Know Your Opponent: Braxton Miller and OSU's Counter Trey

This is a first in a series of film breakdowns of Ohio State's core offensive plays leading into the Hokies' matchup with the Buckeyes on September 6th.

Much has been made over the last decade about how Urban Meyer's offense has elevated football programs at Utah, Florida, and now Ohio State. Meyer uses elements of a variety of classic offenses in a hybrid spread system that forces defenses to account for multiple options in space on every snap. However, any good offensive system is built upon classic principles that have a solid history of success. In Meyer's system, the quarterback position harkens back to the era of the single wing "tailback." In the old single wing, the tailback received the direct snap much like a quarterback receives the snap in the shotgun today. From the alignment, the tailback was required to be a triple threat; run inside with power, outside with speed, or throw downfield.

Enter Braxton Miller. Miller is a three-year starter returning for his senior season with the Buckeyes. Ohio State's combination of misdirection, play-action, and the best athletes in the B1G get receivers open, and while Miller can be an erratic thrower, he has the arm and athleticism to hurt teams downfield. However, Miller is most dangerous as a runner on designed quarterback running plays. Many Hokie fans who watch Ohio State's game film from last season will quickly draw the comparison to UCLA's Brett Hundley. Hundley torched the Hokies on long run, after run in the first half of the Sun Bowl. However, Hundley has a bigger arm, and was most effective escaping the pocket on broken plays. Miller is a very good scrambler, but his best runs come on designed plays. Ohio State uses single wing man blocking (play side blocks down, back side pulling linemen kick out and lead) and Miller is a natural cutting off those blocks.

A bread and butter single wing play that highlights Braxton Miller's special talents is the quarterback counter trey. It features every element of the single wing: down blocking, pulling, misdirection that forces defenses to mute their pursuit, and great athleticism at the quarterback position.

Let's break down the play itself.

On the play side, the blocking rule for the right tackle and right guard is to step through the inside gap, then down a gap, and keep on their tracks until they hit a defensive lineman or a linebacker. Against a four-man front, the play side offensive tackle will block down to the three-technique gap. If the tackle is playing a one-technique, the tackle will continue on his path and seal the middle linebacker inside. The right guard will block down on a one-technique, or seal the middle linebacker inside if there is a three-technique tackle.

On the back side, the left guard pulls and kicks out the right defensive end. The center and left tackle seal to their left to prevent any penetration.

In the backfield, the motion looks similar to a read option. The quarterback fakes a handoff to the running back going left to right. After the fake, the quarterback takes a hard counter-step to his left, causing the linebackers to flow opposite of the running back in anticipation of the quarterback running outside of the left tackle. The quarterback plants his left foot, and then follows his tailback (who is now a lead blocker) through the hole where he cuts off the block of the tailback.

This play looks like a complex misdirection play due to the fake hand off, but otherwise it is no different than the old Redskins counter trey which utilized single wing misdirection concepts and incorporated them in a pro-style offense.


On this Redskins version, two linemen pull on from the back side of the play while the play side linemen block down, just like Ohio State. The key differences are that Ohio State uses a running back or H-Back as the second "pulling lineman", and the quarterback is taking the counter step and running the football.

Two key teaching points are:

  1. The jab step freezes the linebackers, which allows the right tackle or guard to seal them inside and it allows the tailback the extra second to get to his angle and set up the block.
  2. The quarterback runs to daylight off the tailback's block. The lead guard has to adjust to the defensive end as well. If the end jumps inside, the guard has to be athletic enough to seal him inside. Otherwise he kicks him out to create an alley.

Ohio State will use this play at almost every conceivable place on the field, down, and distance because it can be adjusted on the fly to the defensive alignment. On this first play, Miller is in a short yardage situation needing a yard on fourth down.

In this situation, the left side of the Nebraska defensive line stunts through the inside gap. The defensive tackle aligns as a three-technique, but slants through the one gap. The right guard and tackle don't have to adjust because they follow their rule. The defensive tackle crosses the guard's face, so the guard seals him inside. The tackle doesn't have anyone in the inside gap to block, so he moves on to the linebacker.

