Play of the Game (Michigan)

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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 11/29/2012 12:35 PM
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Football
Understanding Urban: Play of the Game (Michigan)
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 season came to an end on Saturday and the only word that comes to mind is vindication. Make no mistake, the Buckeyes have endured the roughest three-year spate that any school could endure but they still finished 12-0. By any standard this is an accomplishment to be lauded only with high praise.

It was only last season these same Buckeyes finished 6-7. Going undefeated on the heels of such a disappointing year speaks to the coaching and to the overall commitment of the returning players.

Each week the Buckeyes battled to win the hearts and minds of haters, doubters, naysayers and detractors. They fought past injuries and the mounting pressures to achieve the accomplishment of actually going unbeaten. The feat reached a fitting crescendo as they would have to face that old nemesis Michigan if they were to reach that goal. As they have done all season long, the Buckeyes won the game in a not so aesthetically pleasing manner, but in hindsight the victory was a work of art…beautiful in a way that only Ohio State could do it and only Ohio State fans could understand and appreciate it. 

Last year OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith felt those seniors deserved a bowl game. That team lost that bowl game and the team finished 6-7. Maybe in some ways Gene was right. Maybe that team deserved that humiliating ending in some karmic fashion. 

But this team…this 2012 team finished 12-0 and I couldn’t think of a more fitting ending to the careers of guys like John Simon and Zach Boren. Urban Meyer has stated he would ensure these guys get rings…how ironic, yet very befitting.

Play of the Game

Unlike last week at Wisconsin, where I was hard-pressed to find a deserving Play of the Game recognition, the Buckeyes left me a bevy of options to choose from this week. They obviously knew it was Thanksgiving.

The play I chose this week was the touchdown pass to Corey “Philly” Brown that put Ohio State ahead 14-7 in the second quarter. We see the Buckeyes in their normal ace shotgun formation with Trips receivers set to Braxton Miller’s right and Devin Smith split to the left. Carlos Hyde is set to Miller’s right in the backfield, and the trips receivers are (from outside in) Evan Spencer (#1), Jeff Heuerman (#2), and Philly Brown (#3).

Michigan counters with a five man defensive front, two linebackers, and a four-man zone cover in the defensive secondary. Miller does a nice job of getting the ball snapped before Michigan linebacker Desmond Morgan can bump out to his coverage area. So the Buckeyes are able to get the snap off with two men essentially trying to cover three. At the snap, the Buckeyes essentially run a three man smash concept. Heuerman runs straight up field then breaks off to a corner route. Spencer runs a 4-yard curl, which meshes nicely with Philly’s 3-yard flat route. Michigan corner J.T. Floyd must get into his deep third coverage, but he does a poor job of getting his depth and Heuerman eventually finds himself open anyway. 

Safety Tom Gordon must cover the flats area, which is where Philly ends up, but he is confused by the mesh routes. Should he stick with Spencer’s curl or try to make to the flats to cover Philly? He chooses Philly but slips on the way. Braxton delivers a perfect strike to Philly who immediately turns it up field, outracing Gordon and Morgan to the corner of the end zone. 

Another sweet concept and finely executed Meyer/Herman special.

OHIO STATE OFFENSIVE GRADE B-

The offensive performance on Saturday was fair to good, even if it did remind us of the Tressel years. The Buckeyes moved the ball pretty effectively between the 20s, only to settle for field goals (one of which was missed) on several possessions.

How ironic that Tressel was in the house on a day Ohio State, a team very effective at scoring touchdowns this year, would repeatedly bog down and wind up settling for three points instead of seven. The football gods are funny dudes when they’re not being cruel.

The Buckeyes allowed this one to remain close with repeated shootings in their own foot in the form of untimely penalties, turnovers, sacks allowed, and some play-calling that boggled the human mind. No play call was more egregious in error than early 3rd quarter when OSU had the ball on 2nd down with half a yard to go for the first down from the Michigan three yard line. 

Second guess or not, I don’t know that I would EVER call a wide receiver screen in that situation, but that’s precisely what the Buckeyes did. Braxton Miller stepped back to set up his pass, but never got the pass away before he was blasted into oblivion by Michigan safety Tom Gordon. A closer look at the play shows Michigan was completely overloaded to the weak side as Ohio State was full strength to their left in a quads set (trips wide with a tight end on the line). 

