Ohio State’s Offensive Evolution

osuHelmetWhen Tom Herman was initially hired as the Buckeye offensive coordinator there were some doubts and worries.  His name was not that familiar to Buckeye fans, however his track record spoke for itself.  Herman had extremely successful offenses at Iowa State and Rice, but would he be able to carry that success over to be a larger program?  In his first season there were several rough patches as play-makers needed development, and sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller was still an athlete playing quarterback due to poor quarterback coaching his freshman year.  Therefore, only about 60% of the offense was made available to Miller, and Herman’s play calling was much more reliant on designed runs for Miller, Hyde running the inside zone, and the occasional deep pass to Devin Smith.

Coming in to their second season as coordinator and head coach, Herman and Meyer were expecting much better offensive production.  If they got a polished passer in Braxton Miller, and improved play-makers, Herman would be able to open up the offense and allow this team to put up big offensive numbers.  Aside from the Cal game, Herman’s play calling has been questioned heavily.  The Buckeyes offense reverted back to what some called “Tresselball” late in games against Wisconsin.  And against Northwestern and Iowa the Buckeye offense struggled to convert on red zone trips.  Those struggles resulted in both games being closer than necessary.  So where was this high octane offense?  The play-makers were there, Miller was an improved passer, yet the plays being called were nearly identical to those of last year.  Finally, Saturday night we saw Herman’s play calling adjust to those red zone inefficiencies, along with abandoning conservative play calling, and let this offense loose.

In Game Evolution 

Herman’s play calling was near perfect Saturday night.  He got Miller off to a quick start with calling flash screens/inside zone options.  Those plays allow Miller to read the end and either hand the ball off to Hyde if the end doesn’t crash, or throw the screen to his receiver if the end crashes down.  Those screens were as effective as a Hyde run on Saturday due to the relentless blocking of the receivers.  When they are successful, the receiver normally is able to get 7-10 yards after the catch, which is exactly what happened against Penn State.  After the defense began to get stretched on the screens, that opened up the middle of the field for Hyde to run, and also allowed for Herman to selectively call designed quarterback draws for Miller.

Once the screen and inside zone became effective, the offense really began to roll.  Herman began to evolve the offense within the game, and take advantage of the momentum and rhythm his quarterback was building with the quick early completions.  The middle of the field was opened up off play action which allowed Braxton to hit open receivers on their crossing routes.  As the game progressed Herman set Braxton free, on occasion, to show off that NFL caliber arm he has.  That was exhibited on Miller’s big time touchdown throw to end the half.  However, Braxton’s down field throws would not have been as successful without the effectiveness of the flash screen and inside zone run, both of which were the foundation of the offensive game plan Saturday night.

Scarlet Zone

“We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals.”  Those were the words of Urban Meyer early in his coaching tenure for the Buckeyes.  Against Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin the Buckeye offense sputtered at times in the red zone.  Those stalls caused those three games to much closer than what many fans and Coach Meyer anticipated.

So what was the cause of the Buckeyes struggle?  The Buckeyes enjoy pounding Hyde in the red zone.  Those three teams took notice and implemented a Cover 0 defense.  That means that the corners have no safety help, and the defense brings eight men in to the box.  In previous weeks against this defense, the Buckeyes have stubbornly attempted to run Hyde, only using six guys to block eight.  This week Herman adjusted and developed two different responses to the Cover 0 which led to the Buckeyes 100% red zone efficiency on Saturday night. The first response was exemplified on the second touchdown scored by the Buckeyes.  Herman decided to run Miller on a power play where Marcus Hall pulled, and Carlos Hyde was the lead blocker.  Heuerman was also lined up on the play side of the formation, and ran his guy out of the space.  Hall’s pull was extremely effective on the play and occupied two players, which allowed Hyde to chip an engaged defender. When the Hall pulled, it provided the Buckeyes with as many blockers as there were defenders on the play side.  That balance of numbers allowed Miller to make one cut in the hole, and tip toe in to the end zone.

The second response to the Cover 0 could be seen on the Buckeyes fourth touchdown.  All Chris Fields does is catch touchdowns, and on Saturday he was once again the beneficiary of Herman’s play calling.  Since there is no safety help over the top in Cover 0, all of the corners are matched in straight man.  Therefore, Herman had Miller sprint out to the right, while the three receivers ran a snag route which resulted in a pick being set by the outside receiver to release the inside receiver, who was Chris Fields.  This play looks very simple, but if the receiver does not set a proper pick, or if there is safety over the top then it makes this play much more difficult to execute.

Keep it Coming

Herman has silenced any critics, for now, with his play calling on Saturday night.  He defeated the Cover 0, and kept the offense comfortable with what they were running.  Herman did not add any wrinkles in to the offense last week.  Those plays were always in the Buckeyes playbook, however Herman had to trust them and trust his guys to execute them.  The success of this offense was not due to several exotic plays being run out of complex formations; it was due to the repetition of plays that Braxton and the play makers were comfortable with.  Herman now has his quarterback and play-makers in a zone that will cause any defensive coordinator sleepless nights.

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