By the Numbers
By Jeff Amey
It wasn't pretty, but the Ohio State Buckeyes pushed their record to 3-0 with a 35-28 win over a very game California Golden Bear team Saturday afternoon. The Bears had an interesting and effective game plan for defending the Buckeyes, and with some second half adjustments, made the Buckeye offense look downright awful at times.
In the end, the Buckeyes made enough plays to pull out the win, culminating in another late game touchdown pass from Braxton Miller to a wide open Devin Smith for the winning points. This is just the kind of game the Buckeyes needed. Now we have to see how the team and coaching staff responds to what I expect to see opposing defenses do a lot more of this season.
Despite a little bit of doom and gloom, there were plenty of good things to take away from this game.
First we'll take a look at the stats, and since we're working with a new offense, there will be some minor changes. The previous regime ran a multiple offense with a great variety of formations. This year's offense takes nearly every snap from some type of shotgun/pistol look. I will classify formations by the number of backs in the backfield at the snap, and for classification purposes, I counted H-backs as a back. I also broke quarterback runs down into designed runs and scramble/sacks instead of lumping them together, as well as seperating out the different type of option calls.
Lastly, I'd like to say that I may be a little late to the party, but I'm happy to be joining the O-zone staff for my ninth season of doing these breakdowns. I hope you enjoy reading them.
[Editor's Note: And the-Ozone is happy to have you back.]
63 Total Plays--410 yards--6.5 yards per play (ypp)
30 pass (48%)--16/30 for 249 yards 4 TD 1 INT
33 rush (52%) for 161 yards 1 TD--4.9 ypc
16 Offensive Possessions
Ave. of 3.9 plays--25.6 yards
Ave. start--OSU 28
First Down--26 plays (41%) for 165 yards
12 pass (46%)--7/12 for 110 yards 1 TD
14 rush (54%) fro 55 yards--3.9 ypc
Ave. gain of 6.3 yards
Second Down--22 plays (35%) for 72 yards
6 pass (27%)--4/6 for 20 yards 1 TD
16 rush (73%) for 52 yards--3.3 ypc
Ave. of 8.5 yards to go
Ave gain of 3.3 yards
Third Down--15 plays (24%) for 173 yards
12 pass (80%)--5/12 for 119 yards 2 TD 1 INT
3 rush (20%) for 54 yards 1 TD--18.0 ypc
Ave. of 8.7 yards to go
Ave. gain of 11.5 yards
5/7 for 90 yards 3 TD
First Downs Earned--10 total
5 by pass
5 by rush
Two Backs--23 plays (37%) for 157 yards
6 pass (26%)--4/6 for 28 yards 1 TD
17 rush (74%) for 129 yards 1 TD--7.6 ypc
One Back--31 plays (49%) for 177 yards
18 pass (58%)--10/18 for 140 yards 2 TD
13 rush (42%) for 37 yards--2.8 ypc
Empty Sets--6 plays (10%) for 81 yards
6 pass (100%)--2/6 for 81 yards 1 TD 1 INT
Victory Formation--3 plays (5%) for -5 yards
3 rush (100%) for -5 yards--(-1.7) ypc
Run Type Breakdown
Counter Option--1 (3%) for 4 yards--4.0 ypc
Counter/Trap--1 (3%) for 4 yards--4.0 ypc
Inside Zone--2 (6%) for 4 yards--2.0 ypc
Outside Zone--1 (3%) for 2 yards--2.0 ypc
QB Designed Run--6 (18%) for 81 yards 1 TD--13.5 ypc
QB Scramble/Sack--4 (12%) for -5 yards--(-1.3) ypc
Read Option--10 (30%) for 42 yards--4.2 ypc
Speed Option--5 (15%) for 34 yards--6.8 ypc
TEAM--3 (9%) for -5 yards--(-1.7) ypc
Other Stats of Note
* 5 Offensive Penalties for 37 yards
* Ohio State started on the California side of the 50 twice--7 points (1 TD)
* 2/2 in the red zone (2 TD)
* 2 sacks against
* 1 turnover (INT)
* 16/63 plays took place on the California side of the 50--(25%)
* 21/63 plays went for no gain or loss--(33%)--16 of 34 second half plays
* 10/63 plays gained 10+ yards--(16%)
* 6/16 drives went 3 and out--(38%)
* Braxton Miller primary ball handler--59/63 plays (94%)
Going into this game, California was supposed to be a better test for the Buckeyes, but one they were supposed to pass without too much trouble. California is also a fairly young team led by a coach supposedly with one foot out the door. Instead the Buckeyes got a dogfight from the Golden Bears, which had a pretty good defensive gameplan for stopping the Buckeye offense.
