Getting Offensive: Four-Receiver Set Takes Shape

The Ohio State offense took chunks of yardage in small doses for much of its season opening win over Miami (Ohio). We examine the new offense, predicated on three- and four-wide receiver sets. We look play-by-play at the initial 12-play scoring drive. And we have notes on Ted Ginn Jr., Brandon Schnittker, Maurice Wells and more.

They were wearing scarlet jerseys and gray helmets, but the offense did not exactly look like anything has Ohio State run – this century and certainly not in the last one, either.

In its season opening 34-14 win over Miami (Ohio), the Buckeyes leaned away from the I-formation and the power running game and much more toward sets that featured three or four wide receivers. The results were strong as OSU racked up 382 yards (160 rushing, 222 passing). Other than a couple of foibles in the red zone – and the Buckeyes still got field goals on those – it was, by and large, a banner day for the offense.

OSU head coach Jim Tressel, who calls the plays in concert with the offensive staff, was asked if it felt like he was in control of a video game.

"I don't have a video stick, or whatever they're called, so I'm not sure if it's like that," Tressel said. "But the nice thing is that we really think that up front, we're getting better and better, and can end up with a very good offensive front, which is the key to everything. We've got some guys who can make plays, and most important is you have guys that can make good decisions when decisions need to be made."

The Buckeyes were, in a word, efficient for the most part. They tallied 24 first downs in the game.

"I felt good because our offensive staff, I think, has done a great job of putting together what they want to do," Tressel said. "I think our guys know what they're trying to accomplish, and it's going to be a greater challenge next week (against Texas). We're not ignorant of that fact, but I feel good about every member of this football team and now we've just got to make a little progress this week."

Quarterbacks Justin Zwick and Todd Boeckman combined to complete 22 of 30 passes. They each had a touchdown, while Zwick threw an interception and was sacked once.

"I thought the quarterback was able to throw the ball and, to me, the protection is the key to the passing game," Tressel said. "He was able to stand in and see his reads, and even if there wasn't anything open, there was good protection and he could step up and go with it and so forth.

"From a run game standpoint, I thought we had some movement. That's a little bit harder for me to tell right now without studying the film. But our goal is to rush for 200 yards. I don't think we did that but, I thought the offensive line did an excellent job."

OSU's offensive renaissance actually began late last year with its improved play in wins over Michigan and Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. OSU eclipsed the 400-yard mark in those games for only the fourth and fifth times, respectively, all season.

"This was really a continuation from the bowl game," said left guard and co-captain Rob Sims. "This was the best preseason I have ever been a part of. Everybody played as hard as they could.

"This offense has come far. With the offense, it was always like one more thing or one more block. If one more person could do this or that, we'd be where we wanted to be. I don't think it's been a quantum leap. I think it has been a progression and I'm happy we made that progression."

As a team leader, Sims was glad to see the Buckeyes focus on the task at hand.

"I was just vocal today and making sure that everybody takes it one game at a time," he said. We wanted to make sure we focus on playing on every single play and getting it done as hard as we can. That's what we need to do, and I think our guys did a good job of doing it."

Sheer Precision

Ohio State's game opening 12-play, 74-yard touchdown drive was remarkable for its precision. It also provided a first glimpse of this new offense.

On the drive, OSU ran seven plays out of its favored four-wide receiver set. That set typically featured split end Santonio Holmes to the boundary side with Roy Hall split wide to the field side, Anthony Gonzalez in the slot and Ted Ginn Jr. in the "Shot-Ginn" position – 5 yards off the line at tailback depth and as wide as the offensive tackle.

OSU twice went down to the three-wide receiver set, each time inserting Ryan Hamby as an H-back or tight end. Twice, the Buckeyes operated out of the I-formation and once they went with two tight ends and a single back set.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said the staff did not have a script for the first drive. Rather, they made suggestions to Tressel based on the game plan for each down-and-distance situation.

"We had some thoughts of what we were going to do ahead of time," Bollman said. "But it was more of a mental thought than anything we had written down. I have done that before. It was not one of those things today."

As you will see on this drive, the four-wide receiver set mentioned above affords OSU the ability to go in several directions. Here is a look at that drive that produced the first touchdown of the season for Ohio State:

* First-and-10, OSU 26 -- OSU operated out of the four-wide receiver set with trips right. Hall and Holmes ran crossing routes underneath and Zwick hit Hall in stride for a 7-yard gain.

