Meyer's Spread Failures & What We Can Learn

By Ross Fulton on February 16, 2012 at 9:00a
Tailbacks better be ready to run inside

I have spent the last two weeks idenfitying the underpining basis and building blocks for Urban Meyer's spread offense.

Despite the spread to run's numeric advantage, the spread offense is not a panacea, as OSU fans joyfully witnessed with Rich Rodriguez's failed Michigan tenure. Urban Meyer also experienced periods of relative offensive paucity while at Florida.

The spread, like any other offense, needs the right packages and personnel to function.  From Meyer's less successful offenses at Florida, we can gleam the essential building blocks to ensure success.      

The QB as Run-Threat

The point may be obvious, but an offense predicated upon gaining a numbers' advantage by having a QB run threat cannot thrive if the QB is not a run threat.

The 'bootleg plus' aspect of the zone read is rendered a nullity, if the backside defensive end feels little threat by the QB keeping the football. 


Urban Meyer's Zone Read


A spread offense without an athletic quarterback is thus getting the downside of being in shotgun without the added advantage.   

Meyer experienced this when he transitioned to Florida.  In 2004, Meyer's Utah Utes ran for 2,833 yards. Alex Smith -- a good athlete but not Tim Tebow or Vince Young -- ran for 631 yards and averaged 4.7 ypc, including sacks.

In 2005, Meyer's first year at Florida, his team's rush yards fell by nearly 38%.  The main culprit?  Chris Leak only rushed for 81 yards. Teams would clog the inside zone and slow play the read, negating the read's purpose.

The fix was personnel, in the form of Tim Tebow. As Chris Brown states, the upshot is that Meyer's offense is predicated upon having a QB run threat. The QB needn't be your best runner, but must be enough of a threat to make his defensive counterpart respect him and thus open up the run game.

Meyer's last year at Florida with John Brantley again demonstrated this fact.  Fortunately for Meyer, he walks into a situation where the Buckeyes' quarterback Braxton Miller is Ohio State's big play threat.

The Difficulties of Establishing the Inside Run Game

Tebow succeeded in establishing Florida's numbers' advantage, but his time at Florida revealed a secondary problem, namely the need to establish the inside run game.

As a general matter, the shotgun spread makes the downhill run game more diffult to execute. The tailback loses his ability to come downhill, use his vision and attack across the line of scrimmage, the play-action threat to open the run game is not as effective, and it is more dififcult to insert lead blockers (though I have shown how Meyer tries to attack this last issue).      

Spread offenses therefore still need physical players at the tailback position who are able to run between the tackles. Meyer, unfortunately, did not have those backs at Florida.

Instead, Meyer was left with scat backs who could not rectify the spread's inherent limitations. Meyer was able to somewhat overcome the problem for a time with two special talents in Tebow and Percy Harvin, but without those two he otherwise had problems running between the tackles.

Built more like a fullback, Meyer was able to create a numbers' advantage by using Tebow as a single-wing tailback on designed runs. Tebow himself became the Gators' inside run threat.  



During the Gators' 2008 national championship run, Meyer was able to manufacture the inside run game with a combination of Tebow and Harvin's unique talents. Harvin was able to motion between the slot and the backfield, quickly attacking downhill on power, counter and veer plays. The result was that Florida ran for 3,236 yeards.

With Harvin's departure, however, Meyer again found himself unable to generate an inside run game beyond Tebow. Florida's offense flat-lined as Tebow was counted on to provide the majority of the run offense, repeatedly carrying over 20 times a game.

The reality is that few quarterbacks beyond Tebow could take that type of pounding.  Meyer's last year at Florida reflected this reality.  Without a running quarterback, Florida had no consistent inside run game to speak of, sputtering as an offense.

Lessons Learned?  Keys for OSU's success

In his year away from football, Meyer has made known his desire for big tailbacks who can run the football between the tackles. While many OSU fans are focused upon who is the next Percy Harvin, the more essential aspect is establishing the inside run game and having tailbacks as the Buckeyes' leading rushers.

While Miller is an electric talent, he does not have the body to be Tim Tebow redux and take that punishment. Fortunately for Ohio State, tailback is perhaps Ohio State's deepest position.

Urban Meyer and Ohio State must establish the run game in conjunction with the QB run threat for his offense to fully thrive.       


Comments Show All Comments

Grayskullsession's picture

This seems to be where players like Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde are going to excel. Not only are both players reasonably fast, but they were heavily used with the inside run game. Add on Rod Smith, Brionte Dunn, and Warren Ball and our running back situation looks phenomenal. Hopefully with Braxton Miller's further development at QB with an actual QB coach Meyer can finally have a complete form of his spread attack.

