Understanding Urban: Play of the Game (Penn State)
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.)
This week’s play of the game goes to another unlikely hero (just like it did last week with Chris Fields), but it also includes a standard hero. The Braxton Miller to Jake Stoneburner 72-yard touchdown strike was every bit timely as much as it was unlikely.
Unlikely, because Miller had been struggling throwing the ball all night and Stoneburner had seemingly become a forgotten man in the entire Ohio State offensive scheme. Timely in that the Buckeyes were facing a third down and were only up 12 points with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Penn State had just scored, so they had gained a tad bit of momentum and forcing the Buckeyes to punt would have been another big momentum changer. Then, like he always seems to do, Braxton Miller struck. On 3rd-and-4, Tom Herman dialed up the right play against the right defense, while Miller and Stoneburner did the rest on the execution end.
The Buckeyes lined up in an empty backfield spread formation set. Miller had trips receivers to his left (outside in No. 1 Mike Thomas, No. 2 Philly Brown and No. 3 Carlos Hyde). To his right, Miller had twins receivers (outside in No. 1 Evan Spencer and No. 2 Stoneburner) . Penn State countered the formation with what appears to be a man/zone look. They are in man on the twins while zoning the trips side.
For all the flack he gets for not making proper reads, Miller does a remarkable job recognizing where his mismatch might be. It is clearly Stoneburner, who is matched up on safety Jake Fagnano. Stoney has good speed – not great – but good enough to make him a matchup nightmare on a safety from Penn State.
At the snap, the trips run a rub route where No. 1 (Thomas) runs a curl, No. 2 (Brown) runs a vertical while No. 3 (Hyde) runs a bubble. The twins run what appears to be a smash concept (deep/short) with a sight adjustment. I wonder if Stoney was given a corner route opposite Spencer’s slant/in route.
The safety appears to be playing outside technique, taking away leverage for the corner route. This day and age of sight adjustments and option routes may have given Stoneburner the green light to run the skinny post. His release is directly to the inside of his defender and he does a nice job of gaining leverage by getting the safety on his outside hip.
The rest should not be taken for granted. The pass Miller threw was absolutely perfect, as it was out in front of Stoneburner, but just enough over the top of the defender who actually had really good coverage. On the other end, Stoneburner did a wonderful job of concentrating on the ball.
Running upfield while looking back for it as a defender waves his hand at the ball while still having the hand-eye coordination to make the catch over the shoulder is a God-given gift. Not everybody can do this, but Jake Stoneburner did.
Stoneburner sealed the deal with his feet as he pulled away from the Nittany Lion DBs on his way to a 72-yard touchdown. The ‘white out’ crowd had been silenced for good as Ohio State went on to win its third straight in Happy Valley.
OHIO STATE OFFENSIVE GRADE: A-
While this was not the most explosive Ohio State offensive performance, it very well may have been their most impressive, especially at critical times of the game. Braxton Miller, a sophomore, certainly had his struggles, but when the Buckeyes needed to get down to business offensively Miller Time went into full effect.
The Buckeyes struggled passing the ball early on as Miller’s throws continually sailed over top his receiver’s heads on the way to a paltry first quarter air game. He also seemed to have trouble eluding converging defenders having been sacked three times for -15 yards in the first half.
Miller’s inability to escape some of the rush was in conjunction with the offensive line’s sketchy (at times) protective services. Right guard Marcus Hall had an especially tough night picking up blitzes or simply being pushed back into the play.
Much like the Nebraska game, the offense didn’t really get cranking until late in the second quarter and, again, the play that sparked it was a run by Miller off QB counter. His 33-yard scamper at the 1:43 mark of the second quarter landed the Buckeyes at the Penn State 6-yard line.
The run was huge in more ways than one. The Nits had serious momentum, having scored two possessions ago on a blocked punt and the Happy Valley crowd was at a fever pitch. By positioning them at the Lions doorstep, Miller enabled the Buckeyes to answer their score, quiet that raucous crowd, and steal some momentum of their own going into the half.
The second half saw the Buckeyes come out the gate hitting Penn State right in the mouth. The offense fed off Ryan Shazier pick-six, ramping up the pace while exerting more dominance. Miller repeatedly froze Penn State defenders with his accurate diagnoses when running the read-option, opening the door to a team total of 234 yards on the ground on 53 carries.
When you run the ball 53 times for 234 yards (4.4 per carry), you are grinding the opponent down to the nubs. That wear and tear began to show late in the 3rd quarter as the Nits defensive front began to show signs of fatigue and defeat. The holes and running lanes that were absent in the first half were there for the taking later in the game.
