets and in the same position for most of the game-- like msu did last week. This allows him to attack what you are doing with ease. But if the defense is changing fronts every play or every few plays, which brown will for sure do, he wo t be able to counter and use a few plays all second half, like last year.
I'm most interested in watching his blitzes designed to get guys at the mess point on there zone reads type plays. Because, I have watched more than a few games of his at boat col and he still has many in his playbook that have not been used yet.


November 24th, 2016 at 8:54 PM ^

OSU is going to get to the line and survey UM's defense and personel.  Based upon what they see they are going to call their play (hopefully Brown will be changing his calls).  OSU is going to run what they feel their strengths are but they are also going to attack what they feel are UM's weakness.  

If Glasgow and Hurst are holding up on the interior, when the second string comes in they will probably attack Mone and Godin.  Just like you mentioned with Stribling in the run game, you can bet Meyer is going to be testing Stribling in the run game.  The key will be what does Brown have dialed up to hide or compensate for that weakness.  At this point in the year, it's no secret that Stribling is a solid cover guy but his support in the run game is average at best.

Brian has pointed out in UFR's how sometimes Peppers is lined up in the middle of the field with McCray covering the edge.  If Brown calls that defense, it's a pretty good bet OSU is going to call something to try and test McCray in space.



Mr. Yost

November 24th, 2016 at 9:41 AM ^

But I wonder who is the better matchup on Samuel...Lewis or Peppers?

And just 1v1, but for the team (because if Peppers is on him, he's not spying Barrett, if Lewis is on him he's not taking an outside WR out of the game).

It's going to be interesting how we play the different matchups all across the field.

We can win by double digits and I'm going to be absolutely miserable for no less than 4 hours once we kickoff. I'll be so busy trying to look at matchups and alignments all game that I won't sit back and enjoy one single snap (unless Peppers goes Rutgers punt return and there are no flags).


November 24th, 2016 at 4:30 PM ^

It's not just Stribling on Noah Brown, as Seth pointed out - many of their other WR will be running "go" and forcing DB to go deep with them. Even though Barrett hardly ever throws the deep ball, IF he does and is connecting (and when is he ever NOT connecting vs M?) that's what Fs us all up.

Our DL must OWN the line, Peppers spies JT, JD limits Samuel's explosive plays. That's the only recipe to keep this within striking distance. Then, we make some plays, I don't know who, don't know where, but someone has to make a play like the Int that we "thought" sealed the Iowa game. Either Dymonte or Delano (prob a rotation to keep em guessing) will need to slide into some underneath routes, the other will have to be flawless deep. And of course both will have to be keeping an eye back for run help too. And And if JD shadows Samuel, who's the other CB? Watson? Hmmm....

AND more ands, I'm thinking someone quicker than McCray is going to be needed, but who can go sideline to sideline and still maintain gaps? I don't know we have that person weaponized yet (Bush? Hudson, Metellus, others seem not quite ready)

That's a lot of challenges. I tried praying for rain and gusty winds, but as usual the Gods of Football don't give a Fuck what I want on this particular Saturday!!! Looks like it's gonna be a beautiful day for some football, crisp lovely Autumn day.

And of course, all that means nothing if WE don't score some points. The past two games have really put a damper on my confidence in this offense!

Oh well... Go Blue!

Der Alte

November 24th, 2016 at 9:57 AM ^

Some of the recent blogtalk recalled the 1996 and 1997 M-tOSU games, both of which M won primarily with defense. Penn State beat tOSU on a fluke, but kept the game winnable on D. Wis and Sparty came close to beating tOSU with D as well, but didn't quite have the offense to seal the deal.

I'm no football insider, but it appears M's D is healthy and ready to give its all to stop this formidable OSU offense. Let's hope last week's game scraped some of the rust off O'Korn so he can come out on Saturday with renewed confidence and an expanded playbook. M has the best QB coach in the nation, so there's reason to hope. Go blue.


November 24th, 2016 at 12:28 PM ^

Not great, not particularly good, but as I expected for his first start in those conditions. His wrs drop a few balls that they should have caught that would have extended drives, another one fell down on a 3rd down sack.
He missed guys and was shaky in the pocket (although Indiana is good at causing pressure) particularly early. But he did make some very good throws in those conditions that were dropped or just missed. If the wrs make those plays, like they had all year, we all wouldn't be looking at him like he is hot garbage.


November 24th, 2016 at 10:06 AM ^

Never noticed how easily a player tips off a play. I'm sure the Don has studied this anticipating OSU flaws. Can Glasgow really notice the leg moved back when Price is pulling? How could he check to his line quick enough?