The left guard pulls across and finds the defensive end crashing inside. Rather than trying to kick him out with a bad angle, the guard adjusts on the fly and seals him inside. Because of the inside crash stunt, the strong safety jumps outside to contain the play. Miller has a beautiful alley and is off to the races.

Meyer uses a slightly different version of this counter trey against Michigan. The Buckeyes align an H-Back to the left side, which heightens the possibility of a power lead with the tailback and H-Back as lead blockers to the left. But, they come back to the right with the counter trey.

By rule, the Buckeye right side blocks gap-down-linebacker. However, the right tackle takes a poor angle at the Michigan inside linebacker. Michigan blitzes off the edge, so the left guard has to kick out the blitzer. The missed block on the linebacker kills the play.

Against Michigan State, Meyer called the same counter trey regularly, but did it mostly from an empty backfield without a tailback. For this version, the H-Back is the second lead blocker. He will align on the left side, pull across, and drive out the first defensive player to cross his face. Miller then cuts off the block of the H-Back.


It is interesting to note that the Buckeyes exclusively used the empty backfield version of the counter trey against Michigan State. I am not sure if that adjustment stemmed from something different that Michigan State did alignment wise, or if the adjustment was made in response to a weakness that Meyer spied on film. The Spartans used a five defensive back alignment with four defensive linemen and two linebackers aligned as inside backers much like the Hokies use in nickel.

The Hokies will have a small but lightening quick defensive line, but down blocking can negate some of that advantage while the backfield misdirection can freeze the linebackers. Bud Foster initially used a very passive scheme against teams (Clemson mostly) that used single wing components. However, against Denard Robinson and Michigan, Foster eliminated much of the key reading for his linebackers and focused instead on accounting for all gaps. That same approach was much more effective against Clemson in 2012. Miller is a much better thrower, but with the Buckeyes replacing most of their offensive line and without second round draft pick, running back Carlos Hyde, stopping Miller as a single wing tailback will be critical to any success the Hokies achieve.


The Hokies will have to play very disciplined to contain this. I sincerely hope we can find several defenders that can provide the secure open-field tackling that made Kyle Fuller so clutch.

It's all about The VPISU
VT '10, Born & Raised in the 804.
Fracking hard in Bakken.
GO: Freeman Rebels, Keydets, Black Knights (the VMI of the North), NY Rangers & Giants, and ATL Braves.

Tech is one good QB away from making the OSU game a close contest.

French, like you mentioned, I think Foster plays a primary gap-read responsibility from his backers, especially since they have very limited game experience.

Why wouldn't the lineman shift right (N to the 3, T to a 1) when OSU lines up this way? Still allows gap coverage by the backers in the event that the handoff stays on the left side (i.e. draw, counter).


That's an interesting idea,when they see the lineup, stunt and either have the oline shift further away from the downblocks making them pursue further then have the backfield shift the opposite direction to cover the gaps that way. Allow the block to move them into position of their new gap assignment.

Exactly. I envision Foster stunting 75% of the game to try and confuse their "relatively" inexperienced lineman.


Well, our next play that we will highlight is the QB counter off a outside zone read. That has the QB going opposite of the tailback. I don't want the linebackers sitting back and reading plays at all. I want all 7/8 guys coming forward to an assigned gap and take everything away. If Miller or the tailback can break through the wall and make plays, so be it. Sitting back and reading keys will be a slow death because it takes away any chance you have of covering down field, even with our talented corners.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Oh, I'm with you on sticking with assignments. It's a fine line with this offense, because just as easy as it is to run the counter-trey, is equally easy to run play-action behind crashing backers or QB counters opposite of flow.

One thing is for sure, I do trust Foster to make necessary adjustments to this offense. It's kind of a better version of GT's O, except in the shotgun.


The corners are going to be on islands a ton. But, their inverted cover 2 with the corners showing man and then dropping deep while the safeties come forward could trick Miller into some interceptions off play action.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Had that initial thought as well. Foster definitely has some advantage in that area because of the play of Fuller and Facyson. Both can be utilized heavily in run stopping, as well as dropping back in coverage on the inv-cover-2.