It was clear from the start that the Bears were not going to let Braxton Miller beat them by running the ball on option plays. Their defensive read men did an excellent job of not committing and forcing the ball out of Miller's hands all game. It was clear they didn't think the other Buckeye runners were nearly as big a threat, and they were right. Jordan Hall was servicable in his first game back from injury, but he was rusty and didn't show the same kind of shifty elusiveness he's shown in the past.
Despite that, the Buckeyes still had some success moving the ball in the first half, including three straight touchdown drives in which Braxton Miller looked very good and in control of offense. In the second half, the Bears started (ironically) employing a Bear front, dropping a safety into the box to help stop the run, and mixing a lot more zone coverages in with the mostly man coverages they used the first half.
It clearly affected Miller in the third quarter, as his reads in both the running game and the passing game became much tougher, and for the first time this season, he didn't look comfortable. I expect opposing defenses to attempt more of this to defend the Buckeyes this season. Not all of them will have the horses to do it effectively, but the better defenses in the Big Ten might give Miller similar issues.
In the end, Miller pulled out of his third quarter funk and won the game for the Buckeyes in the fourth, doing a great job on the Buckeye's only long sustained drive of the day after going down 21-20 to re-take the lead. Even the fourth wasn't without its hiccups, however, as Miller was baited into a bad read, throwing a corner route right to a fading cornerback when the shorter man (Jordan Hall on that play) was open for the first down. He responded on the next drive with the game-winning touchdown to a wide open Devin Smith, his fourth TD of the day.
Why so much focus on Miller? In case it wasn't abundantly clear already, as Braxton Miller goes this season, so does the Buckeye offense. In the breakdown, you can see that Miller was the primary ball handler on 94% of Ohio State's offensive plays. There were only four plays that were blocked in such a way that Miller didn't have some type of read to make. The staff did a good job this week of limiting the number of hits he took, but the California defense also had something to do with that, playing to get the ball out of his hands on option plays.
Let's get into the position groups and see what else we learned about the team this week.
I've already written a lot about Braxton Miller, so I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time here. Suffice to say that he is just a freak of an athlete that is slowly developing into a pretty darn good quarterback as well. He's still showing a lot of growing pains, but when your developing quarterback is still able to account for over 300 yards of offense and all five of your offensive touchdowns including a late game-winner, those are pretty good problems to have.
We learned that Braxton can, indeed, pitch the ball on option plays if the defense forces him to. We also learned that he still has some way to go when it comes to reading zone defenses and not staring down one reciever too long. There were several plays where he missed wide open recievers and never saw them. In the first half, when he was comfortable, his mechanics looked better than ever, but after the Bears got him out of his comfort zone, his mechanics looked rougher and he started to look hesitant. In the end, he fought through it and won the game.
Grade--(B) Too many issues to give him an "A", but I'm sure a lot of teams would like to have the problems the Buckeyes have with Miller right now.
I think Jordan Hall coming in and taking the bulk of the running back carries after the long layoff was a bit of a surprise to everyone, maybe even the coaching staff included. He just didn't look himself yet, and it's not clear if it's just rust, not trusting his foot yet, or a lack of football conditioning. It's probably a little bit of all three of those. It was telling that he spent so much time in the game ahead of both Bri'onte Dunn and Rod Smith. Those two don't seem to have the trust of either Urban Meyer or Miller yet.
