Spartan Game Plan Thwarts Buckeye Offense
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Anyone who thought Ohio State’s dismal offensive performance at Miami was a fluke—or that it was all Joe Bauserman’s fault—welcome back to reality.
If it looked like Tim Beckman was in their heads when the Buckeyes played Toledo, Mark Dantonio was practically calling the plays for Luke Fickell during Saturday’s 10-7 loss to Michigan State.
“We haven't been blitzed a lot like that, but they just kind of knew where we'd be almost every time,” OSU fullback Zach Boren said.
“They were slanting, they were twisting up front, they were bringing safeties, they were doing everything.”
It should come as no surprise to the Buckeyes that Dantonio likes to bring the heat. He helped Ohio State win a national championship in 2002 with that same mentality, but it was the OSU quarterbacks who felt like a battered and bruised Ken Dorsey on Saturday.
“I felt like they were bringing so many blitzes, they were bringing so many guys, we can't block everybody,” sophomore tailback Carlos Hyde said.
“I feel like the o-line was doing enough. I guess at the running back position we have to pick up blocks too, but there was always the extra guy we couldn't pick up or the offensive line couldn't get.”
Knowing that freshman Braxton Miller was making his second career start, and first against the Big Ten, Dantonio never hesitated to stack the box with eight or nine defenders.
It was something the Buckeyes saw early in Terrelle Pryor’s career as well, but they had never seen pressure quite like they did Saturday as Dantonio threw everything but the kitchen sink at Ohio State’s adolescent offense.
“Well, we blitzed quite often, I guess,” he said smiling and laughing a little.
“We really felt like Braxton Miller is an outstanding athlete and that we couldn't let him loose that we had to try and put a fence around him, so we did pressure him.”
They started the game by bringing just the front four, and Ohio State’s offensive line had a whale of a time trying to block 315-pound defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. It didn’t help that Worthy and his teammates had all but picked up on Miller’s cadence by the second quarter of the game.
“Due to the fact that they have a couple of inexperienced quarterbacks they can only run a certain amount of plays, so you just try to feel your way through it,” said Worthy, a junior defensive tackle from the same high school as Braxton Miller.
“I was able to get a good jump on the ball and make a good play.”
Once the Spartans had Ohio State’s offense on it’s heels, Dantonio turned his guys loose with complete disregard for the inexperience of his friend and former colleague Luke Fickell.
He brought defenders from every angle, including a few corner blitzes, and Ohio State looked helpless against the onslaught of green and white penetrating the Buckeye backfield.
“You've got pick them up, you've got to catch them when they're slipping on their blitz,” Hyde said.
“You've got to run a screen or something when they blitz and catch them slipping.”
But Dantonio was never worried about that. Having coached at Ohio State from 2001-03, he knew all too well that the Buckeyes’ offensive coaching staff would have no answer for his unwavering aggressive play-calling.
He was right.
They never called a single screen play against Michigan State to try and take the heat off Braxton Miller, who was being swarmed by defenders at every turn.
Obviously the coaches were limited by the fact they were playing a freshman quarterback with a narrow understanding of the playbook. That doesn’t change the fact this coaching staff has never been able to utilize the screen play, or really any misdirection plays that would have made the Spartans pay for being overeager in the backfield.
“It really frustrates me,” Hyde said.
“I know our guys are good and capable of scoring points. It’s just frustrating that we couldn’t score.”
The Buckeyes did run two draw plays to Hyde that caught the Michigan State defense by surprise. He picked up nine yards on the first draw play and 13 on the second, but the coaches never went back to the delayed handoff.
Instead, they allowed William Gholston to eat up lead play after lead play on the backside blitz like he was Thad Gibson in 2009.
“I felt we should've run isos,” said Hyde, who finished with 33 yards on five carries.
“They kept running off the edge, so I thought we should hit them in the middle. We've got to get better. I told the coaches some plays we should've run, but I don't get paid to coach, so I guess they don't listen.”
Things can’t be good in the locker room when players are openly questioning the coaching staff, but Hyde wasn’t the only one.
“We just have to find a way to get the ball off fast, hit quick routes,” said fellow tailback Jordan Hall said.
“I don’t think that we did that today, and I think that’s what we should do when they (run blitz).”
Those sentiments by Ohio State’s tailbacks only echo the cries of a fan base that is tired of watching the offense beat its head against a wall and then get beat into submission.
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