* Second-and-3, OSU 33 -- OSU was again in the four-wide set. This time, tailback Antonio Pittman took an inside give. He followed pulling tackle Kirk Barton left, made one defender miss and bounced outside. There, Holmes gave him blocking support downfield and he ripped off a 17-yard gain before being bumped out of bounds by Miami's Joey Card.

* First-and-10, 50-yard line -- OSU was again in the four-wide set. This time, Ginn stayed back and looked for the bubble screen. But Zwick threw the ball over his head to slot man Gonzalez on a quick out. He made the grab and scampered ahead for 8 yards.

* Second-and-2, Miami 42 -- The Buckeyes lined up in the I-formation with Pittman at tailback and Stan White Jr. at fullback. Pittman took the give and followed pulling guard Sims right. Sims flattened a man in the hole and Pittman got 6 yards and a first down.

* First-and-10, Miami 36 -- OSU was back in the four-wide receiver set with Brandon Schnittker in as the single back. Zwick threw the bubble screen left to Ginn, who got blocking help from Gonzalez for a 7-yard gain.

* Second-and-3, Miami 29 -- OSU was back in the I with Schnittker at tailback. He followed White's block going left and got 2 yards.

* Third-and-1, Miami 27 -- The Buckeyes were in a two-tight end set with Brandon Smith seeing action on offense for the first time ever. Schnittker was the single back. Zwick kept the ball to get 2 yards and a first down at the Miami 25.

* First-and-10, Miami 25 -- OSU was back in the four-wide set. Again, Holmes and Hall worked the crossing game. Zwick threw the ball behind Hall incomplete.

* Second-and-10, Miami 25 -- The Buckeyes dialed down to a three-wide receiver set. Pittman took the give on a draw and plowed ahead for a 6-yard gain. This play illustrated how OSU can spread defenses and create running lanes for Pittman on plays that, like this one, may not be an obvious running situation.

* Third-and-4, Miami 19 -- OSU was back in the four-wide with one back. Holmes was the sole receiver left. Holmes ran off his man and Pittman drifted into the left flat. Zwick threw Pittman the screen and he dragged Miami LB Terna Nande with him down the sideline for a 5-yard gain and the first down at the 14. This play illustrated Pittman's improved strength as he bulled ahead for the first down marker. That is probably not a play he would have made a year ago.

* First-and-10, Miami 14 -- OSU was in a three-wide set with Hamby in as the H-back. Zwick threw a short side screen to Ginn left, but Miami had the play well defensed. He was pushed back for a 6-yard loss.

* Second-and-16, Miami 20 -- OSU was back in its favored four-wide set with Holmes the only receiver split left. He was locked in coverage with Miami's speedy corner Darrell Hunter. The line gave Zwick time and he threw a perfect spiral in the left corner of the end zone. Holmes, running the go route, got separation from Hunter, who in the sun may not have been able to see the ball. Holmes made a great leaping, diving catch for the touchdown.

* Summing Up -- Zwick completed 6 of 7 passes on the drive for 41 yards. He completed balls to an impressive five different receivers as the Buckeyes showed off all of their skill position weapons. And Pittman served notice that he could be a factor on the ground and via the pass.

Sims said it was a relief to get seven points on the first drive of the game.

"We had a lot of pent up energy coming into the game," he said. "It felt great to hit someone else instead of our own team. As an offense we feel like we're unstoppable, especially up front. We have a lot of experience and talent and if we play like we can then we're going to be successful."

Schnittker added, "The first series, you saw it. We were connecting on short passes and making plays. We were controlling the clock."

Teddy Ballgame

Ginn's sophomore debut was solid. He carried the ball three times for 11 yards. He had five catches for 75 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown from Boeckman. He returned two punts for an average of 10.5 yards and also had a 14-yard kick return.

Ginn nearly had another touchdown when he caught a 25-yard screen pass and nearly succeeded in splitting a pair of Miami defenders in the first half. He was corralled at the Miami 5-yard line on the play.

Afterwards, Ginn confirmed that the attention Miami's defense gave him helped keep him under wraps – other than the touchdown.

"I tried to create some things and maybe it didn't go well," Ginn said. "You just come back for the next play and just try to do it again. When I was out by myself as a single receiver, I saw a lot of Cover-2 with two guys coming over to hit me. It was crazy."

Bollman said Ginn has grown and developed as a college wide receiver.

"No question, he's been through spring practice and fall camp," Bollman said. "He's had 40 more practices. There will be more games coming where you see more from him than you did today. But he has certainly improved his skills."

A year ago, Ginn played defensive back in preseason camp before moving to wide receiver. He made plays on offense and in the punt return game on athletic ability and instinct.

