Like a kid opening a present on Christmas morning, Urban Meyer can’t wait to tear off the wrapping and bows to see what his latest Ohio State offense will do.
Ohio State went 12-0 in Meyer’s first season as coach last year. But it wasn’t because the offense was a NASCAR racer. It was more like the Buckeyes stayed ahead of the field by patching and tuning an old but reliable form of transportation.
Quarterback Braxton Miller’s legs carried the Buckeyes for the first half of the season. After that, the offensive responsibilities were spread out, with tailback Carlos Hyde and the wide receivers assuming their share of the load.
Meyer, a major proponent of the hurry-up, no-huddle spread attack, barely recognized his offense. There was no H-back, a central figure as he designed the lethal Florida offenses built around the hybrid runner-receiver Percy Harvin. And most of the time, it just looked like something Woody Hayes might have installed.
Meyer concedes that the 2012 Buckeyes bore only a slight resemblance to the cutting-edge attack he had at Florida because H-back Jordan Hall was injured most of the year.
“That whole part of the offense didn’t exist, which is tough,” he said during fall camp. “If you evaluate last year’s offense, we were a pro offense. There was not a lot of read components (and) that’s the essence of what spread football is.”
This year, Hall is finally healthy and figures to be a fly in the ointment of defenses, flitting out wide at times, into the slot at others, and running out of the backfield at yet other times.
“You’ll see a different style of offense this year,” Meyer vowed.
The thing is, the Buckeyes averaged 37 points a game last season, and that was with Miller having only middling success on medium-to-deep throws, Hall watching from the sidelines and the receivers having a good but not great year.
Now Miller is directing the offense instead of just taking snaps and taking off. And Ohio State’s offense is much closer to what Meyer had hoped it would and could be.
Tom Herman, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, also sounds like a guy who just handed the keys to a Bugatti.
“I don’t know if I would ever say (we’re) fully loaded,” he said of the offense. “But we are closer than we’ve ever been. That’s exciting.”
He makes an interesting point that the coaching staff can’t let their imaginations run wild. Even if the playbook is wide open now, that doesn’t mean putting five receivers out wide or running the Statue of Liberty play is a good idea — just because you can do it.
“You have to be careful to temper your enthusiasm and creativity, because at the end of the day, you can overthink and overcoach yourself,” he said. “(We have an) identity. This is who we are and this is what we are going to do and we are going to do it better than anybody in the country.”
So the playcalling will undoubtedly include a few more razzle-dazzle plays. But when it comes to the nitty-gritty on third-and-short, don’t look for a double-reverse when the best play might just be a fullback run off tackle.
That doesn’t mean the veteran players don’t want to take the new-look offense out for a spin.
“There’s a lot of speed that just got infused into the program with these guys coming in to go with all the great skill players that we had here,” offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said. “There’s a quicker edge to us than a year ago.”
Backs Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson are lightning-quick freshmen who add an upgrade to the team’s speed. Young wide-outs have done the same to the receiving corps.