I'm not impressed with Miller as a passer (something of which I think caused him to stay in school), and think we can wreck havoc if we stay disciplined stopping the run.


I love the single wing. I grew up in Giles Co. and watched the local high school run it to perfection under Steve Ragsdale. They actually went undefeated and won the state championship last year. It's a very potent offense when ran correctly.

Go Hokies

Coach Ragsdale is a very bright coach. There is nothing new under the sun in football. There are just trends and different ways of utilizing old concepts.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Agreed. The guy never played football (he was a college basketball player), but he took what he knew from his dad and turned Giles into a powerhouse in SWVA. They've won a state championship in every decade since the 80s. It's awesome to see the new wrinkles of the single wing work their way back into the college and professional levels.

Go Hokies

Ragsdale retired a few years ago. His assistant Jeff Williams has picked up nicely it appears.

So we have to hope OSU's new OL isn't very good at executing this?

Well, they handled Michigan with a more aggressive scheme. And Clemson struggled in 2012 after shelling them in 2010. Miller is a great player, but as Michigan State showed, if you can take away the other options, you limit his effectiveness. That only happens with an aggressive approach. Sitting back with your inside linebackers exposes them to down blocks if they can't physically beat those blocks. Jack Tyler's worst game as a Hokie was the 2011 ACCCG because he was getting blindsided by Clemson tackles all game long and couldn't gt off the blocks.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Is there any chance that in the coming years the counter trey becomes a significant part of Loeffler's scheme, especially if Durkin or Motley see significant playing time?

"It's time to go play Virginia Tech Football longer and harder than anybody else in America!!" -- Justin Fuente
"I put a brick in Sacksburg today." -- Cam Phillips

I expect that the counter and QB power will be core parts of the offense if Durkin gets the job. I am not sure if Motley is physically strong enough to be utilized as a 20 carry per game runner, but he could certainly be used in a limited capacity on those plays.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Didn't Loeffler use the quarterback counter trey last year? That play almost never seemed to work though, LT would gain maybe 1 yard per attempt.

I just hope SL can outsmart their D-coordinator and put enough points on the board to give our defense some help. I think it's a winnable game if our defense manages to play lights out and SL can manage to get a couple of athletes out in space.

If a tree falls in Scott Stadium does it make a sound?

Strikes me as overly optimistic to expect our offense to carry us after the last two years. I know we'll have some more playmakers in place, but...either our defense shows up and Bud schemes the hell out of Meyer and shuts Miller down or we're in for a long night. Comparisons to Hundley are going to give me nightmares all summer long.

Actually...nevermind. I have all summer to think about their inexperienced O line and Juice Williams and DBU and by August I'll be arguing we should be favored in that game and expecting to win 31-10. MILLER GONNA GET DADI'ED.

I think if the Offense can roll a few yards and keep some decent possession time, get the defense some rest, we can stay in it or win. It will depend on the offense though.
If it comes together, we get some momentum and confidence and move the ball, our defense can stay rested well enough to last the whole game and our bruiser of a punter can keep their field long.

1st downs, a few holes in the line for a RB, a few open WRs to keep them spread and keep the field long for OS.

And not allow any negative special teams plays.

"That move was slicker than a peeled onion in a bowl of snot." -Mike Burnop

But maybe cause a few?

"Our job as coaches is to influence young people's lives for the better in terms of fundamental skills, work ethic, and doing the right thing. Every now and again, a player actually has that effect on the coaching staff." Justin Fuente on Sam Rogers

Here's my thoughts...

I don't think Braxton Miller and his WR's will be more potent than Tajh Boyd (featuring Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins) were in 2012.

I think Bud will attack with his 62 look, Kendall and Facyson will be left on an island, and they will win those battles. Ronny Vandyke / Chuck Clark and Kyshoen Jarret will attack the edges along side Ekanem and Dadi. Corey / Big Lu / Chase and Deon Clarke will battle in the middle. Daycare is still open out on the CB islands. Hopefully Bonner improves his tackling.

I see this game being pretty close if we tackle well.

So if you're Bud Foster, how would you gameplan for this? Make sure you have good gap control? I assume there's more to it than that.