By the Numbers
By Jeff Amey
The Ohio State Buckeyes came away with a 40-30 win over a very good Northwestern team on the road in their second major test of the season. It took a while for the offense to get on track, but the Buckeyes exploded for 21 offensive points in the last quarter and a half behind the tough running of Carlos Hyde to turn a 23-13 defecit into a 34-30 lead before scoring a garbage touchdown on the last play of the game.
It was a pretty rough game for quarterback Braxton Miller. He accounted for no touchdowns and three turnovers the week after "silencing" the critics with a four touchdown, zero turnover performance against Wisconsin. Miller played every down, and in some ways redeemed his earlier poor play with a couple of great ones on Ohio State's last touchdown drive, the call to put Kenny Guiton in the game nearly extended all the way to Head Coach Urban Meyer. He ultimately stuck with Braxton and was rewarded with the win, but I have a hard time thinking this situation is totally resolved.
Speaking of redemption, three weeks ago Carlos Hyde was running the scout team offense and finishing out his three game suspension to start this season after nearly being kicked off the team. This week, he was the hero, lifting the entire team on his shoulders and carrying them to victory with his 168 yard, three touchdown game, with all three of those coming in the second half. With Miller struggling, the Buckeyes needed someone to step up. After the game, you could tell Hyde was thankful and humbled to get the opportunity to redeem himself and play the hero. His hard work brought him back to this point, and it's nice to see it pay off for him.
Before we get into what we learned this week, let's get into the stats.
74 Offensive Plays--455 yards--6.1 yards per play
26 pass (35%)--15/26 for 204 yards 1 INT
48 rush (65%) for 251 yards 3 TD--5.2 ypc
12 Offensive Possessions
Ave. of 6.2 plays--37.9 yards
Ave. start--OSU 32
First Down--37 plays (50%) for 240 yards
15 pass (41%)--9/15 for 113 yards 1 INT
22 rush (59%) for 127 yards 1 TD--5.8 ypc
Ave. gain of 6.5 yards
Second Down--23 plays (31%) for 174 yards
5 pass (22%)--4/5 for 73 yards
18 rush (78%) for 101 yards 1 TD--6.1 ypc
Ave. of 6.2 yards to go
Ave. gain of 7.6 yards
Third Down--13 plays (18%) for 43 yards
6 pass (46%)--2/6 for 18 yards
7 rush (54%) for 25 yards 1 TD--3.6 ypc
Ave. of 3.8 yards to go
Ave. gain of 3.3 yards
Fourth Down--1 play (1%) for -2 yards
1 rush (100%) for -2 yards--(-2.0) ypc
Ave. of 3.0 yards to go
Ave. loss of 2.0 yards
Playaction Passing--14 plays total
9/13 for 114 yards
1 scramble for 5 yards
First Downs Earned--26 total
9 by pass
16 by rush
1 by penalty
Two Backs--14 plays (19%) for 53 yards
4 pass (29%)--1/4 for 6 yards
10 rush (71%) for 47 yards 2 TD--4.7 ypc
One Back--58 plays (78%) for 400 yards
22 pass (38%)--14/22 for 198 yards 1 INT
36 rush (62%) for 202 yards 1 TD--5.6 ypc
No Backs--1 play (1%) for 4 yards
1 rush (100%) for 4 yards--4.0 ypc
Punt formation--1 play (1%) for -2 yards
1 rush (100%) for -2 yards--(-2.0) ypc
Run Type--48 attempts
Counter/Trap--3 (6%) for 12 yards 2 TD--4.0 ypc
Fake Punt--1 (2%) for -2 yards--(-2.0) ypc
Inside Zone--13 (27%) for 81 yards 1 TD--6.2 ypc
Power--2 (4%) for 17 yards--8.5 ypc
QB designed run--10 (21%) for 49 yards--4.9 ypc
QB scramble/sack--4 (8%) for 13 yards--3.3 ypc
Read Option--12 (25%) for 83 yards--6.9 ypc
Speed Option--1 (2%) for 2 yards--2.0 ypc
TEAM--2 (4%) for -4 yards--(-2.0) ypc
Other Stats of Note
* 1 offensive penalty for 10 yards
* Ohio State started on the Northwestern side of the 50 twice--14 points (2 TD)
* 5/6 in the Red Zone--(3 TD 2 FG 1 Fumble)
* 1 Sack against
* 3 turnovers (1 INT 2 Fumbles)
* 33/74 plays took place on the Northwestern side of the 50--(45%)
* 17/74 plays went for no gain or loss--(23%)
* 17/74 plays went for 10+ yards--(23%)
* 0/12 drives went three and out (1 fake punt, however)--(0%)
* 455 yards gained out of possible 811--(56%)
Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald has built the Wildcat program into a consistant winner, and while they might not have been able to break into the elite with a win on Saturday night, you get the feeling it's a matter of when and not if they will earn that status.