In the overall scheme, this was a fine Ohio State offensive performance. They had their struggles blocking and throwing, but this was a very solid Penn State defense they were facing, a defense that was riding high on emotion and one that had circled this game on their calendar way back in January.
OHIO STATE DEFENSIVE GRADE: B+
Well, well, well look who showed up to the party. The Ohio State defense, much like their offensive brethren, wasn’t totally dominant Saturday night, but they sure were ram tough when they had to be.
Their performance against Penn State was one of the prouder OSU defensive moments in a long time. I truly felt this was a big time performance for them and I hope they’ve turned the corner collectively.
Going in, I was very nervous for the Buckeye defense in this game simply because they have been a collection of mistakes, missed tackles, miscommunication and missed opportunities all season long. I knew Penn State could not match the Buckeyes man for man in the talent department, but I wondered if we would match the fire and intensity.
Luke Fickell should step up and take a bow for having his charges ready and equal to the task at hand on Saturday night. Luke did a great job of dialing up different blitz packages at opportune times, not allowing Matt McGloin to get in his new and improved groove. The Buckeyes blitzed and hurried McGloin into errant passes and eventually turned him back into the McGloin Buckeye fans have come to know and love: The one who routinely throws passes to Buckeye defenders who are obliged to return said passes to the endzone.
In the past we saw Malcolm Jenkins, Antonio Smith, Travis Howard, Devon Torrence, et al return interceptions for touchdowns against Penn State. Pick-sixes have become almost a rite of passage for young Buckeye defenses when facing Penn State and this particular group held the tradition in tact. The lucky winner this time was linebacker Ryan Shazier, who had just sacked McGloin for a significant loss on the previous play when he delayed his A gap blitz.
Shazier showed blitz this time, but backed out and settled in his zone, where he received his gift from the PSU QB. What the hell was McGloin looking at? Shazier was standing right there and the PSU signal caller delivered the ball right to him. There is no way in the world he can get away with the “I didn’t see him” line that quarterbacks are so often wont to use.
This column would be incomplete if I didn’t give kudos to Bradley Roby for his hustle effort in running down the PSU receiver at the two-yard line late in the game. Plays like this can go unnoticed at times, but this time it deserves full recognition. The Buckeyes would eventually hold the Nits to a field goal after having first and goal from the two yard line. If Roby doesn’t run that guy down, it’s a touchdown and the complexion of the game is changed.
The defense was stones as a whole, holding what I thought was a strong and tough Penn State running game to…get this…32 yards ON 28 CARRIES. For the mathematically challenged, that’s 1.1 yards per carry.
The pass defense was another story. Penn State routinely found holes in the Buckeye secondary, but McGloin’s own struggles with accuracy ended up undoing a number of Penn State drives. While the Nits were able to gain 347 yards in the air (more than double the Buckeyes passing output), Ohio State was able to hold them to a miserly 5-17 on third down. Undoubtedly, Ohio States four sacks (complements of John Simon, Nathan Williams and Ryan Shazier) had a lot to do with his inaccuracy.
My grade for the defense may surprise some, but let me first say I grade based on the opponent. This was a good Penn State team that may not lose again this year. They were extremely anxious to get after the Buckeyes, who gave up 19 points, but two scores came late and the Lions had to work hard to get them.
OHIO STATE SPECIAL TEAMS GRADE: B-
Welp, the Buckeyes specials units have done it again. Their faux pas and foibles seemingly know no bounds and Saturday was no exception. They were going fine until Ben Buchanan’s punt was blocked right back into his stomach and was then pounced upon by a Nittany Lion for the game’s first score.
It was a disaster of the highest proportion in my mind. The game was a defensive struggle and the Penn State crowd was just waiting and frothing for something, anything that would give them an excuse to absolutely unleash themselves on the Buckeyes. The punt team seemed obliged to give the reason they sought.
Zach Boren departed his area early and left an unprotected lane for the Penn State player to come through and block the punt. Each and every week it’s SOMETHING. A blocked punt, a blocked field goal or a blocked extra point, or a long return are always lurking just around the bend with these groups.
It’s a shame when you have to give a unit credit for essentially doing their job, but that’s precisely where we are with the OSU specials. They didn’t give up any long returns. In fact, they were pretty much lights out. Devin Smith continues to prove his worth in areas other than receiving. Smith was spectacular in his gunner role on punt coverage. He was always the first man down and the first man on the tackle. That’s what you want and require from a gunner.
Overall the specials were solid save for the blocked punt, but the idea this unit has not been fixed since early in the season when UCF blocked a punt is almost sinful. Two words to the coaching staff for the punt team…FIX IT.