Ohio State football: Breaking down the 2012 passing game

Jamie Sabau

It is 3rd and 8 with the clock winding down... The Buckeyes are playing for a BCS National Title berth and driving down the field for the game winning touchdown. Which wide receiver does Braxton Miller look to on this obvious passing down to keep their national title hopes alive?

Coach Urban Meyer described his offense prior to the 2012 season in two words... a "clown show". After installing a his brand new offense in the spring, Coach Meyer was looking directly at his receiving corps when he uttered those two words. In Coach Meyer's offense, he expects his wide receivers to be finely tuned in reading coverages, being on the same page as the quarterback and reading defensive techniques before the ball is snapped. When a receiver is on the same page as the quarterback, pre-snap, it is a beautiful thing. When they are not on the same page, it looks just like how Coach Meyer described it, a "clown show".

Although it was not always pretty, Braxton Miller and his receiving corps formed a nice relationship by the end of the season. There were few times during the season where the receiver and Miller were not on the same page and that is what Coach Meyer saw countless times in last year's spring practices. Miller is not the most accurate quarterback in the nation but his receivers helped him, especially Devin Smith.

Play-of-the-year_medium

Lets take a look back at Miller's 2012 top six pass catchers with help from our friends at Football Study Hall.

Player Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds per Target Target % Yds per Catch Target No.
Corey Brown 85 60 669 70.6% 7.9 32.0% 11.2 1
Devin Smith 58 30 618 51.7% 10.7 21.8% 20.6 2
Jake Stoneburner 33 16 269 48.5% 8.2 12.4% 16.8 3
Evan Spencer 23 12 136 52.2% 5.9 8.6% 11.3 4
Nick Vannett 14 9 123 64.3% 8.8 5.3% 13.7 5
Jeff Heuerman 13 8 94 61.5% 7.2 4.9% 11.8 6

First, check out the catch rate (targets/catches), ranging from Corey Brown's team leading 70.6% catch rate to Jake Stoneburner's 48.5% catch rate. Each receiver is asked to do something different in the offense for it to click and this speaks to both the quarterback and the receiver. Brown is mostly used on screens, quick slants and other short routes. Meyer wants to get the ball in Brown's hands "in space" and allow him to run to use his quickness to make plays after the catch. Stoneburner played mostly in the slot and ran a lot of seam routes. The seam is known as a difficult pass to throw, but when it is executed it is very tough to defend if you have a big, pass catching tight end (see what Rob Gronkowski does in the Patriots offense). Hopefully Miller worked on this with quarterback guru George Whitfield over the summer.

One alarmingly low catch rate was Devin Smith's 51.7%, which seems to be on Miller's inaccurate down field passing. Smith helped Miller last year making some dramatic catches down field, but Miller struggled with his deep ball for the most part. It is not all on Miller though, as Smith needs to work on his consistency, his route running and becoming a more complete receiver this season by being able to run more routes on the route tree, not just being a deep threat.

Clearly, Miller looked for Brown and Smith throughout the season, as the two combined for 53.8% of Miller's 2012 targets. Let's look at both Corey Brown and Devin Smith a little more in depth.

Here are their statistics on standard downs when passing is not necessary and the defense is not really buckling down on Miller and his receivers. Example: 1st and 10 in the 1st quarter.

Player Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds per Target Target % Yds per Catch
Corey Brown 46 35 413 76.1% 9.0 28.2% 11.8
Devin Smith 40 23 418 57.5% 10.5 24.5% 18.2

The majority of Devin Smith's targets and catches came on standard downs. Knowing that Smith is more of a deep threat, it shows that Miller tends to take a shot deep with Smith more often on standard downs than passing downs. Maybe after a turnover they dial up a "sudden change" deep ball to Smith when the defense is not expecting it. One positive is that Miller does look for his two main receivers on standard downs roughly the same amount of time.

Here are their statistics on passing downs, when the defense is keying on Miller's two favorite targets. Let's see how the two responded to the pressure in 2012. Example: 3rd and 8.

Player Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds per Target Target % Yds per Catch
Corey Brown 39 25 256 64.1% 6.6 37.9% 10.2
Devin Smith 18 7 200 38.9% 11.1 17.5%

28.6

This is where one can see that Corey Brown is Miller's clear number one target. Nearly 40% of his targets on passing downs are headed towards Brown compared to only 17.5% towards Smith. This is where Smith's inept route running and inconsistencies are shown. It is easy to throw it up on 1st and 10 to Smith, but when the defense is bearing down on the Buckeye receivers, Miller is looking to Corey Brown. Another thing to be weary of is that Miller is only completing 38.9% of his targets on passing downs to Smith.

Meyer went out on the recruiting trails after the 2012 season to add depth to the receiving corps. He added JUCO stud Corey Smith and a couple of talented freshmen that could help right away. These players could take the heat off of both Corey Brown and Devin Smith, as they will another receiving option against better teams.

With a full (undefeated) season, added depth to the position and another off-season under their belts, coupled with Braxton Miller's off-season with George Whitfield there should be massive improvement for the passing game in 2013. Certainly, the data from last season shows there is plenty of room for improvement.

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