Buckeyes Beat Michigan with Familiar Tactic

When Ohio State needed an answer to Michigan's only touchdown drive, the Jim Tressel and his coaching staff reached into their bag of tricks and took out one near and dear to the heart of the Wolverines' head coach.

In the aftermath of Ohio State's 21-10 win against Michigan on Saturday, one could not help but think this must have been pretty close to what Rich Rodriguez had in mind in December 2007 when he told Terrelle Pryor he was leaving West Virginia to become the head coach at Michigan.

He wanted Pryor to follow him so he could run the zone read play that makes his offense go, but the head coach's dreams surely never ended the way reality played out Saturday in Michigan Stadium.

Pryor ran 19 times for 74 yards, but the threat of his running was just as important thanks in large part to Rodriguez's patented zone read play.

"It's crazy," Ohio State offensive linemen Jim Cordle said. "When Terrelle stepped into the lineup last year, the zone read was one of our main plays. We kind of got away from it this year until this game, and it really wasn't in the gameplan to do our zone read (today), but we ran it a couple times and they just kept giving it to us, so we kept taking it."

The Buckeyes tried to run their usual pro-style offense with a mix of running and passing from the I-formation and the shotgun, but the Wolverines slowed Ohio State's best-laid plans by putting eight or sometimes nine defenders in the tackle box and daring them to throw.

Ohio State built a 14-3 lead and gained 163 yards in the first half, but Michigan looked to be building momentum when the Wolverines marched 49 for a touchdown that cut the lead to four in the third quarter.

The Buckeyes' response? An 11-play, 89-yard drive heavy with zone reads that saw Pryor hand the ball to running back Brandon Saine or Dan Herron unless he decided to keep the ball and race around the other end.

They capped the drive with a screen pass to Herron that covered 12 yards, but the majority of the damage had been done with Rodriguez's pet play.

"That play is very hard to stop, especially if the line is blocking really well like our linemen do," Pryor said. "We might have run it 25 times maybe. I don't really know. I'm not a defensive coordinator or a defensive coach or the Michigan coaches, so I don't know what they could have done to stop it, but it was just a great play for us today."

In the middle of the season, a mini-media furor arose after Pryor's high school coach suggested Ohio State was misusing Pryor by not using the zone read, as he had while earning the title the nation's No. 1 recruit in his class.

Ironically, the Buckeyes had run the zone read at times with Pryor in previous weeks, but they moved back toward a more pro-style attack with less option soon after the coach's comments.

An injured ankle and various other bumps and bruises also helped motivate such a move, while an improved offensive line and running backs - not to mention Pryor's continued progression as a passer - made success possible.

But when the going got tough in Ann Arbor, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel and his offensive staff adjusted accordingly.

"We use it different amounts at different times," Tressel said. "We didn't use it there for a couple of weeks because he was a little bit banged. I don't know that we necessarily want to make that our lead. We'd rather power run and pass probably than make that our lead. But we also want you to have to stop that. He's very good at it."

Added Cordle, "We've had success in our regular formation with a tight end and an I-back the last two weeks, but they were loading the box and they were slanting and blitzing every play we were in that, so we kind of spread them out and started running (the zone read). On that one drive, it was literally every play until we got to the goal line. But obviously Terrelle is good for that. That's definitely a strength of his and he did a great job of running it."

Pryor said he is willing to run whatever will work.

"I was always good at running it. I was always good at reading it," he said. "It just happened to be a play they couldn't stop and we found out they couldn't stop it so we just kept on going after it."

Then someone pointed out he would quite likely have been running the play more frequently all along had he heeded Rodriguez's call in winter 2008.

"Yeah, it's crazy," he said, smiling.

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