Over the past week, there has been an outcry from the Buckeye Nation as Ohio State fans have complained about the team's inability to put away a pesky Navy team thanks to some critical mistakes on both offense and defense.
Some of these complaints were about an offense that put up 29 points and rarely was shut down by the Navy defense. A number of Buckeye fans complained about the team's play-calling and use of formations, while others were miffed about what looked like a lack of push by the OSU offense line against an undersized Navy team.
I will admit that I was surprised at times at the lack of room for the Buckeye running backs to operate on runs between the tackles. For most of preseason camp, OSU players and coaches talked about how the offense and the line in particular weren't worried about running the football up the gut based on its successes at doing so during practice sessions.
As someone who had watched two jersey scrimmages and a number of other practice sessions during both the spring and fall, I subscribed to that theory, so I was a bit flummoxed on my initial viewing about the team's performance at rushing the ball up the middle.
So I went to the videotape and made a list of each running back run up the gut to see if things had truly gone wrong. The result was a mixed bag of good runs and bad runs among the 20 plays I considered tailback carries up the middle.
Overall, the Buckeyes totaled 74 yards on those 20 runs for an average of 3.4 yards per play. Thirteen of the 20 runs were for 3 yards or less, though none were for a loss. Dan Herron took 12 of the runs for a total of 34 yards, a 2.8-yards-per-carry average. Brandon Saine fared better, getting 5.0 yards per pop on eight tries.
(I will fully admit that one first-quarter, 14-yard over the left side by Herron could be considered an interior run, but television was late getting to the start of the play, and Herron had already bounced the play outside by the time TV caught up.)
The initial 3.4-yard average was less than ideal, it's safe to say. What follows is a shorthand description of each run.
1st down-10 to go-Navy 49: Herron gets 2 yards; Brewster pushed back.
2-10-N38: Herron gets no gain; Eight in box; Herron slips
1-10-N28: Saine gets 6 yards; Boren, A. Homan, Miller seal left side
1-10-N11: Saine gets 1 yard; Play thrown off by Cordle and Brewster missing second level guys
2-11-O9: Herron gets 3 yards; OK blocking; Brewster's guy makes tackle
1-10-N40: Herron gets no gain; Browning's guy makes tackle, Cordle help fails
1-10-O38: Saine gets 2 yards; Saine bounces right, could have been better read
2-8-O40: Saine gets 14 yards; Well blocked; Cordle gets to second level; Ballard solid at point of attack; Saine reads it well and does the rest
4-1-N37: Saine gets 4; A. Homan and Ballard do a nice job; Miller pushes his man downfield; First down over left side; No pulling guard
1-10-N14:; Herron gets no gain; Browning's man strings out play left and makes tackle; Cordle misses at the second level to take away cutback by end of play; Herron could have cut earlier
1-10-O45: Saine gets 6 yards; Good effort by tailback going left then right
1-10-N40: Herron gets 3 yards; Line does OK
2-3-N29: Saine gets 6 yards; Browning, Brewster and Miller do job; Boren gets to second level
2-3-N16: Saine gets 1 yard; Cordle misses tough assignment on blitzing safety from out wide; Browning stalemated; Play goes weak side
3-2-N15: Herron gets no gain; Brewster and Browning struggle with DT who makes play
4-2-N15: Herron gets 1 yard on the famed play. Say what you will about Denlinger; Browning can't get to hole; Z. Boren doesn't find block; Herron doesn't go outside
1-10-O28: Herron gets 4 yards; Browning and Cordle make the hole
1-10-O39: Herron gets 1 yard
1-5-N39: Herron gets 2 yards; Left side solid
2-3-N37: Herron gets 18 yards; Denlinger and Miller block down; Ballard fires out; Browning pulls; Beautifully done
Much like a weekend duffer, the Buckeyes ended on perhaps their best shot of the day. Though the game broadcast called it the same play as the failed fourth down, there was the small adjustment of personnel and formation that put two tight ends on the left side of the field; both tight ends did extremely well to break open a huge play at a critical time.
What can be taken overall from the breakdown? Well, the right side of the line as well as center Mike Brewster took a demerit or two but no one had a disastrous game. Andrew Miller did well for a first-time starter while Justin Boren rarely shows up on the negative side of the tally, which is why he graded out by the coaches with a winning performance. While the running backs were solid overall in my mind, there were a couple of holes/cutbacks that could have been hit better.
Many of the issues can be fixed by simple experience. Jim Cordle looked a little uncomfortable at right tackle at times, and he wasn't shy about looking frustrated when something didn't quite go right. It was his first start and things should get better for him quickly.
A few of the other issues were based on what appeared to be a communication struggle or two, and the backs will get better at choosing holes as they get back into the swing of game speed.
A Few Other Notes
**I had to laugh at halftime when ESPN's Mark May exclaimed that "Navy is getting pressure with its front four!" Two problems with that statement: Navy utilizes a 3-4 defense, so it's not a front four, and Navy's pressure on Terrelle Pryor exclusively was the result of well-designed and timed blitzes. The Mids liked to shift the line one way and bring a blitz from the other direction, which confused the OL and backs at times. Rarely was an OSU lineman beaten one-on-one in pass pro.
**As boulderbuck1 posted on the Ask The Insiders board, I have to admit I liked the initial fourth-and-short call more than the later one. Many teams through film study know the Buckeyes like to run power left with a pulling guard in short-yardage situations; Navy ran a perfect defense against that call on the critical fourth-quarter play. The first-half, fourth-down iso left run developed quicker and was blocked better.
**It's hard to argue with the success of the speed option against Navy. OSU ran the play five times against Navy, netting 37 yards and a touchdown. The only play that didn't top 5 yards was a third-and-7 call on which Navy guessed right and brought the safety down to blow up the play.
The Buckeyes don't want to get to the point where it becomes obvious they will run the play against USC (pretty much all options were run to the strong side out of the 3-wide, shotgun ace formation), but this has to be a major part of the offense.
**The Buckeyes threw four passes to the tight end out of three different formations. Three of the completions came on playaction passes. How nice.
**Ohio State went with less I-formation as the game went on. With Terrelle Pryor in during the first half, the Buckeyes ran 24 plays, 13 of which were out of the I; of that baker's dozen, six were passes. In the second half, OSU used only seven I sets. Meanwhile, 10 second-half plays were run out of three-wide, one-back sets (either under center or shotgun) with Pryor in compared to four in the first half.
Suffice it to say, I don't expect OSU to run 50 percent I, as it did during the first half against Navy, for the whole game against the Trojans. I can think of a variety of reasons why the Buckeyes tinkered with it so much in the first half of the first game, though.
**I didn't look too much at the defense simply because not much could be learned from the Navy film. However, as I had suspected upon watching live, the Mids' switch to a six-man line in the second half helped restart its flagging offense. That was probably a counter to OSU's return to a base 4-3 with Austin Spitler in the game (during most of the first half, OSU had Hines on the field and just two linebackers). That new look really caused havoc on Navy's first drive of the second half, and the unbalanced line and runs away from Spitler got things going again. Ricky Dobbs' run on third down from the Mids' 6 during which he delivered a blow to Kurt Coleman didn't hurt either. Coleman would get the last laugh, though.