Ohio State offense
Style: Spread offense with a base of three wideouts, a single back and a tight end (11 personnel). A power run game is one of the bases of the offense as OSU loves to run Ezekiel Elliott between the tackles, and each run play has an option component as well. OSU quarterbacks have run the ball 205 times this year, so that is a big part of the attack. Ohio State also uses a variety of screens and jet sweeps to get the ball on the edge, and they aren’t afraid to go downfield either.
Top player: It would be hard to not go with running back Elliott, who was solid at the start of the year but now has been turning in spectacular performances at the end. OSU missed the powerful Carlos Hyde early in the season but Elliott has gotten better as it has turned colder, finishing with 1,402 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has topped 100 yards in four of the last five games including a 220-yard showing vs. Wisconsin. Elliott is a little bit of everything, with the strength to power through an arm tackle but the speed to not be caught once he’s gone.
Strength: The Urban Meyer-Tom Herman offense has diversified in its third year. Meyer likes to say that year one, the entire plan was “Braxton left, Braxton right,” while last year the power run game with Hyde, Miller and four senior OL was the engine of things. This year, OSU can do everything with competence. The throwing game has developed with more depth at receiver, and the emergence of Jalin Marshall at the “H” spot that Percy Harvin made famous has allowed OSU attack the edges better. The running game is still pretty good, too, as an inexperienced offensive line has jelled, and OSU is excellent at pulling guards and combo blocking.
Weakness: When the offense bogs down the most is when it becomes a two-man offense with the quarterback and running back. This happens occasionally, as inside zone read runs are the bread and butter of the offense, but sometimes the Buckeyes focus on this too much and it becomes predictable to the point that teams can stack the middle and stop it. One might also argue that while OSU has nice depth at receiver, it doesn’t have a true difference maker like Amari Cooper.
Best performance: It just happened, when Ohio State eviscerated Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes have topped 50 points six times this year, but to do it on that stage with a first-time starter in Cardale Jones at QB was mighty impressive. Jones didn’t throw it a ton but showcased a good deep ball and found guys underneath in zones and on comeback routes. Add in a standout performance by Elliott and the O-line and OSU went through Wisconsin like a hot knife through butter.
Worst performance: The Virginia Tech game, the only loss, would be a good place to start as far as a blueprint to stop OSU. The Hokies were aggressive, clogging the middle of the line and playing press coverage out wide with one or sometimes zero deep safeties. That allowed them to pressure J.T. Barrett into a 9-for-29, three-interception performance. The line is much better since then but it’s fair to wonder if Jones would struggle in a similar situation. The showing at Penn State was also rough, as OSU finished with just 17 points in regulation as the passing game never got on track.
Ohio State defense
Style: The Buckeyes play a base 4-3, quarters system, which means single coverage on the outside and safeties and linebackers picking up slot men, tight ends and backs. This is a new scheme implemented by coordinator Chris Ash, who came over after spending 2013 at Arkansas, where he gave up 52 points vs. the Tide in 2013. OSU’s base 4-3 is also kind of a nickel set as walkout LB Darron Lee can also cover and handle screens.
Top player: Joey Bosa seems ticketed to be a consensus first-team All-American, and it’s hard to argue. Not only does he have 13.5 sacks, a half sack short of the OSU record, he’s saved them for the biggest moments. He had a walkoff sack vs. Penn State and had a strip sack to help secure the Michigan win. Bosa also had a forced fumble late in the VT game that allowed OSU to tie the score. He’s a great combination of power and quickness with a high motor to boot. He’s gonna make a lot of money in the NFL.
Strength: Ohio State struggled against the pass last year, giving up almost 375 yards per game in the last three including the bowl and finishing 110th in passing yards allowed, but has cleaned that up. The Buckeyes have been in the top 20 all season in passing yards against and most of the issues from a year ago, including miscommunications and struggles handling screens and jet sweeps, have been fixed. The pass rush is also pretty strong thanks to Bosa and interior linemen Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington, and Lee is a very good third down blitzer.
Weakness: Ohio State handled Melvin Gordon – 26 rushes for 76 yards – but the Buckeyes were gashed pretty strongly in the four games before that. Minnesota, Michigan State and Michigan used varying power sets to block up the Buckeyes pretty good, while Indiana has a back in Tevin Coleman who can hit a home run on any snap and did twice in Ohio Stadium. OSU was clearly fired up in the Wisconsin contest but I one good game doesn’t prove to me all ills here are fixed.
Best performance: I hate to sound like a broken record, but when you beat the 13th-ranked team in the nation 59-0 in the conference title game, it’s likely to be the best performance in just about any area. Ohio State completely bottled up Gordon by pulling a safety down to the line of scrimmage, it pursued like crazy and the defensive line played its best game. And Wisconsin is not exactly a great traditional dropback passing team, so OSU was able to harass QB Joel Stave once the Badgers were in a hole.
Worst performance: There’s a couple to choose from, but I’d say the Michigan game wasn’t that great. The Buckeyes gave up 28 points to a team that had been pretty punchless in the weeks prior, not to mention 372 total yards. Michigan came out with a good plan to use misdirection and easy throws to force OSU into mistakes, and big wideout Devin Funchess was able to make some one-on-one grabs against top OSU corner Doran Grant. U-M also had success with power runs.