Penn State vs. Ohio State: What Bill O'Brien Can Learn from Northwestern Film
The Ohio State Buckeyes have won 18 straight games and are the most talented team in the Big Ten. To say that anyone has "given a blueprint on how to beat them" would be a farce.
However, Ohio State just played back-to-back close games, and if not for a blocked punt in the end zone against Northwestern, they very well may have lost that game. Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern put some things on film that Penn State may be able to use over the bye week to capitalize on when they travel to Columbus next weekend.
Northwestern had Ohio State on the ropes, it wasn't intimidated by the stage. Still, OSU mounted two TD drives in the 4th to win.— Ari Wasserman (@AriWasserman) October 6, 2013
Stay Disciplined on the Option
If you're not familiar with the read-option (pictured), it's similar to the old-school, down-the-line, pitch-option in that the quarterback reads the defensive end and makes a decision. If the end bites down on the running back, the quarterback keeps it and heads around the edge. If the end keeps contain, the quarterback hands the ball off.
Reading the end is one thing that backup Kenny Guiton seems to do better than Braxton Miller. Miller occasionally makes the wrong decision here which, ultimately, turns into a blown play.
Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan can benefit from staying committed to containing the quarterback and forcing the handoff into the meat of their defense. The goal is to get the ball out of Braxton Miller's hands, but if he reads it wrong and keeps it, like he did a couple times against Northwestern, it should go for a loss.
Work the Short-Passing Game
Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter threw for just 98 yards in the game against Ohio State, but he was 12-of-12 on the day. According to SippinOnPurple.com, Colter didn't throw a pass over 20 yards but was 6-of-6 on throws between six and 20 yards.
While Penn State is going to take shots down the field, working the short pass that the Buckeyes make available is a smart play. This will also help to keep the Buckeyes' talented defensive line out of Christian Hackenberg's face.
O'Brien should look to get the ball to his tight ends or playmaking receivers around the line of scrimmage. Penn State has better athletes at the skill positions than Northwestern and might be able to get better yards after the catch.
At the very least, the Nittany Lions can move the chains with the short-passing game and set up the deep pass for later in the game when the defense starts cheating up, similar to the double-move touchdown Allen Robinson had against Indiana.
Take Away Miller's First Read
The Ohio State coaching staff has done a great job of simplifying the offense to keep Miller in the pocket. Several of his completions against Northwestern came on plays where Miller makes a pre-snap read, fakes a read-option run, pulls up and fires to his primary receiver.
On several occasions, Northwestern disguised its coverage or the linebackers didn't bite on the play action.
When Miller looked to his primary target and the throw wasn't there, he had to go through a progression, which he isn't terribly comfortable doing. His instinct is to run but he knows that's not the right play. Braxton Miller is rarely bad, but if you can make him indecisive, that's a step in the right direction.
Penn State should use zone blitzes and mix up their coverage over the middle to keep Braxton guessing. A great example of this was Jordan Lucas' interception against Michigan. He was lined up over the slot receiver, then moved into the flat after the snap and Devin Gardner didn't see it coming before throwing to his outside receiver.
Look for Bradley Roby in Man Coverage
Bradley Roby is one of the best corners in college football. Because of that, the coaching staff will sometimes put him on an island in man coverage. While it wasn't really an issue against the Wildcats, it cost the Buckeyes when Ohio State hosted Wisconsin the week before.
Badger wide receiver Jared Abbrederis abused that one-on-one matchup and had 10 catches for 207 yards.
Allen Robinson is better than Abbrederis.
Since that game, Ohio State has been without starting safety Christian Bryant, further isolating Roby and increasing the pressure on the senior corner. However, Hackenberg had better be careful. Despite his struggles against the Badgers, there's a reason they trust him on his own covering the opponent's top receiver.
The Ohio State Buckeyes aren't undefeated by accident. They hold the nation's longest winning streak and are even extra tough to beat at "The Horseshoe."
Northwestern gave up a touchdown on a blocked punt and another when Joey Bosa scored late on an interception, but still only lost by 10. One could argue that they outplayed the Buckeyes offensively and defensively, aside from those two plays. However, these are the kind of plays that happen when you face a team with more talent across the board.
Along with the normal coach-speak about protecting the football and limiting penalties, Penn State will need to get lucky. Whether it's a special teams play like the blocked field goal against Michigan or a timely turnover to swing momentum, the Nittany Lions will need to be opportunistic in order to leave Columbus with a win.
Maybe Northwestern gave them enough ammo to make one lucky play the difference.