Play of the Game: Illinois

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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 11/06/2012 1:17 PM
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Understanding Urban: Play of the Game (Illinois)
By Ken Pryor

(Editor's Note: Ken Pryor is an offensive coordinator who works with the wide receivers at North Point High School in Waldorf, Md. He has been a long-time contributor to The-Ozone, and has been asked to help us better understand Ohio State's new offense since Urban Meyer was hired back in November.)

The Ohio State Buckeyes were clicking on all cylinders against Illinois on Saturday. Then again, who doesn’t get off on Illinois? As I scrolled the DVR in search of this week’s play of the game, it dawned on me that I could have selected just about any play.

When a team amasses 52 points, there are, undoubtedly, various plays to choose from when selecting a “play of the game.” But this wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. The Buckeyes didn’t electrify the crowd with an array of dazzling offensive plays, nor did Braxton Miller do anything particularly exciting relative to what he normally does on Saturdays.

Rather, this game was filled with nice drives sprinkled with even doses of Miller passing to various receivers, Miller running on designed keeps for him, Carlos Hyde on run plays, Miller again on scrambles, and a good dose of Bri’onte Dunn to close things out.

The play that really caught my eye was the Miller to Rod Smith touchdown pass, which essentially catapulted the Buckeyes to enough points for the win.

Setting the Stage

The Buckeyes approach their own 49-yard line with a split backfield – Rod Smith to the left and Hyde to the right – out of the shotgun formation. Miller has Devin Smith split out to his left and Jake Stoneburner to his right, with tight end Jeff Heuerman at left wing, or H-back if you will.

Heuerman motions to right wing, thereby creating a shift in the defense as they are now in a strong right formation. The Fighting Illini aligned themselves in a 4-3 with two high safeties and their corners in man coverage.

At the snap, Miller and Hyde execute a run play-action to the left. Rod Smith enhances the play-action by acting as if he is lead blocking for Hyde. Instead, Hyde continues on a path that takes him to a flare pattern, while Miller continues to roll right as if he is looking for Stoneburner on the stop route. Devin Smith runs a post route, taking his man inside and away from the hash, which ends up working nicely for Rod Smith.

The play-action has sufficiently confused the defense in a two-fold manner. The linebackers are drawn to Miller, who is running toward the right sideline, but the safety has also been drawn in by the backfield action, thus allowing Rod Smith to utilize his speed to run past Illinois safety Supo Sanni on a wheel route.

Sanni comes downhill hard and fast on the run action, but realizes too late that it’s a pass. The play-action is sold by the offensive line movement, as they do not wholly pass protect. Right guard Marcus Hall pulls with Hyde to sell the power run, while right tackle Reid Fragel down blocks and Heuerman picks off the defensive end to the roll side.

Center Corey Linsley gets initial pass protection then pulls with Braxton Miller to the right to pick up the outside backer on the edge. This allows Miller to stop and set himself for the throw back across the entire field to Rod Smith, who was running down the left hash. Miller hits Smith in stride, as he is streaking down the sideline, a good four yards behind his defender, for the touchdown The play lit the scoreboard up at 24 points at the time, which was a sufficient amount of points to win the game.


The Buckeyes are making a habit of getting off to slow starts. It almost seems as if Tom Herman utilizes the first few possessions to feel out the defense, just to see what they’re running. Once he has diagnosed the defense, Braxton Miller places his sign on the window that reads “The Dr. is In” and he begins to operate.

The play-calling picks up and the offensive execution begins to escalate. You can just feel the offense kick into another gear, and suddenly receivers are found wide open in the vast spaces in the field. Miller completed passes of 51 yards to Rod Smith, 37 yards to Philly Brown, 31 yards to Nick Vannett and 24 to Jake Stoneburner…and we haven’t even seen the routine big play from Devin Smith in a couple weeks. Meanwhile, running backs are afforded clear running lanes as Miller starts to methodically slice the defense apart.

Miller spread the ball around to eight different receivers on 13/22 completions for a very respectable 226 yards. He would have two more completions on his ledger were it not for a couple of uncharacteristic drops by Stoneburner. In this offense, everybody eats. If skill players are running your routes, blocking enthusiastically, running the ball hard, and remaining focused they will certainly be able to contribute. On a side note, Vannett is really impressive at tight end. He has great size making him a matchup nightmare for defensive backs to tackle, great hands, and seems to have a knack for finding the soft areas in the zones. I’m going to enjoy watching him terrorize opponents for the next three years. That kid is the real deal.

