SvoNotes: Watching Football, Sept. 26

Ohio State's offensive output on Saturday against Illinois has turned many heads. Because of that, we'll take a final look at one specific formation the Buckeyes ran against the Illini, how successful it was (hint: very) and how it can be expanded in the future. Also included in this week's column are thoughts on the D-line and the upcoming opponent, Indiana.

This week, Ohio State's "new" offense operated in the Illinois game has been all the rage.

Many on this site have, including myself, have endeavored to break down what they've seen of the attack on film. Other scribes have pushed the Buckeye coaching staff in an effort to find out if what we saw on Saturday was a one-game aberration based on what the Fighting Illini were giving the Buckeyes or if it was a full-fledged offensive philosophy change that will continue in the future.

Mark me down for the latter, especially after both assistant Darrell Hazell and head coach Jim Tressel talked before and after the game of self-scouting the team and throwing out what hadn't worked and emphasizing the types of plays that had.

Another clue, in my opinion, came Wednesday night when tight ends coach John Peterson, who is also working with Ohio State's offensive tackles, suggested that blocking on an angle was better for the team's sophomore starters at that position than straight-ahead blocking.

In fact, of the two main rushing plays the Buckeyes used against Illinois out of its new three wide, shotgun, one-back formation with Jake Ballard on the wing as an H-back – and make no mistake, that was a new formation for this year for OSU – is based around angled, or in this case down, blocking.

This linked graphics below show an effectively blocked example of this play, a typical inside zone play that Ohio State fans might have seen run earlier in the day – by archrival Michigan and noted spread rushing guru Rich Rodriguez.

In this play, the offensive line blocks down one direction while Ballard – lined up on the wing in the direction the team blocks – kicks out to the other side to trap the backside defensive end. Meanwhile, the back picks a hole, often the one between the tackle and the pulling tight end (as it is in this play).


There's also the derivative in which quarterback Terrelle Pryor keeps the ball – sort of a zone read play – and there are also play-action passes that can be run out of this where Ballard becomes a receiving option, continuing on after his pulling action.

Ohio State ran this blocking scheme out of this formation a total of eight plays against the Fighting Illini, but only three of them were tailback runs, netting a total of 25 yards. Pryor kept the ball three times as well, getting 39 yards on two carries but fumbling the other. The other two plays were play-action passes in the second half in which Pryor was 1 for 2 for 14 yards. In other words, those eight plays averaged 9.75 yards per play. Not bad.

What's also fun to watch is how this blocking scheme is so versatile. The fact that Pryor kept the ball on a number of the plays makes him a threat on all plays, so the defense has to keep an eye on him (note No. 33's hesitation in the above photos). On one PA pass out of this formation, all three Illinois linebackers followed the fake at the snap, leaving the receivers open and freeing up the passing game.

Ohio State also had one major running play out of the three-wide H-back formation, something I've called an inside counter but something boulderbuck55 on the Ask The Insiders message board is calling a counter-ISO. Perhaps it needs a cool name like Dave – maybe Steve? – but either way, we'll have to stick with what we've got so far.

Illinois was utterly unprepared for this play, which was simply zone blocked a hat on a hat at the line with Ballard shooting up the middle at a linebacker. Often, center Michael Brewster would pick off the other linebacker – Illinois went nickel with two deep safeties for most of the first half – and big yards would result

The first three times Ohio State ran this play, the Buckeyes gained 19, 13 and 13 yards. By the time the day was done, the play was run nine times for 76 yards, an average of 8.4 yards per carry for the Buckeye backs. Again, not bad at all.

Even when Illinois started to adjust in the second half, bringing a third linebacker into the fray, the Buckeyes still had success, getting 5.75 yards per pop.

There were a few other variations on these plays in the formation, as I noted in an earlier message board post. The first time OSU lined up in the H-back formation, the Buckeyes attempted to throw a third-down pass on their first offensive possession.

Ohio State added motion later at one point with a wide receiver. On a few plays, the Buckeyes would have Ballard and the back line up on the same side of the formation, changing some blocking angles and giving the defense something else to worry about. Finally, the inside tight end screen run late in the game for Ballard came out of this H-back formation, which was used 22 times overall.