I have to say I'm glad to see Zach Boren have an expanded role in the offense this season. He didn't carry the ball this week, but he did come down with a catch, and he's still a road grader of a blocker and does a surprisingly good job of pass blocking this season as well.
Right now, I think this team misses Carlos Hyde and his mixture of size and speed, especially on the inside gives. Hall has never been that dynamic of an inside runner, and that puts the Buckeyes at a disadvantage on short yardage situations unless they bring Boren back to the the running back slot instead of H-back.
Grade--(B-) Hall was servicable, but hardly dynamic. Corey Brown is an interesting part-time addition to the backfield, but isn't seeing much use...yet.
It was interesting to hear the play by play announcer focusing on the two drops by Devin Smith in this game instead of the five catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns including the game-winner. The drops are inexcusable but the Buckeyes have needed a playmaker to emerge at wide receiver, and it seems clear now that Smith is going to be that guy. From his incredible one-handed touchdown in week one, to the strength move on his first touchdown catch this week, he has shown that when the Buckeyes need a big play in the passing game, he can deliver. Now the Buckeyes need someone to emerge to compliment him.
Evan Spencer has shown flashes, but managed only one catch and added a drop to the team total this week. Corey Brown is an interesting guy in this offense, but didn't add a whole lot to the offense this week. He struggled with his open-field blocking all game as well, something that is essential to making this offense work. Jake Stoneburner added two touchdowns to his career total against Cal, but I don't think he's going to be the answer either. He's good in "straight line" types of routes (such as the long seam route he caught this week), but he's very slow in and out of breaks, which limits his effectiveness as a receiver.
We just haven't seen enough of the younger guys and back ups to make any kind of determination about any of those. One playmaker at receiver is nice, but having one usually opens things up for a good complimentary guy, and someone will need to step up.
If I have any complaints about the receivers, it's when I see two or even occassionally three receivers end up in the same area of the field, essentially making it a lot easier on the defense to cover them. I don't know if this is by design (unlikely), or if there is some kind of miscommunication sending in the plays, but when one defender can cover two and sometimes three receivers on a play something needs corrected.
Grade--(B+) The drops hurt the grade a little, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on the spacing issues for now. So now, who will emerge opposite Smith?
For years under the previous regime, the offensive line was perceived to be an underachieving group. Right now, you're hearing nearly nothing about the offensive line, and that is one of the surest signs that things are going well up fron for the Buckeyes. In the past, I thought the Ohio State offensive scheme made it difficult for the offensive line to EVER look good, simply because the best way for good defenses to defend the Buckeyes was to commit a lot of people to the line of scrimmage, try to take away the run, and pressure the quarterback when they tried to pass.
With Meyer's offense, the scheme makes it much easier for the line to succeed. For one, on most plays they are simply leaving one of the defenders unblocked for Miller to read. For second, they are making much more extensive use of combination blocks to get to the second level of the defense that weren't implemented very well and executed even worse under the last regime. Third, the Buckeyes have so many different ways to attack from so many different angles (some of them not extensively even used yet), that the defense has to be disciplined and read what the offense is doing, giving the blockers the advantage.
California tried to negate some of that advantage with their Bear front in the second half, and had some success disrupting Miller, but the line itself handled it fairly well. You just didn't see the Bears winning the one-on-one matchups created on the line, but there were just too many bodies to block besides the "read" man, and when you consider how disciplined those guys were, you have to give credit to the Cal defense instead of putting blame on the offensive line for the lack of explosive plays in the running game.
As far as pass protection goes, this line has been stellar so far this season. There were very few times Miller was picking himself off the ground, and the times he did, it was generally from holding on to the ball longer in the second half than it was from any immediate pressure the Bears were able to get on him.
