By the Numbers - Wisconsin Offense
By Jeff Amey
With 4:39 left in the game against the Wisconsin Badgers Saturday night, it had to be too good to be true, right? Braxton Miller had just taken an option play to the house and the Buckeyes extended their lead to 26-14 against a team few gave them a chance of beating before the game started. The next three minutes and 21 seconds almost proved that it was too good to be true as the Badgers battled back to take a 29-26 lead with two quick touchdowns and looked as if the Buckeyes would blow another double-digit fourth quarter lead.
Then, the largely forgettable 2011 season suddenly got an unforgettable moment. One unbeleivable play from a freshman quarterback to a freshman receiver gave the Buckeyes back the lead for good, opened doors for the team to reach the inaugural Big Ten Championship game, and made it fun to be a Buckeye again.
Ironically, it was just three seasons ago against this same Wisconsin program that a different freshman quarterback made the first play of his career to launch his legacy. The last chapters of that book are still being written and are why the team is in the position it finds itself this season, but the first chapter of Braxton Miller's legacy was written Saturday night, and it looks like it could be a best-seller.
There are a lot of things to talk about for this game, but we need to get through the stats first.
70 Total Plays--357 yards--5.1 yards per play
12 pass (17%)--7/12 for 89 yards 1 TD
58 rush (83%) for 268 yards 3 TD--4.6 ypc
12 Offensive Possessions
Ave. of 5.8 plays--29.8 yards
Ave. Start--OSU 37
1st Down--27 plays (39%) for 168 yards
4 pass (15%)--3/4 for 53 yards 1 TD
23 rush (85%) for 115 yards--5.0 ypc
Ave. gain of 6.2 yards
2nd Down--22 plays (31%) for 71 yards
1 pass (5%)--1/1 for 7 yards
21 rush (95%) for 64 yards--3.0 ypc
Ave. of 7.9 yards to go
Ave. gain of 3.2 yards
Third Down--20 plays (29%) for 117 yards
7 pass (35%)--3/7 for 29 yards
13 rush (65%) for 88 yards 2 TD--6.8 ypc
Ave. of 5.4 yards to go
Ave. gain of 5.9 yards
Fourth Down--1 play (1%) for 1 yard
1 rush (100%) for 1 yard 1 TD--1.0 ypc
Ave. of 1.0 yards to go
Ave. gain of 1.0 yards
0/3 for 0 yards
First Downs Earned--15 total
2 by pass
12 by rush
1 by penalty
Two Back Formations--16 plays (23%)
16 rush (100%) for 40 yards 1 TD--2.5 ypc
Shotgun Formations--23 plays (33%)
8 pass (35%)--6/8 for 74 yards 1 TD
15 rush (65%) for 44 yards--2.9 ypc
Pistol Formations--26 plays (37%)
4 pass (15%)--1/4 for 15 yards
22 rush (85%) for 183 yards 1 TD--8.3 ypc
Three Back Formations--5 plays (7%)
5 rush (100%) for 1 yard 1 TD--0.2 ypc
RUN TYPE BREAKDOWN--58 attempts
Counter/Trap--13 (22%) for 62 yards--4.8 ypc
Lead Zone/Iso--13 (22%) for 80 yards--6.2 ypc
Option--10 (17%) for 60 yards 1 TD--6.0 ypc
Outside Zone--5 (9%) for 14 yards 1 TD--2.8 ypc
Power--5 (9%) for 16 yards--3.2 ypc
QB run/scramble--12 (21%) for 36 yards 1 TD--3.0 ypc
Other Stats of Note
~ 2 offensive penalties for 15 yards
~ Ohio State started on the Wisconsin side of the 50 twice--10 points (1 TD 1 FG)
~ 3/3 in the Red Zone--(2 TD 1 FG)
~ 3 Sacks against and 1 turnover (1 Fumble)
~ 32/70 plays took place on the Wisconsin side of the 50--(46%)
~ 21/70 plays went for no gain or loss--(30%)
~ 2/12 drives went 3 and out--(17%)
~ Number of plays of 10+ yards--9 (13%)
~ 10 of first 21 plays went for no gain/loss--(48%)
~ 3 of last 28 plays went for no gain/loss--(11%)
~ Actual playcall breakdown with sacks/scrambles figured in--19 pass 51 rush
Lost in the feel-good ending to this game was that the offense started the game very slowly, only crossing the fifty on their 18th offensive play and punting on their first three possessions. As can also be seen in the breakdown, nearly half of their first 21 plays (up to the end of the third possession) ended up in either no gain or a loss. While there were a few signs of life in the passing game, there was little to indicate what would take place the rest of the game.