In the running category Ohio State, once again, exerted its dominance in true fashion. They ran the ball 57 times for a total of 330 yards on the ground. Most of the damage was done by Hyde and Miller, who rushed 18 times each for 137 and 73 yards respectively. Freshman Bri’onte Dunn poked his head out of the Urban Meyer doghouse and carried the ball 13 times for 73 yards and a touchdown of his own. Think about that for a moment…he had those numbers on ONLY two possessions.

Opposing defensive coordinators must have absolute nightmares trying to figure out how to contain this new Ohio State offense. There are so many different weapons and Meyer and Herman will dial up so many different ways to utilize those weapons. Whom do you defend? Whom do you gameplan for? Miller? Hyde? Devin Smith? Philly Brown? Stoneburner? Vannett? There are too many “role” players who might otherwise be star players elsewhere. They are that talented.

The offense was as good yesterday as it has been all season long….probably better. They posted 32 first downs, 50% third down efficiency, 100% fourth down conversion, 330 yards rushing, 237 yards through the air (567 total), and 52 points (the fourth game this season they have hit the 50 mark). The only blite on the afternoon were two fumbles that led to Illini scores, but they now lead the Big Ten conference in scoring (39.9 points per game).


The Ohio State defense looked as dominant against Illinois as we have seen them play in a long time. The final score of 52-22 isn't even close to telling the tale of what really happened on Saturday. Luke Fickell really had the boys fired up and ready to rock. Want proof? Look no further than the following statistics:

Illinois averaged a paltry 2.7 yards per play on more than 60 plays from scrimmage. The Buckeye defense held Illinois to 12 yards as their longest play from scrimmage. The other two longest plays from scrimmage were 10 and 11 yards. They throttled the Illini on third down conversions, holding them to a miserly 2 for 12. Illinois averaged a pathetic 3-yards per pass attempt. They almost have to TRY to hold themselves to such a number.

I thought the Illini would try to exploit the Buckeye defense by attacking the Buckeyes on the edges with screens, jet sweeps, and short passes the way opponents earlier in the year tried to do with some success I might add, but everything Illinois tried was thwarted by Fickell’s gang. The two touchdowns they scored came via gift wrapped fumbles by Rod Smith and Kenny Guiton.

Ohio State garnered two sacks in the game, and they terrorized quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase all afternoon. It does appear that Mike Vrabel is unleashing the dogs at defensive line.  I’m seeing more and more of the young puppies like Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and even some Steve Miller sightings here and there. Ohio State kept fresh linemen in the game, and they wore the Illini offense out.

I have to give a shout out to Nathan Williams. I openly wondered if his micro-fracture surgery on his knee would doom his career at Ohio State, but I was wrong. The kid is not only back from injury, but he is a game-changer for this defense. Am I the only one who notices how the defense picks up its overall play whenever Nate is in the game? He plays the run, rushes the passer, and can be effective in pass coverage. Ohio State has gotten more out of Williams this season than anyone could have imagined.

Ryan Shazier is another one whose individual play has risen in the past few weeks.  Although he was leading the team in tackles, Ryan had been sorta quiet…but not anymore. The last two weeks is exactly what I’ve been expecting from Shazier. He is still flying around, but now he is under control. No longer does he overrun tackles, rather he is devouring his opponents like a wild savage beast.

I’ve been very critical of the secondary over the course of the season, but I must say they are looking much better now. We are seeing fewer receivers running free due to miscommunication, missed assignment, or miscues of some other variety. They are tackling better, breaking up passes, and they even got themselves an interception on Saturday. Lord only knows how many picks they’d have if Christian Bryant would only hold on to the myriad passes he’s broken up.

When this unit wasn't playing well, Fickell took a tremendous amount of heat from fans and media. Now that they are playing well he deserves the props. Fickell, Vrabel, Everett Withers and Kerry Coombs have begun to mesh a little bit. This could portend things to come from these guys.


Illinois got a couple of decent returns on kickoffs, but maybe that was because the unit was so damn tired. The Buckeyes were registering points like a pin ball machine, so the specials coverage units was pressed into action quite a few times. But no returns were of any real merit. They were able to get punts off cleanly and extra points went off without a hitch.

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