It'll be interesting to see how much this formation is used in the future. I can't imagine the Buckeyes scrapping the look given the zone read possibilities. OSU barely scratched the surface there against the Fighting Illini. In addition, there is an expanded passing component that can be added in good weather, and there is an outside zone play that Michigan pairs with the inside rushing that can really expand what the Buckeyes are trying to do should they choose to use it. (OSU ran this once with Justin Boren pulling left to success).

On the surface, it looks like a more spread rushing look is in the cards at Ohio State rather than the power football that has been run in Columbus for so long. The Buckeyes have a young offensive line, three freshman fullbacks, a freakishly athletic quarterback whose rushing gifts are feared and a stable of backs that simply aren't at their best out of the I-formation.

It's premature to say that the I is dead at Ohio State, but it sure seems that the personnel currently on the team would lead it to continued use of spread rushing formations.

**Another neat play call: On Pryor's first completion of the game, the Buckeyes split four wideouts to the left and lined up DeVier Posey alone on the right, the short side. With UI's attention surely looking across the field, Pryor threw a quick pass to Posey, who caught the ball and got upfield for 7 yards, nearly breaking a tackle and getting a huge gain.

**It's getting old to say this but, man, did the Ohio State defensive line play well on Saturday. Specific notice on my list for dominant play went to four linemen on this day

1. Dexter Larimore. He set the tone early. On Illinois' second possession, he broke through the line to blow up an option run, then stuck with a later option to make the tackle despite being double teamed. That's effort.

2. Todd Denlinger. His second effort and heads up play on a big first-quarter sack of Juice Williams was key after Jermale Hines' perfectly designed blitz couldn't bring down the quarterback.

3. Lawrence Wilson. Utterly unblockable in the first half, making two tackles while still being blocked and breaking up a pass by striking Williams' arm on the throw when he had an open receiver. That was before his tipped interception to himself. What a day.

4. Thaddeus Gibson. For the first series of the second half. First he brought down Williams on an option keeper for a 5-yard loss. On the next play, he crushed Williams as he delivered a pass. On third down, Gibson chased down the scrambling Williams and forced a fumble. When Juice said after the game that it was a nightmare, he probably meant that he'll see No. 90 in his sleep.

Throw in sacks from Doug Worthington – who was the defensive player of the week by OSU – and Robert Rose and the usual strong play from guys like John Simon, Cameron Heyward and Nathan Williams and you've got another standout effort.

**Chimdi Chekwa let a receiver behind him twice on Illinois' last drive before the half, but give him credit for not quitting on the play and pushing Chris Duvalt out of bounds in the end zone on third down.

**Looking ahead to Indiana on the weekend, here few a quick hitters on the Hoosiers that I saw while watching their game against Michigan.
-Indiana moved the ball up and down the field pretty well thanks to a good mix of short and long gains. A long pass to Tandon Doss behind the then-benched Boubacar Cissoko and Darius Willis' 85-yard touchdown run were big, but for most of the day IU was content to keep the chains moving. It'll be interesting to see if those 4- and 5-yard gains become 1 and 2 yards vs. OSU.
-Keep an eye on Hoosier tight end Max Dedmond on Saturday. He's a very good pass catcher either off the edge or out of the backfield, where he's also the Hoosiers' de facto fullback on a lot of rushing plays after starting in motion.
-Indiana ran a fair share of gimmicky but fundamentally solid plays against Michigan. There was one play in which IU ran the swinging gate and threw to Willis for a big gain. They also like to get creative out of the wild pistol, which is what I'm terming their combination wildcat/pistol formation. Wideout Mitchell Evans lines up as the pistol QB with a back behind him and then goes from there. Out of that formation, the Hoosiers ran for a 25-yard TD against U-M on a triple option where the man receiving the pitch was the slot receiver coming around behind the formation. The Hoosiers love misdirection out of this formation.
-I think the matchup of OSU's D-line vs. the Indiana offensive line is a mismatch, no matter how much you hear about how IU has allowed only two sacks so far this year. Brandon Graham had a field day for U-M and I watched each offensive lineman for the Hoosiers get beat a few times in the first half, expect for right guard Pete Saxon. To mitigate that, Indiana ran a number of short passes to keep Ben Chappell's shirt clean.
-Chappell isn't athletic but he's a solid quarterback with poise and a good arm.

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