The last nine drives included 49 plays, 290 yards and some type of score on six of those drives accounting for 30 points. Not only that, but they did it almost entirely on the ground. Only six of those 49 plays ended in a pass, and two of those came on the final drive. They did it in the face of 8, 9, and even 10 man fronts on occasion. It wasn't a game of big plays, in fact, the Buckeyes had less than 10 plays of 10 or more yards, but a steady diet of power football against a team that is known for it.
In the end, this ended up being a cathartic win for everyone involved in the Ohio State program, from the players down to the fans, as evidenced by the wild scene with the stadium crowd storming the field after the game ended. For the first time since all the trouble started, the black cloud looming over the program receded, if just for a little bit.
Ever since Braxton Miller took over the starting job at quarterback we have been waiting for a break-out game from him to announce that he's officially arrived. This could very well have been that game. The good things we were hearing from the coaches about him leading into this game manifested themselves on the field in the form of a palpable difference in the confidence level he was showing in the passing game.
Not only was he careful with the ball (no turnovers), but he was more decisive with his decisions in general. Perhaps most importantly, when he was forced to move in the pocket, he didn't automatically pull the ball down and start running. He kept his eyes downfield on several plays, including the game-winner. There wasn't anyone in the stadium that thought he wasn't going to run with that ball when he started off to his right on that play. That was a play I don't think he could've made even two weeks ago.
I was also impressed with some of the subtle differences in him when he was running with the ball. Not only did he do a better job of avoiding unnecessary hits by getting down or out of bounds, but he ran tough when he needed to and helped extend drives with great runs to convert third downs on several possessions. He did make a couple questionable reads on option plays, but also broke a speed option play for a long touchdown in the fourth quarter. That play was more of a "rock-paper-scissors" win for the coaches than it was a great play by Miller, but it was good to see him be so decisive with the ball and get it to the end zone when the opening was there.
Overall, this was a game where you could finally see the light going on for Miller and the game begin to slow down for him. I'm not going as far as to say that he's never going to have another bad game, because that would be too much to hope for at this point, but he's taken a few huge strides over the past several games, and is clearly on the way to stardom if he can manage to stay healthy.
Grade--B+ I'm not ready to give him an "A" yet. The last play was spectacular and he did a great job of managing the game, but he has still yet to prove he can carry a game with his arm, and until he can the Buckeyes are going to continue to see teams load up against the run game.
Before the game started the cameras caught Boom Herron with tears in his eyes while the national anthem was playing. I don't know what exactly the tears were for, but it's clear that being a Buckeye means a lot to Boom, and with his 33 carry, 160 yard game, including the 57 yard run to open the second half that jump started it all, he carried the team on his back until Braxton Miller finally took up the mantle later in the second half. With cries of "Boom" coming from the crowd after nearly every run, it seems clear he's been forgiven by Buckeye Nation as well.
As good of a game as he had, it could've easily been much better. There were several runs where he made very un-Boom-like cuts and left yards on the field. It was so different to see this kind of thing coming from him, I had to take a second look to make sure it was a number one on the jersey of the ball carrier. From the sound of things, this is something that he noticed when watching the game film and I'll be surprised to see him doing it again. He could've easily been over 200 yards.
Jordan Hall was never really able to get on track, finishing with only 9 yards on 6 carries, but finished the game with the only touchdown on the ground not attributed to Braxton Miller on a tough third down run at the goal line in the third quarter.
As for the reason Hall was able to get into the end zone, look no further than Zach Boren. He did his best impression of a road grader, blasting defenders on play after play. On Hall's touchdown, he blocked one man into two others to open the hole on the play. There were probably a Wisconsin linebacker or two that had nightmares Saturday night about a #44 Buckeye jersey coming full steam at them.
Grade--B+ Had Boom not left all those yards on the field, this would easily be an A. It's kind of hard not to give them one anyway considering the kinds of defensive fronts they were running into.
The receivers have been very tough to grade due to the low number of touches they get, but this game saw some flashes of what the future might hold for the Buckeyes if everyone stays healthy. It seemed Braxton Miller has developed some chemistry with Philly Brown in the past couple of weeks. Miller looked for him early and often. Brown finished the game with three catches on six targets. Unfortunately, he dropped a pass on the second play of the game that could've been a big play right off the bat which was followed by another drop by tight end Jake Stoneburner on the next drive.
Those two drops marred what was otherwise a decent day for the receivers. Devin Smith made the biggest play of the season on a fairly routine catch in the most strenuous of situations. It lacked a little of the pizazz of other recent big-time pass plays for the Buckeyes, such as "Holy Buckeye" and Gonzalez vs. Michigan, but if Ohio State manages to somehow find themselves in the Big Ten Championship game this season, that play will be remembered as where it all started.
