The Pac-12 turned in a number of signature wins in week 2 and while I plan to try to break those games down in the future, this week the Golden Bears are playing the other OSU. Not the semi-aquatic rodent engineers but the peanut butter dipped in chocolate confections. Much like USC last year, toOSU has a new coach and bowl ban due to NCAA sanctions. And much like USC last year, they plan to go out and have a dominating season anyway.
So what is Urban Meyer's offense going to look like three games into his new job? It is actually tough to tell because his starting running back went down with a knee injury just before halftime against UCF. The result is that Meyer showed the offense he wants to run in the first half and the offense he had to run in the second half. I am going to take a closer look at toOSU's first drive and then one play from the second half.
Here is the Buckeyes' first offensive play of the game. They are lined up with 3 receivers split wide (#10 Corey Brown), an H-Back (the fullback #44 Zach Boren), and a running back lined up directly behind the Quarterback (#5 Braxton Miller). The three players in parenthesis form the core of the OSU offense. UCF counters with four linemen, 2 linebackers and a nickel package.
tOSU has a funky snap count. Braxton Miller will clap is hands, this is the signal for the running back to motion into a position either to the left or right of the quarterback which hides the formation until the last moment. Then the center will silently count to himself and snap the ball. Sometime this silent count is after the first clap, sometimes it is after a second clap. While this method is effective in Columbus, I wonder how well it will work on the road. The Bears however won't have a Berkeley crowd clapping so they are going to have to prepare for this unconventional snap count.
When the running back motions into position, one of the UCF safeties moves up toward the line of scrimage.
This looks like a read option: the defensive end is unblocked, the guard and h-back are pulling and the running back is ready for the ball. The option looks like it could be a quarterback run to the right or a running back run to the left following his blockers (he will turn 90 degrees left in the animated GIF). Except the quarterback isn't looking at the defensive end...
This isn't a run... it is a pass! Following conventional wisdom, Urban Meyer is trying to give his quarterback an easy pass early in the game while getting his big play receiver involved. Brown does just that by getting 10 yards after the catch. The play action caused the linebackers and safeties to move towards the line of scrimage, and though the rest of the offensive linemen are pass blocking the UCF defense is fooled by the misdirection.
I think that if one of Cal's receivers was blocking out there that this would have been a much bigger gain.
The second offensive play by toOSU is a fullback dive. Before the pre-snap motion Ohio State has an H-back and a running back in the backfield, this time with two receivers at the bottom of the screen and one at the top. This time the defense has a single high safety. The buckeyes run a check-with-me and then motion.
After the pre-snap motion toOSU has the fullback lined up behind and to the left of the quarterback while the running back is directly behind the quarterback. The defense also ran a check-with-me but didn't seem to change their call.
After the snap toOSU runs what looks like a zone read, time the quarterback is looking directly at the defensive end. The defensive end "stays home" by staying in his assigned area and Miller hands off to his fullback for an 8 yard gain behind the solid blocking of the offensive line.
Here is what the play looks like with moving pictures! (just movies on this post, no talkies)
With 2nd and 2, Ohio State lined up quickly and ran the same play, a common tactic these days designed to prevent substitution by the defense and to catch them off guard. The funny thing is that toOSU did the same check-with-me followed by motion before the play which I would think negates the whole "catch them off guard" thing as they have plenty of time to get set. Also, this time the defensive end crashes down on the fullback but Braxton Miller still hands the ball off instead of keeping it. This leads me to believe that this play is a designed fullback dive with read option misdirection.
The fourth play of the drive is a pass out of spread formation. I just want to highlight what the UCF defensive line does as it will set up the final play of the drive. With the running back's pre-snap motion taking him out of the backfield the defensive ends go into full pass rush mode charging up the field. No more of this staying home and reading the play. One of the defensive tackles even drops into a shallow zone coverage.
The 5th play of the drive is a busted play where the running back either lined up incorrectly or went the wrong way on a snap. Miller managed to convert the first down anyway. After a short run by the running back the Buckeyes have 2nd and 8 on the UCF 36 yard line and Urban Meyer calls a time out. Why did the time out get called? Likely because Meyer wanted to change the play. Out of the time out toOSU lines up in a spread formation and we can see what Meyer saw the previous time he called an empty backfield play:
No linebackers, no safety, no one in the middle of the field! And look at what happens when UCF drops into coverage. The hole in the middle is even bigger when a linebacker comes on a blitz right at the only offensive lineman not blocking a pass rusher.
Those Ohio State receivers aren't running routes, they are run blocking, it is a designed delay quarterback draw!
It is not a good idea to let Braxton Miller run in space...
So this is the offense Urban Meyer wants to run, but with his running back injured and freshmen backups he had to adjust. The result was that Miller became the primary ball carrier.
The first play of the second half is an example of this. Ohio State has three wide (two right and one left) with the H-Back and the running back both on the left. UCF has 4 down linemen, 2 linebackers toward Ohio State's left side and a nickel package with two high safeties.
After the snap we can see that the left tackle hook blocks the defensive end and the left guard gets the backside linebacker. The fullback is responsible for the play side middle backer and the running back will get the safety or which ever UCF defender beats their blocker. This play feels like a Wildcat play to me, but instead of a running back taking the direct snap it is Ohio State's best runner, Braxton Miller.
Only two things stop this from being a touchdown, the running back makes a tentative block and clutters up the running lane and the middle backer who was blocked off his feet makes a great recovery and forces Miller toward the side line.
Ohio State seems to have an offense with designed plays instead of reads. It looks like read option but doesn't play out that way in the drive I looked at. The offense is designed to go through their play makers and with the RB, Carlos Hyde, injured that means one less option to defend. Expect Corey Brown (#10) to have lots of passes targeted to him and several run plays designed to get him more touches. It is likely that he will line up in the backfield multiple times. Zach Boren (#44) is likely to have quite a few carries, especially on inside runs. The blocking schemes of the offensive line are not complicated with only the occasional pulling guard. The fullback, Boren, seems to do most of the lead blocking.
For some unfathomable reason UCF played without a spy on Miller. I cannot imagine that Cal will not have someone accounting for him even on passing plays. As many have said, Braxton Miller is Ohio State's best player and the game will rest on his shoulders. The thing is, he is the type of player that can win a game almost by himself.
UCF was definitely in this game. They were able to run and pass effectively against Ohio State. What decided the game were turn overs. The other OSU's secondary was excellent at tipping passes and making interceptions. Cal will need to take care of the ball to have a chance. I feel like Ohio State is beatable, I just don't know if Cal is the team that will beat them.
It is entirely possible that Cal has played distracted because they know that the Wolfpack signaled the end of summer and when winter is coming so are the Others.