Even Carlos Hyde was lined up on Miller’s left, yet Michigan brought two men off the edge from Braxton’s right! How Miller did not see this is beyond comprehension and that is precisely the sort of thing on which he will need to work this winter, spring and summer. He needed to motion Hyde to his right, get rid of the ball quicker, or get out of the play altogether. 

A handoff to Hyde would have been a wonderful option in this instance considering he finished the day with 26 carries and 146 yards rushing on the ground with a TD. Hyde runs with purpose and he virtually screams to the coaching staff to feed him the rock. Yet plays are called almost as if it’s of a bother to get him involved. Not only is not a bother to give Hyde the rock, it should be priority.

What Miller lacked in running the ball, he made up for with his passing. Timely connections to his receiving corps led to a 14/18 completion ratio for 189 yards and a touchdown.  Those aren’t bad numbers for a cold, snowy day in Columbus in late November. Again, it wasn’t a maestro performance by any stretch on the part of the Ohio State offense, but I was encouraged by the ability to move the ball on Michigan.
 
The Buckeyes left all kinds of points on the field. They could have flirted with 50 points had they scored at their regular season rate. As it stands, they settled for 26 points…their second lowest output of the year. They did a number of good things such as rushing for more than 200 yards, passing for nearly 200 yards, dominating the time of possession by 13 minute differential, +9 in the first downs category and they turn the ball over half as much.

But the Buckeyes certainly need to work on some things. Miller was held in serious check for the second week in a row, while the Buckeyes amassed nine penalties and fumbled twice.

OHIO STATE DEFENSE GRADE: A-

It was a tale of two halves for the Buckeyes. They were the best of times and they were the worst of times. The first half saw Ohio State allow Michigan 21 points on sorry tackling, sorry tackling angles, simple-minded penalties, and just plain looking out of sorts. But it was all interspersed with great defensive plays here and there. 

There was the occasional Michigan big play, followed a couple plays later by an Ohio State forced turnover, sack or tackle for loss. It became evident early on, if the Buckeyes were going to win this one it would be totally necessary for them figure out a way to stop Denard Robinson. I had no fear Devin Gardner could beat the Buckeyes with his arm, although he did comport himself fairly nicely with a 11/20 for 171 yards and a touchdown performance.

The first half looked as though the Buckeyes had reverted back to their early season levels of play, which was not all that impressive highlighted by a sickening Denard Robinson 66-yard touchdown run where he simply ran through the lackluster tackling of Travis Howard and Christian Bryant.

Some have tried to explain away that play with physics and the fact that the two players met at Robinson simultaneously. That’s all well and good, but I have watched the play 30 times. Bryant’s refusal to wrap when tackling borders somewhere between insanity and utter defiance against what he has most assuredly been taught to do.

But even with Denard’s 66-yard run, the Wolverines still only amassed 108 yards rushing on 27 total carries. That number was helped immensely by a sublime second half defensive effort. The Buckeye defense I really like to watch (the hyenas) showed up. They were rough, rugged, mangy, and running around in a pack mentality.

In the absence of their leader (John Simon), in true pack mentality, the Buckeyes got contributions from everybody. Young puppy Adolphus Washington stepped in admirably, forcing a fumble on a sack. Christian Bryant made up for his earlier effort with a forced fumble which ended a promising scoring drive. Zack Boren had a couple sacks and a fumble recovery.  C.J. Barnett sealed the deal with an interception making up for his own first half shaky moments. 

My first instinct was to give the Buckeye defense a C grade averaging the first half F with the second half A, but I couldn’t leave it at that. It was Michigan. It was senior day. So much was on the line, including a perfect 12-0 season. The defense bounced back in the second half and shut down Robinson, harassed Gardner to hell and back and they pitched a shut-out to go along with 4 turnovers forced, and several sacks. They did all of this in spite of the fact that the offense could not put Michigan away leaving the defense in the lurch over and over again.

OHIO STATE SPECIAL TEAMS: B

The specials group was about as solid as they’ve been all year long, save for a couple blunders.  Kick-off coverage was superb, as was the punt coverage. It was the return units that need a little boost. On one particular punt return, Ohio State managed to get a roughing the kicker call and fumbled the ball back to Michigan on the same darn play. 

It was as if they were insisting on giving the ball to Michigan there. I had come to expect this unit was never going to have an error-free afternoon. Even Drew Basil missed a makeable field goal. The specials unit will certainly need some upgrading this off-season and I feel good that Urban Meyer himself is in charge of these units. But that’s next year.

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