Ohio State’s Offense Looking More Like the Meyer of Old
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — There was a play in the 2006 SEC championship game where Percy Harvin made everyone else look foolish; everyone that is except for Urban Meyer.
With the Florida Gators, at that point 11-1 and ranked No. 4 in the country, clinging to an ugly 24-21 lead over Arkansas early in the fourth quarter, Harvin changed the game on a single play. It’s something Harvin did quite a few times while playing for Meyer in Gainesville.
Having already scored on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Chris Leak in the first half, Harvin lined up in the slot to the right and came in motion to his left. It looked like he was going to take the inside handoff from Leak on a jet sweep to the left, but Harvin stopped on a dime, cut back to his right on a counter play and went 67 yards untouched down the middle of the defense for a score.
“The one thing that separated Florida teams from previous teams was the speed factor, so we went out and recruited that,” said Ohio State assistant coach Stan Drayton, who spent time on Meyer’s staff at UF.
“This team is going to be a faster executing offense this year, and we just have to find a way to make it all fit within the system.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
Meyer’s offensive system was the one thing everyone knew about when he took the job at Ohio State almost two years ago. His Gators ranked in the top 10 in scoring from 2007-09, but Meyer’s prowess as an offensive visionary went back to his first days as a head football coach at Bowling Green.
After spending time with coaches like Randy Walker, Scott Linehan, Rich Rodriguez and Kevin Wilson, Meyer began to develop an option-based spread attack that would make him the envy of nearly every college football program in the country.
Only that’s not the offense Meyer ran during his first season at Ohio State.
“If you look at our offense last year, we were a pro offense,” Meyer said.
“There were not a lot of read components ... which is kind of the essence of what spread football is. That really didn’t exist for us.”
With a lack of speed and dynamic playmaking ability on the perimeter, Meyer and first-year offensive coordinator Tom Herman committed to the inside zone power run game featuring 230-pound tailback Carlos Hyde.
Hyde, who will sit out the first three games of this season due to suspension, nearly became Meyer’s first 1,000-yard tailback last year in a system that produced the 10th best rushing attack in the nation. He would have gotten there rather easily if not for a knee injury that cost him the better part of four games in the middle of the year, but Meyer’s real weapon in year one with the Buckeyes was the sophomore under center.
“We even did some single-wing, which means a direct snap to the quarterback,” Meyer said, “and one of our best plays was the quarterback counter because he’s our best player.
“You’ll see a different style of offense this year.”
With Miller and Hyde carrying most of the workload last season, the Buckeyes still managed to lead the Big Ten in scoring at over 37 points per game – nearly a two-touchdown increase per contest from the previous season.
Meyer’s offense has almost always made a significant jump in year two at whatever program he is coaching. His teams, on average, rack up 70+ yards and nearly 10 points more in year two than they did in his first year running a program.
A big part of that is the time it takes to truly understand the nuances of Meyer’s offensive attack.
“You can tell that our offense has a year of experience and we’re moving faster, things are clicking,” said fifth-year senior tailback Jordan Hall.
“The running holes are even bigger than they were last year. We’re completing deep balls in practice. It’s just like our offense is on a higher level than it was last year.”
Most of these guys have been together for a couple years now. Quarterback Braxton Miller is entering his third season as the starting quarterback at Ohio State, second in Meyer’s offense. He’ll be joined by four returning starters on the offensive line – all seniors – and an experienced group of players to surround the team’s Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback.
“Urban and I had a conversation about this a few days ago just in passing, we feel like given the talent that we have now, we feel like we can get this thing clicking on all cylinders,” said Drayton, who was coaching the running backs at Florida during Meyer’s first title run.
“We've got speed, we've got some depth in some critical positions right now from a skill standpoint on offense, and we've got a quarterback that's very knowledgeable of what it is that we're asking him to do. We're trying to get things full steam ahead with every arsenal that we have from a personnel standpoint and every arsenal that we have in our playbook, we're trying to put it all out there on display this year.”
According to the team’s quarterback, the Buckeyes only used about three-quarters of the playbook last season, and it was a lot less than that in games like Michigan and Wisconsin. Meyer and Herman were content to turn and hand the ball to No. 34 out of the backfield, and while that is still going to be a foundational element to Ohio State’s identity in 2013, there should be a lot more to the Buckeyes’ attack on offense this fall.
“It's always going to start with the inside power game and the inside zone play, but to be able to complement that now on the edges and the perimeter is what makes the whole thing work,” Drayton said.
“We were a little one-dimensional last year. Now we're going be a little bit more multiple in our approach. You're going to see us striking on all cylinders this year, and we were not capable of doing that last year.”
While they will miss Hyde for the first three games, and backup Rod Smith for the season-opener, the Buckeyes should benefit from the return of Jordan Hall and the emergence of junior wideout Evan Spencer this fall. Drayton and Meyer also have a wide array of running back options to choose from early in the year, along with maybe the fastest group of freshmen playmakers Ohio State has ever seen.
“We’re a faster team,” Meyer said of the 2013 Buckeyes.
“What is the spread? ... You force the defense to defend 53 1/3 yards (the width of the field). The Ohio State Buckeyes did not do that a year ago. You didn’t have to defend that. That’s all speed and creating space. I’m seeing more of that.”
Of course it also helps to have a guy like Harvin, who can take an inside handoff and go 67 yards for a score in the conference title game. The Buckeyes are hoping they found at least one of those in freshman Dontre Wilson.
“One thing about Dontre that you saw on film coming from high school was the speed factor and him playing in space, the ability to make people miss, the ability to explode and create explosive long-yardage plays,” said Drayton, who is coaching the freshman out of Texas this fall.
“He's doing phenomenally. What's surprising is that he's bringing a little big of maturity with him on the football field. Now he's got a long way to go as far as development and maturity, but on the field he's there and he seems like he's ready to play.”
If he is, the Buckeye offense could look a lot more like the one Meyer envisioned when he came to Columbus.