Does Meyer’s Offense Need Playmakers at Receiver?
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — There has been a lot of talk this spring about the lack of production from the wide receiver position during Ohio State’s 6-7 season in 2011.
Most of it has come from Urban Meyer.
The team’s new head coach, a former wide receivers coach himself at Notre Dame, was less-than thrilled with the group of supposed playmakers he inherited from the previous staff in Columbus.
Meyer has made it a priority to get the ball into the hands of his best playmakers at every stop he has made as a head coach, but does his offense actually depend on it?
The answer is yes, and no.
The team Meyer took over this January is certainly not on the same level as the one he coached to a BCS National Championship back in 2008. Not only did that team have Tim Tebow and a loaded defense led by Joe Haden, Brandon Spikes and Carlos Dunlap, but Meyer had playmakers all over the field.
Percy Harvin was the star of the team, but Tebow also had speedsters Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps in the backfield, along with targets like Aaron Hernandez, Louis Murphy, David Nelson and Riley Cooper to throw to in the passing game.
That group of receivers—including Hernandez—was one of the best ever assembled. In fact, the group combined to catch 258 passes for 3,091 yards this past season…in the National Football League.
“Tim Tebow was surrounded by playmakers all over the place,” Meyer said.
“He had Percy Harvin to his right, Louis Murphy to his left and Aaron Hernandez in the slot to his right. His five offensive linemen are all starting in the NFL now. Tim is a really good football player, but he’d be the first to tell you that the guys around him were really good players.”
That team won the national title, but Meyer has certainly done more with less than almost any football coach in the country. Bowling Green was hardly loaded with playmakers when Meyer took over the program in 2001. The Falcons were 2-9 the previous season under Gary Blackney, but Meyer’s new offense took everyone by surprise.
Under Meyer, Bowling Green went on to become the first MAC school to beat three BCS teams in one season. They set a number of offensive records, and were ranked as high as 16th in the country in scoring while he was there.
Meyer had the same type of effect at Utah, where they went undefeated, averaging 46 points per game, while racking up 520 yards of offense a night.
Formula For Success
The key ingredient in all of Meyer’s stops as a head coach has been the quarterback. Whether it was Josh Harris at Bowling Green, Alex Smith at Utah or Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida, Meyer has always had—or developed—a playmaker at the trigger position.
More than anything else, Meyer’s offense is about an offensive versus defensive numbers game. He is trying to create a numbers advantage for the offense, similar to a basketball fast break.
Adding the read option, with a quarterback who can make it all work, gives the offense a fair fight—11 offensive players against 11 defensive players. Now if the quarterback can read one defender who doesn’t need to be blocked, it actually puts the defense at a numerical disadvantage.
If the defensive end stays home or goes inside to stop the run up the middle, the quarterback has an option to run to the sideline and take it up field himself, option the ball to the receiver running the option with him or find an open wide receiver down field for a pass.
Meyer believes he has a quarterback who can run the offense, and he may have a running back—or two—in Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde, who can allow him to recreate the power run game he used at Florida with Tebow.
Where Do Playmakers Come In?
With a dangerous running quarterback, and a pair of good running backs, Meyer has almost everything he needs to run his offense effectively. His goal is to make the opposing team defend the entire football field—all 53 yards of width and 100 yards of length.
For that, he will need some guys with quickness and vision to make plays on the edge the way Harvin did at Florida. Just as importantly, however, Meyer needs his receivers to get open down the field if defenses are going to play their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage.
With the way Meyer attacks the perimeter, many defensive coordinators are forced to bring safeties into the box to help tackle in space, especially if the guys getting the football are able to make the first defender miss.
In Meyer’s system, this gives the offense a "plus one," or one man advantage, which means they are probably going to run a option play, or throw the ball down the field against man-to-man coverage.
This is why Meyer’s system worked to perfection at Florida.
Opposing defenses were so worried about Tebow, Harvin, Rainey and Demps running the ball that they were forced to play their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, or risk one of those speedsters getting loose in the open field.
This left their defensive backs in man-to-man coverage against Hernandez, Murphy, Nelson, Cooper and Deonte Thompson. It simply wasn’t fair, and it explains why Tebow—a running quarterback—threw 88 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions during his four-year career with the Gators.
All of his receivers were in man coverage, and they were almost always better than the guy covering them.
That is the essence of Urban Meyer’s spread offense.
Despite what it may seem from afar, it is run-oriented with the playmakers taking center-stage, not the scheme. The goal is to drive defenses crazy by using the entire width of the field in the running game—and quick screens—then let the playmakers go to work down the field when teams adjust by bringing more defenders into the box.
That is why the Buckeyes desperately need playmakers to emerge if they are going to be as explosive as Meyer would like to be on offense.
“It's not like it's a secret,” first-year receivers coach Zach Smith said.
“I think everyone in the country knows the pressure is on them. It's been made very clear by Coach Meyer and myself.”
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