The Buckeyes operate primarily out of 11 and 21 personnel, with running back Mike Webber and H-back Curtis Samuel capable of lining up in the backfield or the slot. Tight end Marcus Baugh moves around quite a bit, lining up out wide, on the line and in the backfield.
JT Barrett, despite his limitations, doesn’t turn the ball over and makes the correct reads. Add in his and Webber’s ability to fall forward and Samuel’s explosiveness and it’s not hard to see how Ohio State ran for 3,100 yards. The offensive line is inconsistent and has struggled against larger defensive fronts, often forcing Barrett to scramble to keep plays alive. Ohio State has struggled to find any consistency in its receiver group, at times rotating as many as ten players a game.
This offense, while not explosive, is one of the most efficient in the country. The running game in particular stands out, ranking second in success rate nationally.
The running game for Ohio State consists of inside zone, outside zone, power, and counter. Urban Meyer has been adept at dressing these concepts up with motions and pre snap shifts since his days at Utah, and not much has changed. Ohio State first and foremost is looking to find a way to leverage you into bad situations so they can run the ball downhill.
If Ohio State can run Webber downhill all game they will, however this plan requires running into the teeth of one of the best defensive lines in the country. Right tackle Isaiah Prince in particular has struggled this season, he likely is the man tasked with blocking Christian Wilkins. True freshman left guard Michael Jordan will likely spend a lot of time lined up across from Dexter Lawrence.
With that said, if Webber or Barrett get past the line of scrimmage they’re near impossible to bring down.
Curtis Samuels, meanwhile, is used much like Percy Harvin was at Florida. He’ll catch bubble screens, run the ball out of the backfield and get the occasional jet sweep or reverse.
He might be the most explosive athlete in the Big 10 and is by far the largest big play threat in scarlet and gray. A bad pursuit angle by a safety or a linebacker is enough for him to get fifty yards. Clemson’s safeties have struggled with run fits lately and Boulware’s best and worst trait is his aggression.
Urban Meyer has long been a fan of featuring his quarterback in the run game with option concepts. Both Pitt and Louisville were able to use option plays to take advantage of Clemson’s aggressiveness defensively.
Ohio State features zone read, power read, midline, speed option as well as a bubble/slant/draw RPO. While I haven’t seen Ohio State run the play this season it must be pointed out that the shovel option Pitt torched Clemson with repeatedly was popularized by Meyer at Florida.
The Buckeyes are not a passing team this year, putting up barely 2,000 yards through the air. As Eleven Warriors pointed out, in the two games Ohio State failed to rush for 200 yards were the loss to Penn State and the overtime game against Wisconsin. The run sets up the pass, usually faking power by pulling the guard. Mike Weber releases into a pattern to serve as the last read in the “Flood” concept.
Ohio State’s drop back passing game consists largely of quick passes out of the empty formation. By splitting five receivers wide Meyer simplifies the reads for Barrett. Their favorite concept consists of running snag to one side and slants to the other, allowing Barrett to throw a man beating concept against man and a zone beater if he sees zone.
In addition Ohio State will run a bubble screen/draw out of this formation that either gets Samuels the ball wide or Barrett running up the middle.
The lack of an elite receiver minimizes the impact Cordrea Tankersly is able to make. His ability to take a receiver out of the game matters less when Ohio State doesn’t throw the ball to their receivers much. No one outside of the constantly moving (and thus hard to follow) Samuels has more than 30 catches or 385 yards. The inability/unwillingness of Barrett to push the ball downfield minimizes Jadar Johnson’s ability as a ball hawk. This is a passing game that does most of its work fifteen yards from the line of scrimmage, meaning it will test Boulware, O’Daniel, and Williams in pass coverage often. That’s not a good matchup for Clemson. If Ohio State is getting past the line of scrimmage consistently Clemson will get scored on repeatedly. For the defense to succeed it will have to force the negative, drive killing, havoc plays that put Ohio State into passing downs, where Ohio State ranks a relatively low 38th in S&P+. Fortunately, Clemson is #4 nationally at creating those havoc plays (21.3% of plays).
The fact that the scarlet and grey don’t turn the ball over bodes poorly as well. In big games the past two years Deshaun Watson has been asked to carry the majority of the running and passing load more often than not, especially in the second half. If this game goes like the Pitt fiasco, which is to say plenty of three and outs and turnovers, Ohio State will be able to tire Clemson’s defensive line out and remove the largest advantage Venables has. Ohio State is favored in this game for a reason but this will likely be a close game.