Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that Ohio State’s offense led the Big Ten in scoring in Urban Meyer’s first year, but don’t make the easy mistake in thinking Meyer has delivered on his promise.
What you witnessed last year wasn’t the high-flying spread offense Meyer vowed to bring to Ohio State – the one he used to guide Florida to two national championships in a three-year span from 2006-08.
Sure, there were three wideouts on the field for most plays and the quarterbacks lined up in the shotgun almost exclusively, but take a second to look closer at Ohio State’s offense from last year. You may be surprised to see what that really was.
“If you look at our offense, 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.”
So while it was probably fun to watch the Buckeyes dash through the season unbeaten while posting 37.2 points per game, that offense was really just a more efficient version of what Ohio State ran during the majority of the previous decade.
Wait, a dressed-up version of Tresselball?
Maybe that’s overstating it a little because there were differences in Meyer’s core philosophy. But the Buckeyes’ success offensively was more because of the freakish athleticism of quarterback Braxton Miller and the growth of the team’s skill-position players than it was a major shift in the paradigm of what Ohio State has done in the past.
But Meyer expects a complete transformation in the offense this year, and that’s because of a lot more than the maturation of the players returning. It’s also about the infusion of new, young talent.
Though the Buckeyes found a lot of success offensively last year, there was one main – and essential – component missing from a Meyer offense running at full capacity – speed. And partly because of that, Ohio State was limited to running roughly 60 percent of its entire playbook in games.
This year, that won’t be the case.
“Urban and I had a conversation about this recently just in passing, and with the talent that we have now, we can get this thing clicking on all cylinders,” said OSU running backs coach Stan Drayton, who held the same position under Meyer at Florida during the Gators’ title run in 2006. “We’ve got speed and 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.”
With freshman speedsters such as Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall and Ezekiel Elliott now on the roster, offensive coordinator Tom Herman sees Ohio State’s offense reaching the lofty heights Meyer envisioned from day one.
Ohio State won’t only have one of the best quarterbacks in the country – a Heisman Trophy candidate, in fact – it now will formally introduce a position it didn’t have the personnel to utilize a year ago – the hybrid “H” position. Finally, Miller won’t do it alone.
“The kid won the Big Ten player of the year last year, and he wasn’t even close to playing at his potential,” Herman said of Miller. “Now he’s more comfortable. He understands things.
“But a lot of it has to do with the improvement of our veterans on the perimeter, the improvement of our guys up front, and then the influx of some of the new talent – in Dontre and Ezekiel and (freshmen) James Clark and Jalin Marshall – so you’re able to kind of mix and match what you think needs to be accomplished rather than being handcuffed a little bit by the personnel you’ve inherited.”
What does the H mean? Maybe it isn’t a coincidence that there isn’t a definitive answer to that question, but what’s most intriguing about the position is that it can be used in an infinite amount of ways.
A floating offensive weapon who can line up in the slot or the backfield, the H can facilitate such plays as handoffs, reverses, options – you name it. And the beauty is the Buckeyes can run those plays from an array of formations while using the same personnel group.
The tricky part is identifying a player capable of being that versatile and, most importantly, dangerous. The Buckeyes think they’ve found a couple of people who can fill the role, most notably returning senior Jordan Hall and Wilson, a true freshman.
Hall played only 2½ games a season ago thanks to injuries, and his quickness, vision and pass-catching skills make him someone who can slide into the spot and make things happen in the open field.
“H is more of that hybrid guy that can do some things, and Jordan Hall is our best candidate to do that right now,” Meyer said. “Jordan Hall is a smart player, so he gives us that spot.”
Then there’s Wilson, who was simply described by Miller as a “lightning bolt.” Meyer wasted no time saying Wilson will be on the field as a freshman, saying that he brings the type of speed that was lacking in Ohio State’s offense last year. Herman, Drayton and all of his teammates agree.
“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,” Drayton said.
“He’s doing phenomenally. What’s surprising is that he’s bringing a little bit 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 surface he seems like he’s ready to play.”
Wilson has drawn the almost clichéd comparison to former Florida back/receiver Percy Harvin, who is arguably one of the most dynamic college football players of the last decade. But that’s the type of player Drayton said made Florida so special, and that’s the blueprint Meyer and his staff have followed at Ohio State.
“The one thing that separated Florida teams from previous teams was the speed factor, so we went out and recruited that,” Drayton said. “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. It should be fun.”
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