Second Thoughts: Ohio State vs. Miami

(Observations from watching the Buckeyes and RedHawks a second time.)

One of the side benefits of getting into sportswriting was avoiding math for the most part. That might not be true anymore now that Urban Meyer and Tom Herman are in town.

They stressed several times during the offseason that a major aspect of their offense is getting the right numbers to work against, and they certainly proved it in the season-opening win against Miami University.

Ohio State heads in for its last touchdown of the day against Miami (Sept. 1, 2012)

As Meyer referenced in his postgame remarks, Miami came out with a plan to stop the Ohio State running game from its basic three-wide receiver, shotgun set. While a couple of missed reads by quarterback Braxton Miller on the zone read/inverted veer helped the RedHawks’ rate of success, they certainly had a good idea of what they wanted to do early. I wondered before the game how teams would treat Jake Stoneburner in their assessment of Ohio State personnel groupings, and the answer would seem to be as a tight end because Miami was keeping seven in the box when he was in the slot and Zach Boren was the H-back/tight end along with Carlos Hyde at running back.

That did not make it impossible for Ohio State to move the ball, but it put more of a premium on executing because everything was fitted up pretty well from a defensive perspective.

The Buckeyes’ response was to lighten up on the personnel and shift those numbers from side to side. They replaced Boren with a wide receiver and moved Stoneburner back toward the line of scrimmage, but they used a trips set to put the RedHawks in a bind. This was evident on the first touchdown drive as it opened things up for Hyde on the inside power run (a great block by Andrew Norwell helped, too) on first down that really got things rolling. It opened up the roll out for Miller, who hit Philly Brown on a play-action pass to finally get the Buckeyes into Miami territory.

Herman played the numbers game again on the first touchdown, going back to his bigger personnel to get Miami thinking run. That gave Devin Smith a one-on-one opportunity on the outside, and he took advantage with his spectacular one-handed catch.

Getting first downs gave Ohio State a chance to turn up the tempo, and they were often able to keep the RedHawks on their toes after that.

They were also able to play around with personnel sometimes by splitting the running back out but leaving Boren in as a wing or H-back then running the quarterback off tackle or around end. It was really heady stuff, but that shouldn’t come as much surprise.

Miller definitely had his ups and downs. He misread some zone reads and did not see some open receivers. He still got a little jittery in the pocket at times and floated passes, but he obviously has all the ability he needs to make this offense hum. He made three big split decisions on his 65-yard touchdown run, first to pull it on the option, then to keep it on the edge and of course his stutter step to keep the pursuing defender from getting the angle on him. When he can play on instincts, he is tough to stop because he seems to have a great sense for the game as long as he isn’t overthinking it.

Hyde made some nice runs, showing more wiggle than last year and very good acceleration with power through the hole. Arm tackles aren’t going to do it with him.

The interior line looked good as both guards were able to move and pick people off on the power plays, although Norwell seemed to be the culprit on the failed run at the goal line on the final play of the second quarter. That was a version of the infamous “Dave” play as the front side blocked down and he came around end but tripped, leaving a defender a lean shot at Hyde, who then exacerbated the problem by leaving his feet for some reason. He might have made the guy miss or fallen off him into the end zone if he had kept his feet. Before you get too down on the play, though, the exact same thing worked on an earlier drive down there with Norwell making the key block and Hyde cutting off it nicely.

They added a wrinkle by using an unbalanced line, something Miami recognized the second time and called timeout to make sure it got lined up correctly. Also keep in mind they use a very similar blocking scheme regularly on their runs out of the shotgun.

Miami’s ends gave the OSU tackles some troubles in pass protection and the running game, so it will be interesting to see how both units go for the rest of the season.


As for the defense, the film did not have a lot of new lessons from the first watching.

A lot of Miami’s success moving the ball had to do with quarterback Zach Dysert knowing what he is doing within that offense and finding the soft spots that inevitably are going to occur with any scheme. The big plays were a result of miscommunications. Tough to find any times anyone from Ohio State lost a physical battle. This has obviously got to be shored up as it was a problem throughout last season, but it’s also a better predicament to be in than needing to make up for a lack of ability.

The numbers game applies to the defense in the sense that the choice was generally to drop eight, probably a nod to Dysert’s ability to read and react on the fly and an acknowledgment that bringing down most of the Miami guys after they made a catch was not a terribly tall task.

Tackling seemed to be for the most part better in game one that it was last season, although C.J. Barnett threw himself at a wide receiver on a post pattern and missed, leading to one of the RedHawks’ explosive plays.

New nickel back (“Star”) Corey Brown got toasted on a touchdown pass (tough to know if he was expecting help over the top), but he was impressive the rest of the time. I liked how he came up and filled against the run and screen passes.

Nathan Williams looked very good as he played a surprisingly large number of snaps. It was interesting that he played so much because they were more comfortable with him in space than youngster Noah Spence. I would have expected the first thing Williams would bring was going from point A to point B with speed and playing in space on his surgically repaired knee would have come later. Of particular note was a very nice open-field tackle on a third-and-short where he closed on a receiver in the flat and brought him down short of the line to gain.

Speaking of Spence, he really looked good for a debut. He can get to the edge with quickness but has the strength to dip his shoulder and not get knocked off his route. That is the No. 1 thing you want in an edge rusher. He even rocked left tackle Zach Lewis out of his base once, so there is more to his game than pure speed. Lewis, by the way, held up very well against Ohio State’s edge rushers.

Spence wasn’t the only young defensive lineman to look good. Adolphus Washington not only has a lot of agility for a guy his size, he has long arms to disengage blockers. I was also impressed with Tommy Schutt, who made contact and picked through the trash for a tackle on more than one occasion.

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