Tag Archives: California Golden Bears

Second Thoughts: Ohio State-Cal

Observations from a second viewing of the Buckeyes and Bears…

Pretty simple reason the Ohio State defense struggled against the run in the second half: Cal went with 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) to get Ohio State to remove a guy from the box as it was aligning the front line strength to the field. (Hat tip to Ross Fulton for pointing this out on Twitter right after Urban Meyer made reference to it during his weekly press luncheon.) This was sound to begin with but made even more effective by the physical state of the defensive end to that side. John Simon would probably not admit it, but his bad shoulder seemed to hinder him against the run more than the pass as he was regularly unable to disengage from a blocker when the play was at him. I guess time will tell how good of a blocker the Cal tight end is, but Simon is typically going to beat even talented guys one on one regularly. I think then we also learned that Ryan Shazier is better as a run and hit guy than he is holding a gap on the play side. I don’t think Shazier was doing anything wrong (he made 13 tackles and graded out as a champion when the coaches did their film review, so he clearly played well), but he is not as dynamic when a team runs right at him. Then he is forced to spill the play rather than attack it. It didn’t help that the fill from the safety was inconsistent and the flow from the middle linebacker – whoever that happened to be depending on package and alignment – was pretty much nonexistent.

Playing off that, the base defense isn’t very good right now either because Curtis Grant isn’t offering much production. He had a running back stood up on one of Isi Sofele’s long runs in the first half but hit him too high and did not wrap up. Storm Klein did not offer much more when he replaced Grant, and then OSU played mostly nickel in the second half. The nickel wasn’t much of an improvement as neither Etienne Sabino (who moves to the middle in that package) or nickel back Orhian Johnson did much to impact the Cal running game.

The Bears strategy not only gave them a regular numbers advantage, it effectively avoided Johnathan Hankins. That made sense because they could not block him at all. He had 10 tackles and was all over the place. Before last missed field goal, OSU went with its own eagle look and Hankins stuffed the fullback dive basically by himself. He stoned a double team at the point of attack long enough for Sabino to pursue down the line and clean it up with the help of Christian Bryant. The coaching staff adjusted after the last long Cal touchdown run and began aligning to the strength of the formation regardless of which hash the ball was on, allowing Hankins to be involved in more plays.

I think both Bear running backs are tough, talented runners, but tackling was a glaring problem all over the back seven for the Buckeyes. Lots of sloppy technique.

Ohio State effectively mixed in some more pressures to get three sacks early, but the Bears also caught them in a couple of blitzes with screen passes. It’s worth noting the blitzes were effective despite not being very transparent. Until late in the fourth quarter, they only deviated from the field over defensive alignment when they were going to blitz. Then they did a couple of different things, including roll out a new version of their 3-3-5 “dime” defense that had the Leo (Nathan Williams mostly but also Noah Spence a time or two) playing in the middle with Sabino and Shazier on the outside. I cannot recall ever seeing Ohio State do this. It will be interesting to learn if this is a new scheme or just moving people around within what they were already doing.

Regarding the Buckeye offense…
Cal seemed to do Ohio State a favor by coming out in a four-man front instead of the “Bear 46” look the Buckeyes were expecting. The move to the Bear with a nose guard over the center and linemen in both guard-tackle gaps caused some confusion in the third quarter, but I think mistakes and penalties had as much or more to do with the Buckeyes’ struggles during that stanza. The response was to get Braxton Miller to the outside with a couple of speed options (he even pitched effectively, something we hadn’t seen much of before) and then to empty out the formation to take advantage of where the defense had fewer people.

It is interesting that the strategic reaction within this offensive world is to keep taking people out of the box if things are gummed up rather than try to block it a different way. At least that has been the answer so far, but it has only been three games. With different personnel available than Meyer had at his previous stops, I wonder how this will evolve. Health of the backs will play a role, too, of course, but he has multiple guys who are both athletic and can block. I think he likes the mix of a speedy quarterback, big running back and then a ‘tweener in the slot. Better to have the running back be the battering ram than the quarterback regardless of how great Tim Tebow was as a short-yardage runner. That limits exposure of the quarterback by giving you a different go-to option on short-yardage situations, plays that dictate using the best available weapon regardless of how many times he might have already carried it. Plus quickness is better in a change of pace than power, and the times the quarterback has the ball are more likely to be in potential big-play situations – out on the edge with the defense perhaps preoccupied. Unlike anyone else, the number of carries a quarterback can end up with is an ever-changing one as a game progresses.

However, there is no doubt Miller is their most dangerous weapon. Meyer said he expects to see teams come at Ohio State with ways to get the ball out of Miller’s hands, in which case his response might be more designed runs for the quarterback. So he is not going to retreat from using Miller. They are comfortable with him being the tip of the spear, as they should be. They have to do what they have to do to win games.

To this end, I almost wonder if the tackle beating Marcus Hall and Corey Linsley to the inside via a stunt did OSU a favor by flushing Miller on the game-winning pass play to Devin Smith. He throws more accurately on the run at this point in his career. Multiple times this season he has had a guy open like Smith and rushed it and delivered a less accurate throw. When he is out on the run and not thinking too much, he can let his gifts take over and just sling it. Or juke a guy out of his shoes, of course.