The Buckeyes beat a very good team Saturday night that they really had no business beating with the way they played most of the game. The pre-season talk may have been about an Ohio State-Michigan rematch in the Big Ten Championship game, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Buckeyes matched up against the Wildcats again if things shake out like I think they will.
As for the Buckeye offense, it's hard to look at the stats above and tell that the offense struggled for a good portion of the game. The Buckeyes averaged over two first downs per drive, and over 6 yards per play. They gained over half of the total possible yardage they could've gained, so moving the ball wasn't really too much of an issue. Where are the problems?
A look through the position groups will tell the tale.
If there were any problems with the Ohio State offense they all came from this position. The easiest issue to see is the three turnovers. The two fumbles by Miller were inexcusable and were a combination of poor ball security and good plays by Wildcat defenders to strip the ball. There isn't much Miller could've done about the interception , but he also missed a wide open Corey Brown on a corner route on that play and probably could've gotten the ball out much sooner had he looked that direction.
The issues aren't really stemming from the passing game with Miller this season. There were a couple questionable throws, but for the most part he's shown a lot of progress in the passing game. I was happy seeing him check down to Carlos Hyde in the flats several times That always seems to be open because teams have seen that he never gives it a look and haven't bothered covering it. It was great to see him finally go there. He also looked really sharp on the quick throws off of playaction.
Two major problems that Miller is having at this point, and they both stem from the running game. First and foremost, despite him and the coaches telling us his knee is 100%, I don't think that's what we're seeing on the field. Even if it is 100% physically it is clear that it is still affecting his mental game. He looks indecisive and even timid on his runs, and that isn't going to get the job done. They're looking to him for explosive running plays, and 4.0 yards per carry on 17 carries is far from explosive.
The second issue is his option reads, or more specifically, his lack of them. An offense that's based around the option and the stress it puts on a defense to be fundamentally and assignment sound is ineffedtive if the quarterback is making the wrong reads or pre-determining his reads. The stats are a little deceptive for this game since the Buckeyes gained nearly 7 yards per carry on the read option. I think some of that is due to Carlos Hyde's ability to break tackles and the offensive line having a great game, as well as him getting lucky with his pre-determined read as well. He needs to do a much better job of making the reads and making the defender commit before giving or keeping.
Guiton's major strength seems to be his option reads and ability to make defenders commit. He has also shown remarkable poise and ability to make good decisions, even under defensive pressure. The only dknick on Guiton is that he's never had to face a great defense The question I would ask here is was Northwestern's defense really all THAT much better than what he's faced already? Was Wisconsin's? Better, yes...but insurmountably so? I don't think so.
Until Braxton starts showing confidence and explosiveness in his game again, I wonder if Guiton might be the better choice to lead the offense. A 100% Miller gives the Buckeyes their best chance to win any game, but we aren't seeing a 100% Miller right now, no matter what he or the coaches are saying.
Grade--(C+) It's difficult to weigh the 3 turnovers, timid runs, and bad option reads with the good plays he made in the passing game. The turnovers were killers and nearly cost the Buckeyes the game, so they have to drag the grade down quite a bit.
There aren't enough good things I can say about Carlos Hyde. Without his strong running I don't think the Buckeyes win. I didn't tally the number of tackles he broke, but it's safe to say that it was a substantial number. He was a battering ram, and I actually felt a little sorry for the Northwestern defenders that had to try to tackle him.
