In 2013, Ohio State had one of the best run offenses in the nation. Part of their success came from two-back sets, or more accurately, by motioning a slot receiver - their Percy Harvin role - into the backfield. They lost, in my opinion, the best college RB in football last year, but returning the dynamic Braxton Miller and all their Harvinites, two back sets will likely become more prominent in this year's offensive iteration. In this piece, we will look at why these sets are so difficult for defenses to defend, both from a pre-snap standpoint, and after the snap.
The Buckeyes base set will present four vertical threats. Often times, this will be with 11 personnel, with two split ends, a slot, an H-back, and a RB. At times Meyer will deploy more of a true TE look, and involve a flanker and slot or show a trips type set.
Motioning 11 personnel or 10 personnel to 21 or 20 personnel presents a very different look for defenses. Let me explain.
From 11 personnel, the offense has four vertical threats, along with maintaining a horizontal threat and the potential overloading one side of the field.
But now a slot motions into the backfield on the opposite side of the QB. You're defense has made all their calls, adjustments, and communication, and suddenly they are presenting with a completely different set of threats, especially in the run game.
Two-Back Run Game
Now we will simply look at the different run plays that OSU will deploy from a two back set. We'll briefly describe the theory behind each play, and how they work in concert with the whole, but to keep this post somewhat in check, we'll keep it fairly succinct.
The Offensive Tendency
There is some marginal advantage that the defense has against the Buckeye's two-back set. It is almost certain that the initial RB will either run between the tackles or act as a lead back. The motion slot receiver (‘H') will almost certainly be an outside run threat. More often than not, the backs will run in the direction that sees them cross the QB in such a way that they will run opposite of their initial alignment.
The Power Read, colloquially known as the Inverted veer, is a man blocking scheme that utilizes Power O blocking along with a read. I've previously discussed the two-back inverted veer and how it is intended to work, and other places also discuss and show it in detail
This is similar to the inverted veer, and is a large reason why the colloquially known "Inverted Veer" is not the preferred terminology. Again, the H runs directly across the QB's face. However, instead of a Power blocking scheme in front of the run play, inside zone blocking is used in the direction opposite the H-motion. Typically on an inside zone, a FB of H-back will block the backside pursuit, but in this case, the read blocks that DE. So the RB will bypass the EMOL and look to block the alley defender in case of a give.
We're now going back to a man blocking scheme, but this time running a counter trey type blocking scheme. Also run from a single back set with an H-back, it works the same for a two-back set. In this case, the guard opposite the H will pull and kick out the backside DE. Meanwhile, the RB will lead through the hole and act as a lead blocker for the QB in case he keeps. In this case, the QB can still read the playside DE and decide to give if the playside DE crashes. How this works is that the initial QB steps (he slides toward the play) along with the motion of the H make the backfield motion look exactly like the Power Read.
We can further utilize the RB as a FB, and continue to threaten the edge. This time, however, OSU's QB will read the backside DE (or, at times, the backside DT) while the OL utilizes an outside zone blocking scheme. This also allows the QB to threaten outside to the backside of the play. The different defender being read and the additional threat causes defenses problems.
But when you have a RB like Hyde, or the other RB's on the Buckeye's roster, it would be a waste not to also utilize them in the run game. On top of that, it forces the defense to react to one more thing. And on top of that, it works as another counter to the scrap exchange type calls that defenses attempt to run to stop the standard "read" plays. In this case, the OL will block inside zone toward the H initial alignment. The RB will run a standard inside zone read type play, with the QB reading the DE. If the DE stays, the QB gives; if the DE crashes, the QB keeps. If the QB keeps, he then looks to the defender outside the DE and reads him. If that defender crashes to the QB, he pitches to the H; if that defender keeps widening outside, the QB will keep and cut up field.
Now the defense is sucked up to stop the run. They are threatened both ways between the tackles, they are threatened outside in both directions. Also now as a flood concept, the sail pattern provides an easy read for the QB while threatening any type of defense because of the way it overloads a side of the field. With three different levels along the sideline and a route threatening the middle of the field, it can pick up a lot of yards in huge chunks, and immediately threaten the endzone.
Two back sets provide the run game to have a lot of diversity. I've written about using multiple backs in the run game, both for standard designed runs and read option runs. This also threatens the jet sweep, which has it's own benefits. While adding an additional back to the backfield reduces the vertical threat and mitigates some of the ability to spread the field horizontally, adding the wrinkle to even a spread offense adds to what defenses must account for in preparing for your team. And OSU makes as good use of these more powerful formations as any other team in college football.