It was one of the most talked about storylines in all of college football last season.
With three proven quarterbacks on the roster for Ohio State, how would Urban Meyer choose between them, and what would happen to the two that didn’t get the starting job.
The answer to these questions are a whole lot clearer after the first two games of the season. Cardale Jones is the starter, though J.T. Barrett saw action against Hawaii and Meyer said that he will have more opportunities to beat Jones for the job in practice as the season goes along.
What about Braxton Miller?
It turns out that he’s a very capable H-back in this offense, catching the ball well and a great blocker when he’s asked to be.
Still, when defensive coordinators see two quarterbacks on the field in Jones and Miller, they naturally get worried about all kinds of possibilities for trick plays and deception.
In this article we’ll be talking about some of the different ways Urban Meyer took advantage of Braxton Miller’s athleticism and experience at quarterback against Hawaii.
Wildcat Wide Zone
2nd & 7 | +41 Yard Line | 12:42 1Q
Ohio State is hoping to catch Hawaii in one of their field pressures on this play, and make them worried about defending the Braxton Miller Wildcat package early on in the game.
This scheme is pretty straight forward.
Cardale Jones gets in the gun with Braxton Miller lined up in the pistol behind him, and after calling signals and getting the offense set, he leaves his spot behind the center, and sprints to his left, going in motion and leaving Miller ready to receive the snap.
At the same time, the defense starts to sneak the Mike linebacker out wider to account for the nickel corner creeping up on the edge.
The ball is snapped and Miller takes off to the right, trying to make his decision based on what happens at the off-tackle spot. However the defense is able to hold their own at the point of attack, and the late appearance of the nickel corner blitz into the picture slows down Miller long enough for the defenders on the backside of the play, including the unblocked end, to come up and gang tackle Miller for a 4-yard loss.
Sweep Power Read
3rd & 20 | +36 Yard Line | 10:28 1Q
This is a play that has proliferated throughout college offenses the past several seasons, and can now be seen on football fields all across America on Saturdays.
It’s not an unfamiliar play for Miller either, who racked up a lot of yardage during his earlier days as the starter using this scheme.
Unlike the last play, this one doesn’t start off with a lot of deception before the snap. Cardale Jones lines up to the far left as a receiver, so already the defense knows they need to be ready for some kind of play involving Miller, maybe with him even throwing the ball.
The situation here is key, since on third-and extra-long, Ohio State is counting on Hawaii’s defensive ends to rush upfield and play contain, and that’s exactly what happens.
At the snap, the offense leaves the defensive end to the right unblocked, while the offensive line blocks the rest of the front like a power scheme.
Miller and the back next to him, Ezekiel Elliott, come together on the mesh while Miller reads the defensive end. Since the end comes up the field, which would cut off the path of Elliot out wide, Miller keeps the football up the middle, following his blockers and picking up 7 yards -- enough yardage to move the Buckeyes a little closer to field goal range.
Split Zone (Center Pull)
1st & 10 | -49 Yard Line | 7:01 1Q
This is an interesting change up to the inside zone play that Ohio State runs so much.
Just as offenses use the “pin-and-pull” scheme to complement the outside zone play, here we see Ohio State using a pulling lineman to attack the same area as the inside zone play that the Buckeyes run so much of.
After seeing the way the Hawaii defense slanted so aggressively toward the tight end side of the tackle box, Meyer and his staff needed a way to run the ball inside that made it tougher on the defensive line to shut down the run with slanting and stunting.
To this end, one of the best ways an offense can do this is to introduce a gap-style of running, that is, pulling linemen and letting others block down at the point of attack, so they can use the angles they’re given to their advantage.
Let’s go to the start of the play to go through the progression of events.
The Buckeyes bring the tight end in motion from left to right and align him into the short side of the field. The only real adjustment you see from Hawaii is moving their Mike linebacker out wide to align closer to the slot receiver, since the nickel corner lined up across from him will be coming on a blitz.
However, at this point, Ohio State has a numbers advantage to the short side of the field now that the defense didn’t bump anyone over, and Cardale makes the call to his guys up front to set up the play.
Just before the snap, Cardale flies out to the wide side of the field, leaving Miller as the only one back there. Miller takes the snap and follows the pull of the center in the crease to the right side. This play gains Miller 7 yards and sets up a short second down for the Buckeyes.
Given Urban Meyer’s record as a creative offensive mind, it’s likely we’ve barely scratched the surface of what to expect from Braxton Miller in this offense.
With so much talent and experience on the roster, especially at the quarterback position, Meyer has the best problem a coach can have, and it will be fun watching him try to maximize the talent available to him and the Buckeyes.
Alex Kirby is the author of Every Play Revealed, a breakdown of the national championship game between the Buckeyes and Oregon you can find here, and he will write about the Buckeyes' X's and O's throughout the season.