The pieces are in place for the offense to be very good. Miller and Smith are developing both chemistry to work with each other and their individual talents to take matters into their own hands when necessary. The line has been solid but has room to grow, and Jordan Hall needs some time to get re-acclimated to carrying the ball. I think he needs Carlos Hyde to come back so he can slip outside sometimes into a role that fits him better, too. Hyde’s power presence is essential for the overall picture of the offense to be complete.

Defensively, I’m wondering if there are some people who are just going to have to be replaced. The line is banged up but still offering a lot of production. Shazier is a stud at linebacker but he hasn’t gotten much help. The corners look good, but the safeties continue to make the same mistakes they made last year, particularly when it comes to tackling. One wonders how long that will go on.

Overheard at Ohio State Football: California Week

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook after another week on the Ohio State football beat… 


(Recapping the Ohio State head coach’s weekly press luncheon)

They have got to get the youngsters going in the running game. He has confidence in Bri’onte Dunn if he practices well this week. He is a good runner, but he had some glaring missed assignments last week against UCF. He has to practice well, or they won’t put him in the game. That also goes for Rod Smith. 

He has no reservations with using Zach Boren as more of a runner, either.

Braxton Miller’s mechanics are coming along as a passer, but he still lets them go occasionally. It’s a thing of beauty when he gets it all lined up. He has a great release. They are pushing his maturation so he gets some of the miscues out of the way. He just needs to get more and more reps. The development of the wide receivers helps, too.

We can expect to see wide receiver Corey Brown used in more ways. They have to think outside the box about ways to use him (Isn’t that what these guys are known for?)

Asked about the pass rush’s struggles, he said they have dropped eight men into coverage a lot, and teams have done a combination of quick passing against them and using maximum protections when they do take deeper drops. They have to count on the guys who are out there doing better at winning individual matchups, and they might supplement their efforts with more blitzing. Maybe both.

It is tough to improve during the season because they only really have two days in pads and you don’t want to get people beat up in those sessions. Plus there is prep work for the opponent to do. He wonders about how to balance that a lot, maybe 20-25 percent of the time.

The preponderance of broken plays on Saturday was a result of a variety of things – people going the wrong way, people not knowing the right play or aligning wrong. If it was one thing, they wouldn’t have any trouble getting that fixed.

There was a “tough” coaches meeting this morning to discuss some of the things that need to improve.

He loves coaching the kickoff team and appreciates the efforts of the members of the squad.

They are still trying to find out exactly what they can do with Jake Stoneburner. He is listed as a wide receiver now, but it remains to be seen if he can separate from DBs down the field. He can block at the point of attack, but he is probably not the best tight end they have for that. Meyer wishes he had another year to coach Stoneburner to continue trying to utilize him best. He also said he never lost trust in Stoneburner when the senior got in trouble during the summer, but he was angry with him and disappointed in him like one would be with a son.

When they failed to pick up a fourth-and-1 early in the game, there was a mistake by a player as they tried to run the “power” play. The next time they faced that situation, they went with an inside zone play instead and it worked. (Should note they ran “power” with the quarterback out of the shotgun and ran zone out of an offset I with the QB under center.)

Some big plays other teams have hit them with have been a result of defensive backs lacking discipline. UCF converted a third-and-21 when a DB didn’t get deep enough in his zone (I believe this was Roby drifting forward). There was nothing wrong with the defensive call there. They have missed some tackles, too.

They will have to adjust the offensive scheme based on who plays tailback because not everyone can handle every part of the offense. Both young tailbacks are talented, but they still have to figure out who deserves to get the ball. That will be learned through practice this week.

Miller’s carry total was inflated by errors on some plays. People going the wrong way or running the wrong route or missing a block. The Buckeyes need to play better around him. The coaches have to call what they have to in order to win the game, but they have to be smart, too.

Asked about the upcoming OSU Hall of Fame weekend, Meyer said he is good friends with inductee Bobby Knight, who does it the right way without cheating. Others can have their own opinions about Knight.

Meyer admires Mike Vrabel – another inductee – very much. He knows Vrabel’s high school coach well and is glad he kept him on the staff.

They do need to get more handoffs and quick throws for Miller so he can have time to compose himself during the game. Miller is a hell of a football player, better than people around the country realize. Meyer has tremendous respect for him. Figuring out the best way to use him is a good problem to have.

He hasn’t talked to AD Gene Smith much about it, but he seemed to think the nonconference scheduling philosophy of having one national game, one mid-major game and two “other” games (i.e., patsies) will continue.

Matching up against an unusual Cal defense will be interesting because the Buckeyes made a bunch of errors last week against a very conventional defense from UCF. That is a function of the transition in styles, but it must be addressed.

Cal has several draftable players, including a cornerback and a defensive tackle Meyer did not identify by name. The Bears have a deeper roster than UCF, which had a lot of studs at the top.

Asked again about the pass rush, he acknowledged that losing Mike Bennett to a groin injury throws off what they wanted to do. They would prefer to pressure with only four players, but they might have to dial up some more blitzes.

