Play calling is the most overrated aspect of an offense. The most dynamic offenses of this decade – Miami 2001-2002 and USC 2003-2005 – were unbelievably predictable but they executed so well it did not matter. Having the great athletes did not hurt, either.
Watch any game this Saturday, if a team runs an unexpected play and it succeeds, the announcers and every fan watching call it a genius play call. If it fails, it’s the worst call of all time. Moreover, coaches often call plays that, for whatever reason, are never executed – poor blocking, timely blitzing, false starts, as well as bad snaps can derail the most deft playcalling.
In an attempt to illustrate this point, let’s take a look at the Buckeyes against Penn State – an offensive debacle of reasonable scale.
The run-pass distribution is even on first down, and the average yards gained on first down are only one yard off.
The passing stats are slightly skewed because the final two first downs were spikes to stop the clock but they needed to be classified as a pass for this unscientific study. There was also one sack for nine yards that decreased an already paltry 1st down passing average. Pryor was 3-for-10 passing for 38 yards on first down if you do not count the sack and intentional spikes (3-for-13, 29 yards if you do). Ohio State ran 11 times for 39 yards on first down.
In a strange coincidence, the average yards to gain on third down has the same spread as the yards gained on first down and is nearly exactly 10 yards minus the yards gained on first down. At first blush this may make sense but then you quickly realize that means second down was worthless. I did not break down second down, but I think these numbers tell the story.
So, what does this mean for Ohio State's play calling, you ask? Not much, really. I think it means that whether Ohio State ran or passed on first down they gained, on average, three yards – at best. I think it also means that the Buckeyes had virtually the same amount of yards to gain on third regardless of how they started that series of downs. I think it means, play calling is over analyzed and execution is king. I think it means, plain and simple, Ohio State cannot execute on offense.