Understanding Urban: Play of the Game (Wisconsin)
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.)
Ohio State entered Camp Randall Stadium with much to lose and plenty to prove on Saturday, and the Buckeyes came out shining. Personally, I expected Ohio State would drop a 40-spot on Wisconsin while only giving up about 17 points. Defensively, I was right, but offensively I could not have been more wrong.
Wisconsin did a bang-up job preparing for Ohio State and really caused Braxton Miller and Tom Herman some headaches. They contained the edges, filled their gaps, and finished plays with tough tackling. They terrorized Braxton Miller who, at times, looked like a true freshman taking his first snaps at the D1 level.
Play of the Game
The play of the game was very difficult for me to choose once again this week. Offensively, there just wasn’t much to go with, as Miller was rather unspectacular thus rendering the receivers the same. I thought about Philly Brown’s punt return, but it was really rather simplistic. He made one man miss and ran straight up the field. I don’t mean to belittle his play, it’s just that he made Wisconsin look very silly on such a simple move and with his speed.
In the end, I flipped a coin between the goal line play in the 4th quarter and the pass break up by Bradley Roby, which actually occurred on the same drive as the goal line play. I selected the Roby pbu because it occurred with more than 5 minutes remaining in the game. By forcing Wisconsin to continue their drive, they used up more clock, and they still ended up NOT scoring on the drive at all.
The Ohio State offense had essentially taken the second half off, so Wisconsin scoring too soon could have proved disastrous later in the game. Initially, I wanted to clear Roby’s name as Matt Millen seemed to think Roby had been beaten to the corner on the play. Upon further review and analysis, however, I found that Roby was indeed partly to blame, but not completely.
Wisconsin lined up in a power-I right formation. They have a tight end and H-back to the right with the fullback offset to the left of the I-back. Jared Abbrederis is split left, and Ohio State counters the formation with a 5-man front, three linebackers and three defensive backs.
To be clear C.J. Barnett is a safety, but he has walked down in the linebacker tier. The Buckeyes appear to be in a cover -3 look and they are playing the run here. Wisconsin motions the H-back across to the left, but what I find interesting is the only defensive player who moves is middle linebacker Zach Boren. Ryan Shazier is the outside backer but he never so much as budges. I’m thinking he should have bumped out a little with the H-back in order to maintain outside leverage even in the event that it was a run.
At the snap, Curt Phillips executes play-action dive and immediately looks right, but no one on his right even goes out on a route. The play is a throwback all the way. He turns to throw back left where Abbrederis has run a skinny post, while the fullback runs a wheel route.
The front eight on defense are frozen by the play-action and Shazier never even sees the fullback going into his route. His responsibility there would be seam to flats. He would cover any route in the short seams then release, then look to the flats. He should have initially started off running with the fullback only to release him later to Roby, who would have deep third coverage there. Roby initially is doing the right thing forcing Abbrederis inside and funneling him to Christian Bryant in the deep middle zone.
Because Shazier is nowhere to be found in the coverage, the wheel route is open immediately. Roby uses his supreme instincts and all out effort/hustle toward the receiver to break up the pass.
This kind of hustle, awareness, and team play is part and parcel to why the Ohio State Buckeyes are undefeated going into The Game against Michigan.
OHIO STATE OFFENSIVE GRADE C-
Something was not quite right with the Buckeyes on Saturday. Between the head-scratching play-calling, Braxton Miller’s lack of progression in the passing game, and Ohio State’s few adjustments to what Wisconsin was doing defensively, the Buckeyes did well to even come out of this game with the win. However, going undefeated can be extremely difficult and it often requires a team to pull out a victory when, by all rights, they may not have deserved it. This appears to have been that kind of game for the Buckeyes.
First, Miller was rendered very ordinary by a tough and well-prepared Badgers defense. Wisconsin clearly had been studying the film and they did a sound job of holding firm to their game plan. Anytime Miller wanted to take off running, Wisconsin Badgers were there holding their ground. If he wanted to run outside, they strung him out while using the sideline as their help. When he wanted to run up the middle, there was a Badger or two waiting on him. Miller has made much hay of his cut-back ability this year, but not this night. Anytime he wanted to cut back, there were Badgers standing there waiting on him. That’s film study, folks. I tip my cap to Wisconsin. They were well-prepared for Ohio State’s offense.
The Buckeyes had averaged 40+ points per game, but only reached ed the 21 mark with an overtime session on Saturday. I have all the respect in the world for Tom Herman and his mental approach to the game, but what was he thinking on Saturday night? He has shown an ability to adjust to the defenses before he begins to dissect them, so I will defer to him. But even Urban Meyer said they needed to get the ball in Carlos Hyde’s hands more than they did.
Hyde certainly seemed to be the answer with his 15 carries for 87 yards and two touchdowns. Herman, however, seemed to be resigned to banging his head against the proverbial wall by repeatedly giving carries to Miller, who had 23 carries for a meager 48 yards.
The Buckeyes saw what Wisconsin wanted to do and played right into their hands. After jumping out to a 14-0 lead, the Buckeyes seemed to pack up their offensive tents and went into Tresselball mode for the remainder of the game. They never adjusted, which is exactly how Herman made a name for himself. Was he over-thinking things? Did he anticipate that Wisconsin would anticipate his adjustments thereby feeling he/Braxton could catch the Badgers adjusting to his adjustments that never actually came?