Grade--(A-) Let's hope we continue to hear very little about the offensive line this season.
This is the first chance I've had to publically comment on Urban Meyer and his offense, so here goes.
First, I love the change in philosophy to a more aggressive play style and attitude. Learning to love the Jim Tressel offense was a sometimes painful experience that occassionally brought on fantasies of offensive infidelity. Meyer's offense was often the focus of some of those fantasies for Buckeye fans, and now we get to see it on a weekly basis.
So what do I think of it, now that it's here? It's an offensive style that is constantly trying to get the defense to defend 11 people with 10 guys, and it's hard to not like that philosophy. Not blocking a man on most run plays and letting Miller "read" him, is essentially supposed to eliminate him from the play, and adding in the constant threat of the quarterback running the ball adds in the 11th man on offense.
It's the basis of option football. In passing situations, Miller's running ability forces teams to spy him, eliminating them from coverage or facing the consequences if they don't. Add in the elements of the spread offense (stretching the field both horizontally and vertically), and the playaction game, and this can be a nearly impossible offense to stop when all the pieces are in place.
It's clear that the Buckeyes have a couple of those pieces, namely Braxton Miller at QB, Devin Smith emerging at WR, and a fairly strong offensive line, but are still searching for the rest of those pieces to make it all run smoothly. Right now, the Buckeyes just don't seem to have a back that can make the kinds of plays Meyer wants in his offense. I'm not sure either Jordan Hall or Carlos Hyde are ever going to be those players, though Hall fits the mold a little better in my opinion. I just feel Hyde fits better as a feature back in a pro-style offense. The younger guys haven't gotten enough looks to determine anything.
As for the scheme itself, the searching for playmakers has made the offense seem a bit disjointed at times. There is a certain amount of adjustment a team has to make in game situations when a new offense is implemented, and we're seeing that as well. There are times it truly does look like the "Clown Show" Meyer has talked about with timing issues, backs going the wrong way, and the sheer amount of responsibility Miller has to make it all go. On the bright side, Meyer has almost the perfect quarterback for his system in Miller, and when you consider he's struggling with some parts of this offense and STILL putting up the numbers he is, the potential if the pieces start falling in place is mind boggling.
Most of the talk about the offensive coaching is going to center around how close the Buckeyes are to reaching their potential, and I don't think they're even close yet. I'm not sure they get there this season, mainly due to not being sure the right pieces are even on the roster yet. It will also hinge on how well Miller develops in the offense. This is a Heisman-winning offense if he picks it all up.
For this game, I thought the Buckeyes didn't do enough with playaction, especially with the Bears committing so many players to stopping the run. What they did use was very successful to the tune of 5/7 passing and three of their four passing touchdowns. Six of those seven playaction plays came on touchdown drives. I don't think that's a coincidence.
I liked the number of counter plays the Buckeyes used in the running game, but were never able to break one after Miller's long first quarter touchdown run on the first of those calls for the day. I also liked the switch to speed option plays in the second half to get outside the Bear front. They were successful, and I think they could've called more of them.
There was some concern over the number of three and outs and lack of sustained drives, but I was encouraged by a lot of what I saw out there. The offense is still sloppy at times, but it seems most of the mistakes on offense are simply mental and can be corrected. Despite some of the struggles, I think the Buckeyes are getting closer to being a dominant offense.
Grade--(A-) It's nice to see the coaching staff actually playing the chess game with the opposing defensive coaches instead of trying to force a round peg into a square hole for 60 minutes.
The last two seasons, special teams have produced some real cringe-worthy moments for the Buckeyes. This season, not so much. The coverage teams have been solid all season, and Ben Buchanan has had a pretty good season punting the ball so far. Returns haven't been very dynamic, however, and Drew Basil had a miss on an Extra Point in this game that loomed large for much of the second half until the Buckeyes successfully converted a 2 pointer.
Grade--(B) For this game, the extra point miss was nearly costly. Buchanan had a pretty good game, however.