"I don't think there was ever a fear of him doing anything," Bollman said. "But, last year, when a guy is a first-year player, you worry about how fast can they really develop based on how fast they can learn everything and handle all of the different adjustments. It's not like you go out there and learn it all the first day."

Ginn summed up his sophomore debut: "The defense played well. The offense played great and we just had fun. The ball got around to every receiver. We all just went out and played hard."

Miami coach Shane Montgomery talked about the challenge an athlete like Ginn brings.

"When you play against players like Ted Ginn, you just hold your breath," he said. "You've got your defense. You've got your schemes against him. But there are questions. We did do a good job of containing him. We covered well. We watched video last night of a few of his punt returns. I think that helped get our players ready a little bit. I think we bottled him up pretty well."

Schnittker's First Touchdown

With the Buckeyes short on depth at tailback, the 240-pound Schnittker moved from fullback to tailback this off-season. In three years as a fullback, Schnittker had logged five carries for 13 yards. He had nearly as many carries in his first game at tailback, finishing with four carries for 7 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown.

"I was a fullback for four years," Schnittker said. "Obviously, playing tailback gets you more of an opportunity.

"I'm excited about it. It gives me a chance to maybe showcase some talent. Tony did a great job today. The more versatile we can be, the better the offense will be."

Schnittker capped a nine-play, 80-yard march with his touchdown run that put the Buckeyes up 27-0 early in the third quarter. It was his first career touchdown.

"The offensive line opened up an enormous hole," Schnittker said. "You don't have to have any ability to run through the hole they opened up. It was exciting to get my first touchdown, but it was all on the offensive line."

Previously, Schnittker was best known for his 15-yard catch on OSU's game-winning touchdown drive in the 14-9 win over Michigan in 2002.

"I don't know if I will ever put that behind me," he said. "That was a big thing. Hopefully we can add to the list."

Going To The Wells

Freshman Maurice Wells also made his debut at tailback. He logged seven carries and netted 10 yards.

"It felt good to get out there and get those first game jitters out of the way," said Wells, a former prep All-American from Jacksonville, Fla. "Hopefully I have more carries to come.

"It feels good to get out there and play football again. There are some big things happening here at Ohio State and I'm just happy to be a part of it."

Many believed Wells scored on OSU's first possession of the second half. He got a 6-yard gain down to the goal line. He appeared to land with the ball on the goal line, but the officials spotted the ball just outside the line. With OSU already up 20-0, there was no instant replay review, either.

"I think I scored," Wells said. "I looked up and thought I had the ball over the goal line. We scored any way. Schnittker scored two plays after that, so a touchdown is a touchdown."

The speedy Wells, generously listed at 5-10, 190 pounds, believes there is a place for him in OSU's spread offense.

"I can catch the ball," Wells said. "I think I have good hands. We were working on running, catching and blocking in camp. You have to be a complete back to go to the next level."

More Quotables

* Tressel on OSU's inability to get touchdowns after driving as deep as the Miami 3- and 10-yard lines -- "Well, you know, it's -- as the team get closer to the goal line, the defense doesn't need to backpedal as much. They can sit on things you're doing. And I've always said that good defenses are even tougher in the red zone. We have to understand we're going to be facing tough situations there and we've got to be better there and score touchdowns."

* Sims on watching the Buckeyes give up a pair of Miami touchdowns and the shutout in the final 2:19 -- "It was a letdown. The older guys are upset about it and I'm sure the younger guys are a little bit upset about it."

* Holmes on whether the offense made a statement -- "I don't think our statement has been made until next Saturday. After Saturday, we should be able to tell you a little bit more."

* Holmes is asked if we saw the entire offensive package against Miami -- "I can't tell you that. We released a lot today and we gave our receivers a chance to make plays."

* Bollman on working from the press box -- "I feel like I can help easier with some things than if I was down there. I would never do that if John Peterson wasn't here. There has to be somebody down on the field with the offensive line that can handle all of the things that need to be adjusted. With him here, it makes it pretty easy for me to be up there."

* Bollman on Pittman, who finished with 100 yards on 14 carries -- "I thought you some of that little burst every now and then. When he gets into the open field, he's pretty good. I think we have to do a better job of getting him in the open field a little bit more."

* Bollman on his expectations of the offensive line -- "I want them to be able to do everything. I want to ask them to do everything, too. I want them to block on power plays, block on sweeps and pass protect – anything an offensive lineman could do in any offense, we're going to ask that of them."

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