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Ohio State football: Breaking down the offense vs. Alabama

The offense left some points on the field but they had their way against the Alabama defense for the majority of the night, putting up 537 yards of total offense and five touchdowns.

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Cardale Jones

  • Cardale Jones did a great job using his legs to move the chains on third downs. He may not have the most nimble feet or possess elite acceleration, but he uses his 6'5, 250 pound frame to gain yardage after contact and run over defenders. He rushed for four first downs on third down situations.
  • Although I thought the play calling was terrible inside the 10-yardline after Ezekiel Elliott's 54-yard run on the first drive, I thought Jones made a great decision throwing the ball away on third down. He could have easily taken a 10-yard sack on the left hashmark which would have made the field goal attempt much more difficult for the freshman place kicker.
  • One of Jones' biggest blunders of the game came on his bobbled snap on the goal line. It was blocked well and it most likely would have went for six if he had not bobbled the snap. The Alabama defense showed the dreaded Bear-front on the following play, then they locked down on the outside on third down, which forced the Buckeyes to settle for their second field goal of the night after starting two drives inside the ten-yardline.
  • It could have been the long layoff, the wide receivers not getting separation or a variety of other reasons, but Jones did not have a good first quarter. In fact, he looked like a quarterback making his second career start versus one of the top defenses in the country. He finished the opening quarter 3-for-8 passing.
  • Besides using his large frame to run over defenders, his hand size and grip on the football are massive and strong. I noticed a couple of instances where he should have been strip sacked but his grip on the football kept the ball in his hands and limited potential disaster.
  • On the interception, it tough to assess blame without knowing the actual play call. Cornerback Cyrus Jones seemed to have read the throw the entire play but it also looked like Cardale Jones and Devin Smith were not on the same page. Smith continued to run a go-route while it looked like C. Jones wanted him to break off his route. It was a mixture of a communication error between the quarterback and his receiver, along with a great play on the ball by Cy. Jones.
  • Jones got very lucky on 2nd-and-goal at the 4:15 mark of the second quarter when Alabama cornerback Eddie Jackson mistimed his jump and collided with Nick Vannett while the ball was in the air. The ball was thrown very soft and it could have easily gone for six the other way, instead it resulted in better field position and eventually a touchdown for the Buckeye offense.
  • Jones orchestrated two excellent scoring drives to end the first half which put the Buckeyes down only one after trailing by 13. He kept the drives alive on third down numerous times, whether it was with his legs or through the air.
  • Even with the slow start through the air, the Buckeye's went into the locker room at half time with a distinct yardage advantage (348 total yards to 139 total yards) and a huge advantage on third down (7-10 to 1-6 on third down conversions).
  • As mentioned on the broadcast, in the first half, Ohio State had 12 impact plays (runs of 10+ yards and receptions of 20+ yards) to Alabama's two.
  • I noticed that Coach Herman does not call as many zone read plays with Jones at quarterback. Most of the quarterback runs are designed. It keeps the thinking to a minimum for the inexperienced signal caller.
  • Jones' big hands and large frame showed up a couple of times in the fourth quarter where he was hit close to the end zone but did not surrender the football or take a safety.
  • The play calling on the first two possessions of the fourth quarter were not up to par. Coach Herman called a couple of pass plays, when it reality it would have been best to put the ball in Elliott's hands or use Jones' legs on designed quarterback runs. Luckily, the defense bailed the offense out after the offense went 3-and-out on three consecutive possessions.
  • In my opinion, another poor play call was the deep ball on the Buckeye's final possession. With Alabama having only two timeouts remaining, the incomplete pass basically gave the Crimson Tide another timeout. With only 1:57 remaining, the smart call would have been to run Elliott or Jones three straight times and try to get one first down to end the football game.
  • Overall, it is hard to complain when the offense scores 35 points (one defensive touchdown) on the Alabama defense but in reality, it could have easily been more. The offensive line had it's way with the vaunted Alabama front and without two early turnovers, plus the two drives that were stalled inside the 10-yardline, the game could have been sealed earlier.

Running Backs

Player Number of snaps
Ezekiel Elliott 75
Curtis Samuel 5

(snap counts per Pro Football Focus)

  • Elliott set the tone early with his physical running style, letting the Alabama defense know that they were just as physical as any team that they have played this season.
  • In all seriousness, I could have written 1,000 words on Elliott's extraordinary night, alone.
  • Once again, Elliott displayed his tenacious blocking early on, blowing up Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest on Marshall's first carry of the game.
  • Elliott made a great individual effort on the perimeter on his 54-yard run during the first drive. Center Jacoby Boren laid a great cutblock on DePriest but wide receiver Michael Thomas missed two blocks on the outside. This forced Elliott to lay a vicious stiff-arm on Alabama's Jackson then he hurdled All-American safety Landon Collins before being tackled on the 5-yardline.

