There is a fine line to walk between doing too much and getting predictable or stale, but the experiments seemed to work pretty well last Saturday.
The defense has gotten more aggressive as the season has worn on, and they unveiled a new look against the Hoosiers that included Ryan Shazier playing defensive end and Vonn Bell at essentially the Will linebacker.
Shazier's ability as a pass rusher is obvious, so it was not a huge surprise to see that wrinkle even though Jamal Marcus has proven to be a nice No. 2 option at Viper behind Noah Spence. Once written off as a guy whose chance to contribute had passed, Steve Miller has also had some moments here and there this season and played extensively in more than one package and more than one role against the Hoosiers.
As for Bell, he was only in on a couple of plays, so it was hard to get much of a read on how he is developing, but it has to be an encouraging sign that the staff is looking for ways to get him on the field.
I am curious if they have been playing around the last couple of weeks just because they could, if they have been looking for ways to get more guys on the field because the carrot of playing time is good to dangle out there and keep guys engaged or if they just wanted to give future opponents a lot to look at on film.
The double eagle look on defense with Adolphus Washington and Joey Bosa both kicked inside the offensive tackles was another interesting wrinkle that seemed to help control the inside running game that has been pretty effective for the Hoosiers all season, and obviously Shazier thrived behind whatever way the front was aligned all day.
It is hard to think of a linebacker at Ohio State who has played at a higher level than Shazier, especially one who makes as many big plays as he does. I would have to go back to A.J. Hawk or maybe even Andy Katzenmoyer. The coaches used to joke about Shazier figuring out how to slither past blockers, but he's gotten good at using his arms to disengage, and he's always been able to run through chaos to get to the ball.
Two important developments for Ohio State this season involve juniors playing under control, one on either side of the ball: Braxton Miller and Ryan Shazier.
Getting Joshua Perry back was big as well. He has also come into his own as a linebacker in space, but they'll need him to set the edge against the Michigan running game. If Shazier goes pro after this season, Perry is starting to look like he could take on more of a playmaker role.
One of the great joys of re-watching the games is seeing Michael Bennett wreck havoc inside because that is easy to miss live. He is too quick for a lot of interior lineman and plays with a strong base and strong hands. He played a lot of nose tackle against Indiana and continued to excel. He'll be a captain next year for sure.
I also liked the move of Washington to the other tackle spot (a.k.a. 3-technique) because while he's athletic enough to play end, I think he's better inside because of his power. He's got legs like tree trunks and a thick, wide base that should make him hard to move as long as he can keep his pads low.
Before he got hurt, I thought Doran Grant (looked like he got whacked by Shazier on the last tackle of the first half) was playing at a high level, but Cam Burrows showed signs of being able to hold his own at this level. Indiana has good receivers who are well coached, but both of those guys won more battles than they lost against the Hoosiers.
Offensively, what more is there to say? Braxton Miller's bounce back from the sub-par passing performance at windy Champaign was probably important for his confidence, but the coaches didn't seem to lose confidence in him, which says a lot about his development.
I still think Indiana's parts on defense are better than the sum of the unit. Ralphael Green gave the Buckeyes fits inside, and that was no fluke. He's been a standout in all of the Indiana games I've watched. Remember that name. Strong upper body, plays hard and is consistently disruptive. He should continue to get better.
Ohio State was able to get the Hoosiers blocked up front because of the quality of the Buckeyes' blockers. The Buckeyes made big plays from there because Miller, Carlos Hyde and Dontre Wilson are all hard to tackle but also because Indiana has maybe the worst run-supporting safeties I've ever seen. They don't really attack the line of scrimmage, but they have a hard time maintaining their fits, too. It's really something.
Miller's continued use of check-down receivers and screens just has the offense really humming. When you can dominate the line of scrimmage and execute constraint plays, you've really got something. And then throw in a couple of guys who are hard to bring down one-on-one in Miller and Hyde… wow. Their ability also allowed the staff to use more two-tight end sets without fear of getting overloaded in the box because they can make extra yards with the strength of their legs or the shake in their hips, and they did both on more than one occasions when the play should have been defended well if someone just make a tackle. BYOB - bring your own blocker.
Tom Herman said he'd take some of the blame for Miller's interception because of the look they had him throwing into, but I felt like his fumble was not a forgivable error. While I've praised Green, that was not a ball Miller should have coughed up, and it's not the first soft fumble he has had. That is something he needs to figure out how to tighten up, especially considering the role turnovers could play in a rivalry game or a tightly contest Big Ten or national championship contest.
Other notes and observations:
- Miller's long touchdown run was an example of Indiana losing its run fits. Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell made key blocks, and Miller was able to outrun the alley defenders to the sideline because the WLB lost his fit and got sealed off and the corner and safety both kind of tip-toed up then were blown by.
- Green walked Hall back into the pocket on his sack/fumble. Impressive power and athleticism on the same play. He also got the better of Norwell on a play in the third quarter when Miller kept the ball on the inverted veer. The latter doesn't happen very often.
- One of Shazier's big hits was thanks to a good job of posting up by Tyvis Powell. The OSU nickel man triggered quickly on a screen, stuck a blocker and forced the cutback into the path of Shazier, who was scraping from inside out with a vengeance. Powell has really come on as the year has gone on and looks much more aggressive now. I would imagine getting experience has helped his confidence.