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What the Ohio State offense can learn from the Houston-Oklahoma game

Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson can exploit Oklahoma’s secondary.

NCAA Football: Texas Kickoff-Oklahoma vs Houston Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

As we know by now, Urban Meyer’s spread offense is dictated by a power running attack. Whether it was with Tim Tebow’s QB power runs, Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott destroying the A-gap, and now Mike Weber; Meyer wants to set the tone by running the ball before mixing in finesse play calls.

After the well-known 2014 debacle against Virginia Tech — where Virginia Tech DC Bud Foster deployed the Bear front to clog up the A-gap — Ohio State began to attack the perimeter in the run game, and that was the key to the 2014 and 2015 offenses. Remember the 85-yard Sugar Bowl-sealing run? Of course you do. After Alabama’s big and talented defensive line began to shutdown the inside zone (A-gap), former offensive coordinator Tom Herman dialed up the sweep to end the Crimson Tide’s season.

When looking at Oklahoma, they have a gigantic defensive line and two legit inside linebackers who are going to cause problems for Ohio State’s inside zone. Defensive end (No. 97) Charles Walker is listed at 6’2”, 304 lbs, defensive tackle (No. 93) Jordan Wade is listed at 6’3”, 305 lbs and defensive end Matt Dimon (No. 94) is listed at 6’2”, 285 lbs. The Sooners run a base 3-4 defense, but against spread offenses, they’ll play a lot of 3-3-5 and 4-2-5 (below) with nickel personnel. We’ll dive into more of this later.

When looking at Oklahoma’s schedule prior to this season, most saw the Houston match-up and just chalked it up to a good game being played on Week 1. Buckeye fans soon realized that Oklahoma and Bob Stoops will have excellent preparation for their Week 3 clash with the Buckeyes, because they have already played a version of Ohio State’s offense, against Tom Herman’s Houston Cougars. Oklahoma’s defense let up 321 yards through the air to Herman’s offense, en-route to a 33-23 loss.

If you don’t think Urban Meyer and J.T. Barrett have been in contact with Herman to find tendencies and talk about Sooner personnel, you’re nuts.

"We did talk to Tom. We got their thoughts on personnel. Because you see what you see on videotape," Meyer said on Monday. "It was more about personnel because they have a couple of new players in the back end of their defense. Schematically, not as much because we get the same videotape that they have. It was more about personnel."

When watching the Sooner defense against the Houston offense, here are a few things the Buckeyes should be able to exploit and avoid, in order to be as successful as Houston:

The Oklahoma secondary had difficulty covering Houston’s big wide-outs:

Houston boasts two of the bigger receivers that Oklahoma will face this season — both standing at 6’3”, 210-plus lbs. The Sooner corners ran into massive trouble defending these two receivers, and were beat a few times on back-shoulder throws and vertical routes.

Below, this is about as easy of a back shoulder throw as a quarterback can complete and this is only one of many examples:

From an Ohio State standpoint, it looks like Barrett should target Noah Brown and Marcus Baugh vertically. Both are big, athletic targets who can go up and make plays. Oklahoma’s secondary really lacks a true ball-hawk, as they only defended one of Greg Ward Jr.’s 40 pass attempts.

The Oklahoma secondary misses a ton of tackles:

Not only can the Sooner secondary not cover, but they really can’t tackle or get off blocks. Houston’s receivers and their backs constantly broke tackles on the perimeter, which led to a ton of yards after contact.

When looking at Oklahoma’s secondary, their two starting corners (No. 7 Jordan Thomas and No. 27 Dakota Washington), and their starting strong safety (No. 10 Steven Parker), combined to miss 9 tackles. Not good.

They also had an extremely tough time getting off stalk blocks — something that Tom Herman and Ohio State WR coach Zack Smith stress:

This is where Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson (if healthy) will do damage. As mentioned above, when Ohio State has trouble gaining yardage with their inside zone and controlling the A-gap, they’ll run sweep, jet-sweep and speed option to get outside, and then counter trey once the Sooner defense starts to flow with jet motion.

In the passing game, Barrett uses Samuel and Wilson as check-downs on the perimeter and they’ll get chunk yardage that way.

If the Oklahoma secondary can’t tackle or get off blocks, Samuel might be a Heisman candidate — or at least a household name — after the game.

See how Houston gets to the edge with ease, when running the speed option. Imagine Samuel or Wilson taking this pitch:

The Sooners possess a strong front-seven:

When charting the Houston-Oklahoma game, Oklahoma’s mammoth defensive line and linebackers held Houston in check in the A and B gaps. I recorded 14 Houston rushing attempts that were stopped at or before the line of scrimmage. The defensive line does a great job of clogging up the A and B gaps, which result in many run stuffs and unblocked linebackers to make plays.

CFB Film Room credited ILB (No. 26) Jordan Evans with zero misses tackles on 10 attempts, OLB (No. 12) Will Johnson with three run stuffs and OLB (No. 31) Ogbonnia Okoronkwo with two QB hits, two QB hurries, one sack and one missed tackle on eight attempts.


Since Ohio State is still going to have to run inside zone to open up play-action and the perimeter run game, Mike Weber is going to have to earn every yard that he gains on Saturday. After the inside zone was completely nullified in the first half by Tulsa’s front-seven, one should expect a big bounce-back from the offensive line and Weber.

Overall, for Ohio State to win this game, they’ll need to take advantage of their superior athletes and players that they have on the perimeter. If Ed Warinner and Tim Beck decide to use their 2015 Michigan State game plan, the Buckeyes have no chance. If they ride Samuel, Wilson and Zone 6, they should walk out of Norman, victorious.