  • One of the most impressive aspects of Elliott's night was his bounce back and determination after his lost fumble. Alabama scored two plays after he turned the ball over but he went on to rush for 155 yards on his remaining 17 carries.
  • After laying another stiff-arm, Elliott was looking at Collins who was coming up to tackle him. Jackson tomahawked down on the football and knocked it loose from Elliott. It was one of the very few mistakes that Elliott has made all season.
  • On Elliott's game-clinching 85-yard touchdown run, the entire offense executed the outside zone-read to perfection. Taylor Decker and Billy Price opened up the hole for Elliott, before Spencer laid a perfect crackback block on two Alabama linebackers. Elliott quickly saw the block, planted his outside foot and squared his shoulders before getting upfield and essentially ending Alabama's season. Here is a more in-depth breakdown of the play by Kyle Jones of


Player Number of snaps
Jalin Marshall 57
Noah Brown 14

  • As expected, Marshall was key to the game plan. They used him on jet motion and jet sweeps to attack the Alabama defense on the edge and force their larger linebackers to play outside the box.
  • With Dontre Wilson still not at 100%, freshman Noah Brown got ample playing time at H-back. His big body type was the perfect compliment for the speedy Marshall, even though the opposing defense did not react to his jet motion. I think he will continue to see the field even if Wilson plays next week and I would look for him on crackback blocks, similar to the one I will soon be talking about by Evan Spencer.
  • Marshall made two gigantic, third down receptions on the drive following Alabama's third touchdown. The second was one of his best plays of the year, high pointing the football, taking a shot from the safety and holding on for the first down.
  • Coach Herman called a jet sweep to Marshall on the first drive of the second half where he followed Elliott around the edge. Elliott laid a solid block on the safety, leaving a lot of space for Marshall on the outside but instead he cut-back into a pursuing Alabama linebacker, who knocked off Marshall's helmet. He would have easily converted the first down on the play and possibly more.
  • I have no clue why Coach Herman called Brown's number on 3rd-and-3 in the third quarter. From my memory, it was his first carry of the season. As I mentioned before, Brown's time to carry the football will come next season, not in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama.

Wide receivers

Player Number of snaps
Michael Thomas 56
Devin Smith 47
Evan Spencer 37
Corey Smith 29

  • As I noted above, it seemed like the wide receivers had a tough time getting open early in the game.
  • Corey Smith is an impact special teams player and it continued vs. Alabama. He had four special teams tackles, including three inside the 20-yardline on kickoff coverage.
  • An underrated coaching aspect of this season has been the improvement of the wide receiving corps. Coach Zach Smith has done a great job this season as his positional group has vastly improved since last season.
  • Devin Smith continues to show week in and week out that he is the best deep ball wide receiver in the country. He has superior body control and locates the ball effortlessly in the air without breaking stride.
  • Spencer may have had the best throw of the game on his touchdown pass to Thomas. Thomas may have even one-upped the throw with a jaw dropping catch, dragging his toe in bounds while falling out of bounds. Alabama's Jones timed his jump poorly but the ball was placed perfectly,where only Thomas could make a play on the ball. And yes, he made the play.
  • The offense came out throwing in the second half, as Jones hit Thomas on back-to-back slant patterns.Thomas made nice adjustments on both throws that were a little behind him.
  • On D. Smith's touchdown reception in the third quarter, he hauled in a perfect deep ball on third down from Jones. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart dialed up man coverage which left Jackson and D. Smith on an island. Their feet got tangled up which forced Jackson to fall down and allow D. Smith to waltz into the end zone.
  • I thought Alabama's Cy. Jones got away with a pass interference call against D. Smith on a deep shot in the fourth quarter.

Tight ends

Player Number of snaps
Nick Vannett 68
Jeff Heuerman 17

  • Heuerman injured his ankle on the first offensive play of the game. It looked like an Alabama defender accidentally stepped on his right ankle while pursuing to Elliott. Heuerman limped off the field and only played 16 out of the remaining 80 snaps. Luckily, Heuerman is probable for next game, per Coach Urban Meyer.
  • Vannett did a nice job filling in for Heuerman, where he played the most snaps of his career in a meaningful game. As I have said all along, the gap between the two tight ends is not as much as most think.