Spring Game Showed Portion of Offense

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Football
Spring Game Only Showed Portion of Meyer’s Offense

By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — 81,112.

That was the official number of fans who braved the blustery winds and spattered showers to watch Ohio State’s annual spring game inside Ohio Stadium earlier this month.

Though much of the traditional scarlet and gray apparel was covered by shiny red ponchos, Buckeye fans braved the element to watch their team hold a glorified scrimmage in the Horseshoe.

Braxton Miller
Photo by Jim Davidson
Braxton Miller

Fans came to see sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller and tight end Jake Stoneburner. They came to catch a glimpse of John Simon’s dominant spring and to see how much Mickey Marotti’s off-season workout program had changed the bodies of OSU’s returning player.

There were many reasons that more than 80,000 people decided to watch a practice game on a rainy Columbus day, but one stood out among the rest.

Urban Meyer.

Urban Meyer out on the field watching Kenny Guiton perform during the spring game.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Urban Meyer

Ohio State’s first-year head coach has been all the rave since he was brought onboard to right the ship back in November. While Meyer was out recruiting, however, interim head coach Luke Fickell coached the Buckeyes to one final defeat in the Gator Bowl.

Many fans expressed gratitude and appreciation for what Fickell was forced to endure after long-time head coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign in the off-season. Meyer’s decision to retain Fickell as the team’s defensive coordinator made the transition that much sweeter, but even a Fickell-less Buckeyes team would have been all right with most fans, so long as it came with one stipulation.

A brand new offense.

Ohio State’s offense reached record lows in 2011, finally hitting the rock bottom of Tresselball conservatism in the first season without Tressel since 2000. The Buckeyes finished near the bottom of the Big Ten in nearly every offensive category—and near the bottom of the country in a number of them.

It was time for a change.

Enter one of the most well-respected offensive minds in the game today, and it stands to reason that Ohio State fans would have sold out the stadium on a sunny day just to see Meyer’s new offense in action.

Despite the bad weather, which ruined Meyer’s hopes of setting the NCAA Spring Game attendance record in his first year, fans were treated to a pass-happy scrimmage. The two teams accounted for a total of 55 passes, including 31 from Miller alone.

The game had a completely different feel from past seasons under Tressel, but was it really the Urban Meyer offense Ohio State fans will see in the fall?

In one word: no.

“We just ran our basic stuff,” Miller said after the Scarlet Team’s 20-14 victory.

“Probably about 30 percent (of our offense).”

Off to a rough start.

In some places, Meyer would be lucky to have 30 percent of his offense installed by the end of spring camp, but offensive coordinator Tom Herman put the Buckeyes through a crash-course on the new style of attack during the first 15 practices with this new group.

Early on, there was more crashing than anything else.  

“I started to worry there a little bit after the first few practices,” Herman said in the days leading up to the spring game.

“We hit a wall offensively about practice four or five, and it resembled nothing like what a Division I college offense is supposed to look like. Then, about practice eight, we started to have a little success and a little momentum.”

That momentum continued to build over the final six or seven practices of the spring. Now when Herman and Meyer put on the film, they can see the offense starting to look like the one Meyer ran at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.   

“We’re not where we need to be in the throw game right now,” Herman admitted, echoing the words of his head coach.

“In the run game, we’re still not where we need to be, but realistically we’re on schedule if not ahead of schedule.”

That’s good news, because the offense Ohio State put on display in this year’s spring game is not the Urban Meyer offense. It’s not the Tom Herman offense, or even the Ed Warinner offense.

“We did some things offensively, that is not who we are,” Meyer said after the spring game.

“However, I wanted to get some things done. We've taken one of the worst passing teams in America a year ago, and we've got to find out if you can do that.”

With the running game ahead of schedule, Meyer felt he could afford to focus primarily on the passing game; or more specifically, on figuring out which players he might be able to count on to make plays in the passing.

“Throwing the football is like anything, as often as you can throw it, you can get better and better and better and teach off the video tape,” Meyer said.

“To do that today, that was the purpose of what we did.”

The real Meyer offense starts in the backfield. It’s misdirection. It’s double-teaming the defensive tackle up front while the quarterback reads the backside end. It is designed to put guys in motion, with the idea of getting the ball out to the perimeter, where linebackers are forced to make difficult tackles on the run in the open field.

That is what we saw in practice during the days leading up to the spring game, but Meyer didn’t show any of that to the 80,000 fans in attendance. He also didn’t show much of his top offensive weapon, at least not the part that makes him so dangerous on the football field.

“I’ve got a frickin’ dude at quarterback,” Meyer said, “don’t let him run the football.”

Power football on display

Meyer’s new offense may start with Miller’s ability to make plays with his legs, but it is not an exact replica of the one Denard Robinson is running in Ann Arbor.

Not by a longshot.

It’s a hybrid, a combination of a number of different spread attacks Meyer pieced together from around the country. He has been tweaking it for years, ever since he was a first-time head coach at Bowling Green.

No matter where he has been, it has had one basic principle.

Power football.

“Nowadays, most offenses have some form of the zone-read,” Herman said.

“I think we do it about as good if not better than everybody else in the country because we’re so focused on it, we believe in it so much, our staff is aligned. Our kids believe in it, and it is a physical, physical run play for us. There is no finesse in our run game. We may be in the shotgun, but there is absolutely no finesse in our run game.”

That is not what Ohio State fans were treated to in the spring game. If this offense is going to work, it’s going to need more than one dimension. Urban Meyer knows that.

“Obviously if you can't be balanced you won't win,” he said.

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