The best thing was to see him gain absolutely every yard possible on every carry. No matter how many shots he took, and he took a few haymakers, he still managed to fall forward on nearly every run. He almost single-handedly brought the Buckeyes back in the second half, with 113 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries and 30 more yards on three receptions.
What happens with the running backs going forward? It was telling that Rod Smith only got a few touches, and I'm not sure if Jordan Hall would've gotten many either with the way Hyde was running. Hyde has seized the reigns of the stable of backs and likely leads the way the rest of the season, barring injury.
Grade--(A+) It has been a while since we've seen an Ohio State back dominate a game and leave it all on the field like that, and his longest run of the day was only 17 yards.
The Buckeyes didn't do a whole lot of straight dropback passing, so the receivers had some pretty easy wide open catches on playaction. The only three receivers to come down with anything were Corey Brown, Devin Smith and Evan Spencer. Corey Brown was running wide open all game long, and probably could've had an even bigger day had the ball gone his way more often.
I have seen a lot of people down on Jeff Heuerman for his play in this game, and it clearly wasn't his best game, but a lot of that had to do with how well Northwestern was prepared. Blocking in space isn't easy, and he was beaten several times by safeties flying up in run support. He also had the worst drop of the day to kill a drive on third down that led to the failed fake punt in the second quarter. Heuerman blocked much better from a tight end or H-back spot and doesn't deserve at much heat as he's gotten.
Grade--(A-) The top three receivers were running open all game except when the Buckeyes went long. The Wildcats were playing to keep everything in front of them, and easy yards were right there for the taking when the Buckeyes decided to take them.
As underwhelmed as I was with the line after last week's game, it was exactly opposite this game. The offensive line continually dominated the line of scrimmage, especially right in the middle of the defensive front. While big plays didn't seem to be there, huge holes were continually opened for Hyde to build up his head of steam to punish the Wildcat secondary.
In the pass game, the Buckeye ran so many quick passes off playaction that the blocking wasn't as important, but they did a good job of keeping Miller clean and giving him all the time he wanted when they did drop back. There was only one coverage sack and a couple pressures. One of those resulted in Miller's arm getting hit as he threw and led to the easy interception near the end of the first half.
Grade--(A) Despite a few small mistakes, this was probably their best game of the year.
Last week may have left me scratching my head about the direction of the offense, and this week was a little shaky in my mind as well, but it was good to see the coaches ride what was working to get the win in a game where Miller was struggling with some things. I'm still a little unhappy with the number of designed quarterback runs called, especially when it seems obvious Miller is struggling with his running right now and those carries might be more productive in someone else's hands, but if Miller is going to be on the field they have to run him.
Aside from that, I thought the coaches called a pretty good game. The quick playaction passing kept the Northwestern offense on their heels, and probably could've been utilized more in this game. The coaches also clearly saw that the Wildcats didn't have an answer for power running with the way the offensive line was dominating their defensive front. They have to be happy with Miller finally checking down to his wide open outlets after so many games of never really even looking at them.
Dontre Wilson has disappeared the past two games, though I understand the risk of playing a freshman that has been a little fumble prone in a game where your quarterback is also struggling to hold on to the ball. It's still a little hard for me to reconcile what we've seen the last two games after what we saw the first four weeks, but as long as the Buckeyes keep winning, none of it matters.
Grade--(B+) The question still remains...in Miller's current form, is he helping the offense, or is he hindering it a little bit? A 100% Miller is clearly the best choice to lead the Buckeye offense, but what about a Miller that isn't 100%?
Outside of two plays, this was a very good day for the special teams. The blocked punt and touchdown recovery by Bradley Roby was absolutely huge, and it was set up by yet another great Cameron Johnston punt that was downed at the 1 yard line. He had another great day punting the ball, pinning the Wildcats inside their 20 on every kick. The only black marks were a failed fake punt in the second quarter that set the Wildcats up at the Buckeye 30 yard line and a kickoff return that went back to the 40 yard line after the Buckeyes took their 34-30 lead late in the game.
Grade--(A-) The fake punt was costly but the touchdown and punting more than make up for it.