Ohio State football: A look at the offensive philosophy against Michigan

Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

Last season, the Buckeyes dominated Michigan on the ground, gaining 207 rushing yards. Let's break down seven plays that the Buckeyes ran that afternoon and see if they can improve this upcoming season.

Typically when people hear about the spread offense, they think of a finesse type of wide open attack. But not so fast my friends; in Urban Meyer and Tom Herman's system, the offensive brain trust wants to establish a smash mouth, downhill, power running game that wears down the opposing defense. Specifically, the Buckeyes want to control the A and B gaps (between the tackles) with a physical run game that forces the defense to cheat towards the line of scrimmage, opening up outside running lanes and more importantly, play action.

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1st Quarter 15:00 1st &10

Here is the first play from scrimmage for the offense. With Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde in the backfield, an inside zone read was called. Miller saw the interior linebackers showing blitz and the offensive line really set the tone on the first play. Miller correctly read the end man on the line of scrimmage, saw that he was staying home, Miller made the correct read, and Hyde found a running lane for an easy 7 yards.

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14:00 1st Quarter 3rd & 2

An inside zone read was called with trips left (three wide receivers lined up on one side) and Miller and Hyde in the backfield. The line "down" blocked and Miller correctly read the end man on the line of scrimmage who stayed home. Miller handed the ball to Hyde who found another seam and picked up the first down.

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13:24 1st Quarter 1st & 10

After running the ball with success up the middle, Michigan's free safety cheated down into the box to play the run, leaving man coverage on Devin Smith (just outside the screen on the right). Miller faked the inside zone hand-off to Rod Smith, freezing the safety, and Smith ran an excellent post route as he got the cornerback to turn his body. With no safety over the top, it was an easy completion to Smith that set up the Buckeyes' first touchdown.

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5:51 1st Quarter 2nd & 10

Another inside zone read was called with Miller and Hyde in the backfield. This time, Miller predetermined that he was going to run the ball and did not read the end man on the line of scrimmage as he once again stayed home. There was a seam for Hyde to gain easy yardage ,but Miller kept the ball. He did gain 5 yards, but that was due pretty much entirely to his athleticism; versus a more athletic defensive end (like he could see in the postseason next winter), it could have easily resulted in a loss of yardage.

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10:05 2nd Quarter 2nd & 7

An outside zone read was called with Miller in the shotgun with Corey Brown and Hyde flanking him. Using Hyde as a lead blocker, the line blocked down towards the right side of the line of scrimmage and the backside guard pulled around. Miller froze the defensive end who was keying on him and handed the ball off to Brown who gained roughly 20 yards. This was one of the few times in the game where the Buckeyes had success running outside the tackles, and I expect to see this play called a lot in 2013 with incoming speedster Dontre Wilson in Brown's role.

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3:12 2nd Quarter 2nd & 7

Here is another look at the inside zone read with Miller and Hyde. Pre-snap, Miller saw the Michigan linebackers showing blitz on the outside. He correctly read the end man on the line of scrimmage and handed the ball off to Hyde, who gained another very easy first down. This is an example of one of the easier reads that Miller will have to make with huge seams up the middle and the end man clearly keying on Miller.

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0:14 3rd Quarter 2nd & 4

A designed quarterback run is called with Miller and Smith in the backfield with tight end Jeff Heuerman in the flex position. Heuerman sealed the end, slot wide receiver Jake Stoneburner laid a good block on the outside linebacker, Smith (lead blocker) got to the cornerback and Brown (bottom of the screen) executed a great block on the safety. Excellent blocking mixed with Miller's athleticism led to the quarterback's best run of the day.

Final thoughts:

  • I charted 28 inside or outside zone read running plays not counting a pass/run combination (screens and play action off of zone read). The end man on the line of scrimmage in which Miller was reading, keyed on Miller 19 times.
  • Looking at that number, it is obvious that Michigan felt that they could stop the inside power running game with the end man barely crashing until the very last drive (crashed down the final three plays).
  • One thing that was painfully obvious was Michigan's inability to confuse Miller as the game went on; they seemed to show the same look on defense over and over again, making Miller's choices pretty simple.
  • After an initial mistake (play four) of predetermining to run, Miller took what the defense gave him and kept feeding Hyde inside. This shows trust from Miller in both Hyde and the offensive line to do their jobs.
  • One thing that stood out in a negative sense was Miller's poor blitz recognition. There were a couple of plays where Miller disregarded front side (off the right tackle) pressure and took a couple of big hits that could have been avoided. I believe the coaching staff will be drilling into Miller's head over and over to check his protection and see what the defense is showing pre-snap to prevent sequences like this from happening in 2013:
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  • It will be very interesting to see how teams play the Ohio State zone read this season. Will teams take a page out of the Michigan playbook and force Miller to constantly hand the ball off? Or will teams try to mix it up and confuse Miller by using multiple looks? We'll begin to find out just six days from now.
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