As the 2015 season progressed, Ohio State had about as much chance of playing for a national championship as a bottom half of the Mountain West team. When the Buckeyes popped up in conversation, it always ended with a “yeah, but they lost at home to Virginia Tech.” Only one team was perfect and we all knew that Florida State was heavily flawed. Oregon lost at home to Arizona, a team it would face in the Pac-12 Championship game. Alabama lost to Ole Miss and struggled at Arkansas the next week. Yet, Ohio State’s foibles at home against Virginia Tech, many believed, essentially barred them from entry.

Until it hammered Wisconsin 59-0, there weren’t many outside the state of O-H-I-O that gave the Buckeyes any chance to be in the inaugural playoff. Well, we all know the rest of the story but how did it happen? How could Ohio State’s offense lose two quarterbacks and still win the B1G Championship 59-0, whitewash the SEC champ in New Orleans and then capture the crown in Arlington over Oregon?

Ezekiel Elliott.

Is it that simple? Not really but if I created a list of items that led to 13 straight wins, Elliott’s name would be at the top of it, without question. It took that loss to Virginia Tech for offensive coordinator Tom Herman to unleash his sophomore beast. Elliott had 27 carries in the first three games. Yes, total. After the Buckeyes rolled 66-0 over Kent State, Elliott carried the rock 28 times v. Cincinnati and the M.O of the Buckeyes offense seemingly changed for the rest of the year.

In that loss to Virginia Tech, QB J.T Barrett had 24 carries and the Hokies shut him down in the run game. Now it’s not as if Barrett didn’t run the ball the rest of the season but he never ran more than 20 times in a game the rest of the season.

v. Virginia Tech

QB run - Barrett

Gun Speed option - Elliott

Sprint left option - Short left

Gun 3 - 9 route - Deep left

Power Read - QB keep - Barrett

Gun 3 - Scramble - Barrett

Midline - QB keep - Barrett

Gun 3 - 4 verts - Deep middle

QB counter gut - Barrett

Gun 3 - Fade - Intermediate right

Inside gap - Elliott

QB Draw - Barrett

Play action - Short left

Speed option - RB pitch - Samuel

Gun 3 - 4 verts - Deep middle

I examined the first 15 plays of a number of games for the Buckeyes the rest of the year. Most teams may not script the first 15 plays, but the tenor of the game plan is evident in the first 15 plays or so. Above is the first 15 against Virginia Tech. Two touches for Elliott in the first 15 plays. TWO?!?

The following week v. Kent State, Elliott touched the ball on the first two plays and the Buckeyes scored on the fifth play.

By the seventh week of the season, it was clear v. Penn State how Herman and the offense wanted to attack. Elliott carried it seven of the first 12 plays, including a TD run at the end of the first drive.

v. Penn State

Inside zone - Elliott

Inside zone - Elliott

Power read - QB Keep - Barrett

Play action - roll right - Deep right

Play action - Short right

Inside zone - Elliott

Inside zone - Elliott - TD

Power read - QB keep - Barrett

Inside zone - Elliott

Inside zone - Elliott

Inside gap - Elliott

QB Draw (split zone) - Barrett

Play action - tunnel - Short right

Play action - scramble - Barrett

A few weeks later the Buckeyes traveled to Minnesota and the difference in that Virginia Tech game and the Buckeyes new offensive narrative, so to speak, was clear.

v. Minnesota

Inside gap - Elliott

Gun 1 - hitch - Short right

Gun 3 - scramble - Barrett

Gun flip - Marshall

QB Counter - Barrett

Play action - scramble - Barrett

Gun speed option - Elliott

Outside zone - Elliott

Play action - slants - Short middle

Gun 3 - Flat - Elliott

Gun inside zone - Elliott

Gun speed option - QB keep - Barrett

Gun 3 - crosser - Intermediate middle

Sprint right rub - Short right

Six touches for Elliott in the 31-24 in the first 15. Weeks later, after hammering Wisconsin it was playoff time for the Buckeyes.

v. Alabama

Gun inside zone - Elliott

Sprint right smash - short right

Gun 3 - Scramble - Jones

Jet sweep - Marshall

Lead sweep - Marshall

Outside zone - Elliott

QB Sweep - Jones

Play action boot - Intermediate left

Gun 3 - throwaway - Intermediate middle

Packers sweep - Elliott

Power read - Elliott

Gun 3 - throwaway - short left

Inside zone - Elliott

Gun 3 - scramble - Jones

Fake run, gun 3 - flood - Intermediate right

Then against Oregon

v. Oregon

Inside zone - Elliott

Gun 3 - Scramble - Jones

Gun 3 - Scramble - Jones

Inside zone - Elliott

Fake IZ, bubble - Marshall, short right

Gun 3 - Scramble - Jones

Power read - Jones

Play action - throwaway - Deep right

Gun 3 - flood - Intermediate right

Play action - roll left - Deep left

Packers sweep - Elliott

Play action - throwaway - Deep right

Gun 3 - Scramble - Jones

Gun flip - Marshall

Play action - flood - Deep right

*Wham trap - Elliott - 33 yd. TD

I added the 16th play, of course, because it was the start of Elliott’s true domination v. Oregon in the Buckeyes win.

Each of those games that I charted, Elliott got the first touch of every game. Barrett got the first touch in the loss to Virginia Tech. In hindsight, it seemed like an easy decision to feature Elliott more in the offense, but changing that paradigm so to speak wasn’t an easy call, I can imagine. But, Herman made the change and it paid off.

Elliott is one of the special running backs in a season when the country is loaded with quality running backs. The SEC alone has a ton of great ones. The B1G graduated plenty of stars last year but Elliott returns. Teams will target him, no question, but it’s hard to think that Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon didn’t have Elliott square in their sights. He’s got great balance. The Man ran away from the Alabama secondary on his 85 yard march through the South as it’s been called. He kept pounding, 36 times worth, v. Oregon. His vision is outstanding. Even with the group of running backs around the country, he’s at the top of the list.

Last year’s OC Herman moved on to be the head coach at the University of Houston but I can imagine that the lesson was learned by the remaining Ohio State coaching staff. 15 is real good, never slight him again.

 

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