Herman expects more sophisticated offense

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Football
Herman Expects More Sophisticated Offense in 2013
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Back in 2005, Bill Belichick and then offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels made a trip down to Gainesville.

The braintrust of the New England Patriots wanted to meet with Florida’s new head football coach, a 40-year old named Urban Meyer who was coming off an undefeated season at Utah.

Meyer’s name had been on the rise since his first season at Bowling Green, when he turned a 2-9 football team into an 8-win outfit seemingly over night. The Falcons become one of the more dangerous offensive attacks in the country and Josh Harris, a kid nobody had heard of before Meyer arrived, suddenly became a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate.

His first team at BG scored over four touchdowns a game while averaging 30.3 points per contest. He was just getting started. The next year his offense tallied 65 touchdowns and was scoring over 40 points a game at Bowling Green.

He had a similar jump at Utah, from 28.7 points per game in year one to 45.3 in year two, and the Buckeyes are expecting a lot of progress offensively during the second year in this new system.

Tom Herman
Tom Herman

“It's exciting to be ahead and to be in that place where we're at right now this spring of being able to teach the finer points,” second-year offensive coordinator Tom Herman said.

“Last year was freshman level, maybe not even that, maybe remedial level, and so now we've graduated into sophomore or junior level. We're no where near graduate level yet, but we're working towards it.”

If Ohio State’s offense was operating a remedial level last fall, it’s scary to think how far they have come since about this time last spring.  

“Ridiculously far,” Herman quickly said. 

“The good thing is that you don't have to spend time—or you spend less time, at least—with the basics of formations and how we call things and the mechanics and the operation. And now you can start teaching the finer points a little bit.”

Watching Ohio State practice on Tuesday, it looked like the offense actually had a chance against Ohio State’s attacking defense. Part of that is the absence of veterans like John Simon and Johnathan Hankins, but keep in mind Nathan Williams and Zach Boren weren’t even practicing with the defense last spring.

Urban Meyer
Photo by Jim Davidson
Urban Meyer

“During spring practice, a comment was made something to the effect of it looked like a clown show out there,” Meyer said Wednesday.

“I received a lot of heat for that, but if I look back one year ago today, it looked like a clown show. It wasn’t because of bad players. We learned later it was very good players.”

Ohio State actually returns most of the starters from that offense, which went on to average more points (37.2) than any other offensive unit in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have four returning starters on the offensive line, including center Corey Linsley and senior left tackle Jack Mewhort.

The also have a pair of quality quarterbacks in Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller and senior backup Kenny Guiton, who delivered more last-minute heroics during Tuesday’s “winner/loser” day scrimmage with the defense.

“I think we can add a dimension to the running game with Braxton and we have backs stepping up other than Carlos (Hyde),” Guiton said last week.

Kenny Guiton
Photo by Jim Davidson
Kenny Guiton

“We have Jordan Hall splitting out at times, and then coming back into the backfield. We have a few more dimensions, but overall I don't see too many different things. We're just getting better at it.”

That’s a scary proposition for Ohio State’s opponents in 2013. Meyer figured his team was an eight or nine win squad last year, and that’s when he was planning to rely heavily on the defense.

Luke Fickell’s defensive unit struggled early in the season, but Miller and wideout Devin Smith delivered enough heroics to keep the offense afloat until they could find some type of rhythm in the run game.

Meyer’s offense is built on numbers. It’s the foundation of the spread attacks that tearing up college football and the NFL all of a sudden, but it’s predicated on having guys who can make people miss out in space.

The Buckeyes are hoping they have a few of those guys on the way in the 2013 freshman class, but they aren’t going to sit around waiting for Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall. Instead, Meyer had his staff out visiting places like Clemson and the San Francisco 49ers for different ideas this offseason.

On Tuesday, they worked out of a new “diamond” formation that Jim Harbaugh was using with star quarterback Colin Kaepernick last season. It combines elements of the pistol offense with the old wishbone formation.

“Some teams are doing some really good things,” Meyer said. “We studied the 49ers. They’re doing some really good things.”

With roots in the 1950s and ‘60s, the wishbone offense is really just a modification of the classic “T” formation. It’s also a variation of the “flexbone” formation Meyer ran quite frequently down at Florida.

This version, however, would allow the Buckeyes to get more of Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball into the game without having to take Carlos Hyde off the field. It might also work well with guys like Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott. 

“What I like about it is that you're spreading defenses out. You have to hold that widest receiver out there, and if you don't, I'm going to throw him something,” Guiton said.

“If you do go out there and hold him, then we have big backs that run up the middle. We have Braxton that will break somebody down and take off for 80. You just have a lot of dimensions to worry about when you're messing with our spread.”

The biggest area where Ohio State has to improve offensively, however, is fundamentals. The Buckeyes led the Big Ten in penalties per game last season. They also fumbled the ball 11 times while allowing Miller and Guiton to be sacked 30 times.

“What we are planning on doing offensively is being the best fundamental offensive unit in the country,” Herman said Wednesday.

“We felt like last year we were just trying to get lined up and understand the schemes and what to do.”

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