Grade--B Only 12 attempts and two of them were dropped. I can't give them any higher than that. Stoneburner is the last player I expected to have hands problems this season.
There are some out there that probably still think this is an under-achieving line this season, and I can only wonder what game they're watching. The Buckeyes just managed to put up 268 yards of rushing against a team that was selling out to stop the run with 8-10 man fronts most of the game. Yes, the playcalling was a little drab and predictable at times. Yes, there were plays with immediate penetration in the backfield, and absolutely yes, I thought they did a pretty poor job on the goal line, but again, I ask you to consider what they were running into.
There is also no denying that when the Buckeyes needed things to happen in the second half the line dominated the Wisconsin front seven. I also thought the line did a pretty good job of pass protecting, picking up various blitzes and line twists much better than they did against Michigan State earlier this season.
Grade--B+ I thought they did a great job in the second half except for the goal line situations. The first half got better as it went on. If Miller is able to develop as a passer enough to take pressure off the running game, this offense is going to be tough to stop.
At this point, there are many Buckeye fans that have such intense dissatisfaction with the offensive coaching staff, it's hard to give them any kudos when they do things right. That's where we are with this staff in more ways that one this week. For one, though I think the Buckeyes should be throwing the ball more on first and second down (only 5 of 49 first and second down plays were passes), it worked for the Buckeyes, though not without some really rough patches.
Overall, I thought the gameplan was good. The Buckeyes used Miller's running threat and the extra man to defend that goes along with it to gain number advantages on some plays in some formations, most notably the power/counter plays they were running from the Pistol all game long. They had some limited success with read option plays, but had a few bad reads by Miller to slow those down. There was much more success with speed options, including a touchdown run on one from a formation the Buckeyes hadn't used this season, a balanced pistol formation with a single back behind Miller. They caught Wisconsin mis-aligned for it and out-manned to the boundary side resulting in the easy touchdown run.
The coaches showed more confidence in Miller with the passing game, and even showed that slants are part of the playbook with two completed in a row in the second quarter. Miller rewarded that confidence in him with what was, by far, his best quarterback play of the season.
Speaking of that, it's also time to give some more credit where it is due to the offensive staff. QB coach Nick Siciliano has been under fire from a lot of people, including me, about the state of the quarterback situation this season. There is no denying his resume is thin at best, and the early season quarterback play was abysmal. There is also no denying that we saw a palpable difference in Braxton Miller this week, and not just for the better, but for the much better. There are probably some of you that think that happened despite the coaching and the light came on for Miller all on his own, but that's not how this works. Maybe it's time to back off of Coach Siciliano, give him a little credit, and see what he's able to do with Miller the rest of this season.
Grade--B After the slow start, which was at least in small part due to stubbornly running zone read into a defense stacked too heavy to be successful with it, the offense got going riding Boom Herron's back through the last three quarters. I like the move to the pistol, and the re-emergence of "Dave" from it.
Aside from one mistake on special teams, a Jordan Hall muffed punt that turned the momentum of the game around briefly at a crucial juncture, it was a pretty good day for special teams. Drew Basil kicked two more field goals and hasn't missed since the second game of the season. Kickoff and punt coverages have been fun to watch with Ryan Shazier, Zach Dominicone, and Nate Ebner blowing up wedges and the return men all season. Ben Buchanan is also having a great season flipping the field and pinning teams deep, which he did several times again in this game, but those are just the appetizers
There were two plays that put the special in special teams in this game. One came on a blocked punt by Ryan Shazier, who has been a one-man special teams wrecking crew. The ball was recovered at the Wisconsin one and turned into a subsequent touchdown. The second was the long Jordan Hall kickoff return after Wisconsin's final touchdown that set up the Buckeyes with a short field with just over a minute to go. After the dropped punt, it was nice to see him get a bit of redemption by nearly putting his team in a position to at least tie the game himself.
Grade--B+ Without that turnover, this would be an A+, but it came at such a bad time, it's hard not to take off quite a bit for it.
In just three short weeks, which included two wins against teams that most fans thought would be losses, the Buckeyes have gone from a team that might struggle to even make a bowl game to being one Penn State loss from controlling their destiny in their division race. If that's not enough to get the team amped up over these last four games, I'm not sure if anything will. Considering where they were those three short weeks ago, where they are now is almost incredible. Next up on the 2011 magical mystery tour is a home date with Indiana, which has traditionally been a game to cure what ails the offense.