November 24th, 2016 at 12:48 PM ^

an average dline with as much game experance as Glasgow will pick up on that. The dline is taught to look a few things that give away what the line does. How did are the splits, where is his weight - on his fingers or on his heels.
The pulling stance is atypical in my mind because I don't think many power 5 guards feel they need to shift the stance like that to get a better jump on the pull. But the width of their stance is something that can tip their hand a bit more often.
Da.e can be said with wrs and backs. I started a few years as a corner in high school and I believe my biggest asset was understanding what the wr alignment meant as far as what they wanted to do. Some wr would go just a little farther inside when they ran a fade and even more inside if they were running an out. You could often tell by there stance if they were going to run a route, as opposed to run you off in man or block you away from the ball. In the former their body was in more of a tense state, in more of a sprinters type stance. The latter is more relaxed.
Webber is typing what he is doing pretty hard here. It is not by design, like Indian, either. He us young and will get better at no giving to much away.
The defense can do the same. I was able to know exact when God in was taunting for the first 6 games or so. He would line up a few feet behind the other lineman with his weight shifted awkwardly. I have noticed that they have started having him in this alignment on non stunts because lineman were pointing it out and picking up the stunts. Msu linebackers are tipping off what they are doing too. And in an extreme way. They are all aggressively leaning forward, as if to say we are playing the run and don't care if you know it. And that was on plays they were not showing blitzes pre snap.
Bottomline, you can get alot presnap from alignment, stance, and body language of players.


November 24th, 2016 at 10:13 AM ^

looks like a damn high school team with 4/5-star D1 talent. MSU provided the road map to stuff it and we have been preping for this day all season long. Can't wait for our defense to face this OSU offense, it will be a great battle. Strap it on and let's find out. Go Blue !!!


November 24th, 2016 at 10:30 AM ^

and their backs are scarier than their receivers.  I trust DB to make them play away from their strengths or to try and have a fantasy day with their weaknesses.   And I pray that we don't see the utter absence of adjustments that characterized last year's debacle on D.  Obviously it is nice to have Glasgow back, so not trying bash Durk, but dang that was a nightmare.  Barret may hit some passes, but he is not Tom Brady or Joe Germain for that matter.  But we know all about his legs. Take them away!


November 24th, 2016 at 10:35 AM ^

defense will be a totally different animal than what OSU has seen this season. Having Ryan for this game and the new defensive scheme and quit frankly more depth and improved talent on that side of the ball. I like the Wolverines chances. 


November 24th, 2016 at 1:04 PM ^

Or does it count if they call a designed pass that he tucks and runs because it's covered. I'm sure it us the former because it is to subjective for vagas. But if I could bet a friend on the latter I would jump all over it. I think they 100% call a play for him to pass. But he may tuck it, like he has the other two times one has been called this year.
With that being said, I think if I was in Vegas, and wanting to bet on that, I would put it on him getting a passing stat this game.


November 24th, 2016 at 11:18 AM ^

Great post. If we want to win the game, the D has to find a way to stop JT from picking up a 1st down on 3rd and short and 4th and short. When osu absolutely needs a first down, JT is so effective at running up the middle for a few yards to pick up the first down and extend the drive.

kevin holt

November 24th, 2016 at 11:27 AM ^

JT Barrett makes bad decisions off the field? I thought he was a good guy generally which thereby makes it much harder to hate him (although I manage). Or am I thinking of someone else? I do remember a DUI but that's all.


November 24th, 2016 at 11:43 AM ^

Based on the article and the comments you would think we didn't stand a chance.  The matchup isn't the Ohio State O vs Mich D.  It's Michigan's putrid offense with O'korn trying to score more than 13 points. 


November 24th, 2016 at 3:27 PM ^

At least they don't have Elliot or Bosa.  Even if they beat us they don't have anyone who makes us look as mismatched as those two guys did.  I hope one day Gary does to OSU's QB what Bosa did to Ruddock.


It's frustrating that a) Speight isn't healthy and b) this game isn't in AA.  If both were in our favor I'd like our chances, without them I don't.  


Unfortunately it will be at least 2 more years after this that we will have another legitimate chance of winning the game, when again unfortunately it will be played in Columbus, but one day it we will win again...I think.


November 25th, 2016 at 10:49 AM ^

1. Limiting the legs of JT Barrett - have to collapse the pocket w/out over-penetrating 

2. Edge Defense opposite of Peppers - this is going to be the toughest challange

3. Staying ahead of the inside run-game counter-punches - ie folding the tackle inside, wham-blocks with TE's ect.

4. Don't even want to think about JTB being on throwing the ball. 


#2 will be the most difficult task and that is saying something given how slippery JTB is when he drops back.  I am not sure that there is a great way to do this without getting the safeties heavily involved (think MSU last year).

In order to stop JT, Brown will have to come up with different ways to get pressure in his face quickly. Wheather that be through stunts and twists up-front,  blitzing from the back 7, ect. in order to force him to make decisions faster than he wants to.

Disguising coverages will also be difficult especially if they speed the tempo, which is what I am sure they will do at some point. There is basically 0 margin for error. The DL MUST dominate for 60 min. Everyone has to basically play the game of their lives. we all know this. 

overall, it will take a hurculean effort to win this game in all 3 phases bc rest-assured osu will play its best game of the year.