As it relates to the passing game, Braxton Miller will undoubtedly spend his off-season working on his passing efficiency and accuracy into the appropriate passing windows. In order for the Ohio State offense to really take off, and in order for Braxton Miller to raise his game to the next level, he’ll have to start threading balls into those windows where he must anticipate his receivers coming open. Throwing the ball once they get open means they really aren’t open anymore. He must be able to throw them open.
OHIO STATE DEFENSE GRADE: A
The Ohio State defense was almost the polar opposite the offense. Granted, Montee Ball rushed for 191 yards on nearly 40 carries (39 to be exact), and Wisconsin probably did the Buckeyes a huge favor by not giving it to him 55 times. Still, I never got the impression that Wisconsin was gouging the Buckeye defense. Any yards the Badgers gained were hard-earned. If anything, this one was shaping up to be more like death by a thousand cuts. But Brett Bielema and his offensive sidekick helped the Ohio State defensive cause albeit unintentionally. Any play that didn’t involve Ball carrying the rock, in essence, was applying the salve to the wound in the form of the Wisconsin passing game.
Ohio State held the Badgers to 154 yards in the air on 14 /27…a ratio that averages out to 5.7 yards per pass attempt. That paltry sum won’t get it done at any level and it certainly will result in a losing effort when you are playing the Ohio State Buckeyes. Bryant and Barnett have grown up before my eyes in their coverage techniques. Their respective tackling is not all the way there, but they are way better than earlier in the year. The one glaring weakness in my mind is Travis Howard. The young man has all the gifts and tools and there are times when he looks really good, but there are times when he makes one wonder aloud why in the hell is he out there.
Wisconsin went at Howard early and they went at him with regularity. A couple passes thrown his direction were overthrown and another was just plain dropped or we could be talking about a different outcome to this game. When Howard went down with a stinger, Doran Grant held down his end of the defensive bargain with great aplomb. I tip my cap to Travis though, he re-entered the game in the second half and played gallantly even if his coverage skills were scaring me half to death.
Ohio State’s defense came up with big stops when they absolutely had to have them. The goal line stand with less than 3 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter was one for the ages. For four plays, the Buckeyes stood tall and topped it off on 4th and goal from the one yard line by meeting Montee Ball in the air and forcing the fumble. The names Ryan Shazier and Etienne Sabino will ring out years from now for being on the scene to thwart Ball’s attempt at a game-tying touchdown and a new NCAA record. Two is always better than one as Shazier and Sabino both leapt meeting Ball mid-air as he attempted to leap for the score.
They not only shut the door on Ball, but they forced the ball loose, where Bryant stood on the spot to recover the fumble. Bryant is sort of a poor man’s Michael Doss. He is nowhere near Doss in the tackling category, but he is always around a loose ball either recovering a fumble or breaking up a pass and he does make an occasional big hit. The difference between Bryant and Doss is Doss would have housed that fumble recovery.
That goal line situation against a team like Wisconsin becomes a manhood issue and it really illustrates how far this defense has come since the beginning of the year. Goal line situations pit their tough guys against your tough guys and it goes up another level when the opponent is the Wisconsin Badgers, a team that prides itself on its tough, no frills, get down in the trenches and get busy football.
To borrow an animal analogy, the Ohio State defense reminds me of a pack of hyenas. They’re not pretty, rather they are a mangy bunch. Hyenas are flawed in their physical make-up with their raggedy coats and hunched backs matched by Ohio State’s mix and match defensive group. The Bucks have a fullback playing linebacker due to the dearth of players who are ready to play and Howard is questionable in his coverages. But these Buckeyes, much like hyenas, are rough, tough, pack a powerful bite, and they are willing to take on anybody in the kingdom.
As the game grew longer and situations grew more intense, Ohio State’s confidence seemed to rise as they were emboldened by playmakers like Roby and Bryant and hard hitters like John Simon and Ryan Shazier.
Holding the Badgers to 14 points in their home stadium in overtime was a portend of things to come with this unit. They held Wisconsin playmaker Abbrederis to three receptions for a total of 40 yards. I saw guys flying around, I saw players making big hits, John Simon was terrorizing Badger quarterback Curt Phillips for four sacks, and they came together at the most critical times in the game. Damn the yards allowed stat, I’m giving the Buckeyes an A this week.
OHIO STATE SPECIAL TEAMS: A
This may have been the most complete game by the Ohio State special teams unit that we have seen all year. Kick-offs were deep and the coverage units did a great job flying downfield and making the tackle.
It doesn’t say much when we are excited that punts actually made it off without incident, but that’s where we are with the punt team. Not only did the Buckeyes get all punts off, none were even threatened to be blocked. For this alone, the unit should take a bow. Once the kick was away, the Buckeyes did a tremendous job of getting downfield and making the stop. This was especially crucial as Ben Buchanan doesn’t exactly boom the balls for any real significant distance so coverage by gunners like Devin Smith and Brad Roby is paramount.
The play of the night came from Corey “Philly” Brown. His 68-yard punt return for a touchdown went a long way toward winning this game. Philly has risen in my mind as a player Ohio State just has to have on the field if they are going to be successful. He’s had a couple of long returns for scores now and he seems to have settled into a niche for the team overall.