Cal saw some things Ohio State does from Nevada’s pistol offense last week. Nevada executed at a high level despite being probably outmanned a bit. The OSU coaches will look at that as well as how Cal has defended Oregon in the past.

He has not seen the OSU DBs lose any physical matchups this season. One big play was a result of Travis Howard not knowing the coverage they were in, another was the lack of depth in a drop he already mentioned. He thinks Howard will be fine, though, and missing the call is uncharacteristic of him.

When the Buckeyes have the ball, they can expect to see some “zero” coverages from Cal, meaning their corners will be in man to man with no safety help. That means OSU will need to go for some home runs even if it means a few foul balls. Still, coaches hate second-and-10 after failed deep shots. They want to be on schedule.

He is getting more comfortable with what the wide receivers can do and the passing game overall.

He said he has great respect for Cal coach Jeff Tedford, whose stuff he has studied and borrowed in the past. (Tedford is something of a quarterback/passing game guru.) Meyer spent some time with him back when Meyer was at Bowling Green putting his offense together in the first place and uses some of his passing concepts.


Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said Howard has done a very good job going about his business since he took the job last winter. He is among the best players Coombs has coached.

Facing 95 passes in two games has forced them to use a variety of pass coverages, and the ensuing complication has played a role in some of the miscommunication and breakdowns they have had. It also has made it harder for teams to pass the ball against them and helped lead to some of their turnovers. He expects dramatic improvement.

They can’t accept giving up any 20-plus-yard plays, especially if it is a case of coverages being blown.

Cal WR Keenan Allen is a great player who runs good routes and has speed. He will go vertical.

Most of the problems OSU has had in communication have come between the safeties and the cornerbacks. He hopes to correct them. The coverage is called from the sideline, the players identify the offensive personnel and formation then apply the coverage that’s been called. Breakdowns have occurred at each step.

Doran Grant played 22 snaps last week and did a good job. Adam Griffin is playing extremely well in practice. Freshmen Najee Murray, Armani Reeves and Tyvis Powell remain outside that top four with Murray and Reeves running ahead of Powell.

Asked if OSU should blitz more, he said there is give and take. It means fewer guys in coverage and sometimes playing more man, but his guys are good in man. The pressure does need to shorten the clock for the quarterback. He hopes the pressure and coverage can be used to enhance each other going forward.

Cal QB Zach Maynard is very athletic. He scrambles to run and to throw and makes big plays. He is a pocket passer first but can get out and do damage.


Wide receiver Devin Smith said how the wide receivers perform against Cal is up to them. They will have a good day if they do what they’re supposed to.

The scout team cornerbacks have been playing press all week to prepare them, and more pass plays are going in this week.

He is pumped to face one-on-one coverage. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman told him Cal’s strategy will challenge their manhood (told this later, Meyer said he was happy to hear that.)

Jordan Hall has been looking good in practice and said his foot felt fine.

Braxton Miller was sore after the UCF game but felt normal by midweek.

Smith would be honored to have his one-handed catch against Miami (Ohio) voted the national play of the year, especially since he is so young.

Hall looked like he could play at practice but it was up to the coaches to make the call. He gives them versatility because he can line up at running back or receiver.

Fullback Zack Boren said the running backs have looked really good in practice this week, especially the young guys.

He was coy about what role Hall might play this week but said he is encouraged by how he looked.

Boren didn’t know his own role yet. He has done a variety of things already, including play out wide against Miami and running back against UCF. It’s fun moving around in the offense and changing things up.

Hall is a playmaker who can do special and crazy things any time he gets the ball.

They haven’t done anything out of the ordinary to prepare for Cal’s unique 46 defese.

Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said if everything goes according to plan with the pass rush, they have to make the Bears pay when they reach him.

If the defensive line plays well, the defense will have a good day. They need to have more production. Hankins has done his job so far but needs to be more dominant.

He has good practice battles with Andrew Norwell, who was always a great run blocker and has gotten better in pass protection.

Mike Vrabel brings tons of energy to the defensive line group. His NFL experience gives him a lot of knowledge regarding technique. He taught them about attacking just one side of a blocker sometimes instead of always going through the middle of him. Vrabel has been harping on technique and taking it to the playing field from the practice fields.

Adolphus Washington is doing a good job, but he needs to think less.

He could see J.T. Moore or Se’Vonn Pittman helping out on the field this week.

Cornerback Bradley Roby said Cal has a good group of receivers. He is ready for whoever comes his way. He won’t be matching up with star Keenan Allen as OSU plays boundary and field corners.

He admitted to becoming disinterested at times against lesser opponents and during practices. He feels he has improved in that area. Also, Smith and Brown have improved since the spring and offer him a greater challenge now.

Roby wants to take on the best in the country and looks forward to having a “show-time matchup” with Allen.

He is tired of noon games (they will play a fourth straight next week against UAB).

The defense’s problems have been related to pretty common breakdowns in communication. They have more checks based on what the offense is doing this year.

Brown is the best trash talker among the OSU receivers, but the rest of them don’t talk a lot, anyway.