"if irony were made of strawberries, we' d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now."

Doc's picture

Ross, another very informative article.  My question to you is this.  Why didn't Urban have a replacement for Tebow?  He knew his time was up.  Why didn't he recruit another player to fill his spot?  Either as a running back or a big bruising QB?  He now has Miller for three more years, will he make the same mistake when Braxton runs out of eligibility?  I have been wondering this for a few years now.




CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

AltaBuck's picture

I believe Cam Newton was the solution to that problem but he could not keep his hands off of laptops and cheat sheets.

I am Groot - Groot

Ross Fulton's picture

This. Though I think Brantley was a situation where Brantley was a local 5 star legacy so hard to pass on him.

Dean's picture

Obviously, I'm not Ross, but it seems that Meyer did recruit another player to fill Tebow's spot.  Unfortunately, that player coveted other people's laptops, and had to go.  Maybe he could've recruited another, but there aren't that many Tim Tebow/Cam Newton type talents out there.


EDIT: Curses! Foiled again!

ThirdLegLouie's picture

Urban did have a replacement for Tebow-- Cam Newton. but Cam got in some trouble and transferred. Also, Trey Burke would probably much happier with his role on the Florida team if Urban was still dictating offenses. 


EDIT-- WOW-- umm a little late to the part lol. sorry Doc

If you ain't a Silver Bullet, you're a target

Doc's picture

Thanks ALL of you for rubbing my nose in the fact that I forgot about Scam Newton;).  The laptop stealer would have done well in fla if he would have kept his nose clean.  It would be nice if Urbz can replace one Hiesman trophy winner with another in Cbus as well.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

Maestro's picture

Follow Cam Newton with Trey Burton and Jeff Driskel and it seems that they were actually trying to replicate Tebow somewhat.

vacuuming sucks

RedQueenRace's picture

When Emmanuel Moody transferred in he was supposed to be the power back but never succeeded in filling that role.

Hasbro's picture

Another very smart read. I didn't understand why Dunn and Ball were excited about being part of this scheme; now it makes sense.


Thanks, Ross.

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

One of my biggest concerns with being a spread team is our line physicality. If you notice across college football and pro, spread teams seem to really struggle in short yardage. I've seen too many spread teams that can't just line up under center and run the ball on 4th and 1 when they really need that critical yard. I don't remember ever seing Meyer's Florida squads struggle with this though (Tebow). I'm ok with running this offense, but I really hope we dont lose our identity as a good running team.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

AJ's picture

Ole Miss comes to my mind.

"Without winners, there wouldn't even be civilization." -----------Woody Hayes

DMcDougal24's picture

Was Rich Rod's failure in the B1G really predicated on poor offense? It seems to me that his offense worked fine and they lost because of their defense. The Michigan spread obviously was shut down by superior defenses, but in general the offense worked well. If I'm not mistaken, Brady Hoke is still running the Rich Rod offense with Denard but really shored up the defense. I'll be interested to see what kind of offense Brady Hoke has once Denard leaves.

Ross Fulton's picture

I could write an entire column about this ( maybe I will ). Yes RRods primary prob was D and special teams. But he had some O deficiencies, namely failing to continue to adapt his offense, like Oregon has done. He relied entirely upon the zone read and a rudimentary passing game, and defenses could adapt

hodge's picture

Please do.  Your work is fascinating.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Please do write that column! 

Along those lines: obviously, a successful offense must rack up yards and points, yet total yardage stats - taken out of context - can be somewhat misleading at times. My feeling is that RR's Michigan offenses looked better on paper than they were in reality, if that makes any sense.  

DMcDougal24's picture

If you do, please include your thoughts on Hoke's offense without Denard. Does he have roots in the spread?

RecruitBuck's picture

I think Dunn could push for some starting time. He has vision to cut back in the hole, which Hyde hasn't shown (he's almost strictly a straight downhill runner). 

michaec5's picture

I think hard down hill is what you would want to do, tire out the defensive line and then maybe hit them with a fly sweep or a zone read where they bite on the hard run play. Utilize Halls speed on the fly sweep and use him as reserve for when Hyde is tired. I honestly think that you will see Hyde with the starting slot, since there is no Full back in a spread, the running back has to be the strong downhill runner, imagine Beanie in this system.



GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

I hate saying this, but if Meyers offense can work against SEC defenses, we should dominate the B1G.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

RecruitBuck's picture

Gotta love Ross' writing though.

If I could "+1" this, I would.

Jdadams01's picture

Great write up, Ross. Do you envision Zach Boren getting more running opportunities to fill this need? I've always been shocked at how under used he is. Especially in short yardage. I know how valuable he is to blast that hole open, but there were tons of times when we needed a yard or two this past year that if Boren had gotten a quick handoff instead of going into the hole empty handed, he would've had the first easily.

raki's picture

I think Meyer had a replcament to Tim tebow, but that guy was invloved in some kind of illiegal activities and then went to some community college and then to AUBURN. I think thats the biggest reason Meyer left florida. So yes for meyer's offence to work we always need some dula threat quaterback.

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Well stated Ross. Not only has Meyer learned from the mistakes of his personal life, such as having balance and not getting burned out, but from his "football life" as well. Amazing that his "learning curve" at FLA also included two Natty Championships. No wonder we are on this site in mid-February and stoked as hell for the start of the season!

kcbrez's picture

Ross, I'm so glad you're here. What a fantastic piece! You can tell that you put a lot of additional work into really understanding what you are writing about. 

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Another excellent piece, Ross!

Please excuse me playing grammar police (even though I'm completely ignorant of the grammar terminology):

Built more like a fullback, Meyer was able to create a numbers' advantage by using Tebow as a single-wing tailback on designed runs.

You have the first clause-y thing "Built like a FB" modifying(?) Meyer instead of Tebow. Better is, "Meyer was able to create a numbers advantage by using Tebow, who is built more like a fullback, as a single-wing tailback on designed runs." Sorry, but this is a common error that I've frequently made myself (i.e., public service announcement).

Maestro's picture

Meyer is built more like a Buckstache

vacuuming sucks

Nappy's picture

I have a feeling when Meyer was trying to convince Dunn to stay he probably told him to look at Tebow's rushing numbers and expect that kind of productivity.  With Smith/Hyde/Dunn on the inside and Braxton/Marshall running outside of the tackles, this offense will definitely be able to spread the field.  I'd like to see a deep threat or two emerge this year to keep the safeties honest for 2013.  Of course a deep threat only works if you have a QB that can throw it. 

I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face

ChicagoBuck's picture

Thanks again Ross, another fantastic piece.  You fit perfectly with the other fine contributors to 11W.

In an ideal world, would Urban want a power runner at both QB and RB?  Or does he want only one power runner and preferably at the RB position? 

Grayskullsession's picture

My guess would be at RB. You dont want your QB to get too banged up. Even Tebow had to leave the game sometimes because he took so many hits. You let the RBs do the power running and you can switch them in and out more effectively.

"if irony were made of strawberries, we' d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now."

BigBuck623's picture

I'm concluding from this article that next year's run offense will be only 25% Dave.

Jason Priestas's picture

I love how Y is blocking Deion Sanders on the play diagrammed above.

Nappy's picture

You never had to block Deion, he wouldn't tackle you. He may be the best coverage corner of all time but maybe the least physical NFL player I can remember.

I met him at Radio Row before the Super Bowl and he couldn't have been more of a douche.  My friend asked for an autograph and he said "Quit pimpin' me"  He later got on air with a show in Miami and started bitching about people asking for autographs. 

I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face

Jason Priestas's picture

You should have punched him in the neck.

Nappy's picture

Theres just something about the Marion County Jail that makes me want to avoid it like the plague.

I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face

D. Anthony's picture

Defense is so much more important. Alabama and LSU really had nothing more than decent offenses... the defenses were incredible. We just need to see consistency, our D showed up so big in some games and the talent is there. I'm confident it will be way better next season. The offense will be way better for the simple fact of having coaches who won't make the QB's scared to death to release the ball...not to mention way more aggressive play calling. I was so sick of hearing how import the punt and throwing the ball into the stands were to our offense. Those things are important but we've been to happy to do both. Can't wait for next season!

D. Anthony

nw_ohio_Buckeye's picture

I was so sick of hearing how import the punt and throwing the ball into the stands were to our offense.

...classic, I thought blood was going to spurt from my eyeball last fall having to endure the decisions behind WalrusBall...

"The minute I think I'm getting mellow, I'm retiring. Who ever heard of a mellow winner?" ~ Woody Hayes 

nw_ohio_Buckeye's picture

Ross, in Meyer's 2nd season at Florida he seemed to do alright with Chris Leak still at QB. They sure as hell messed up our Bucks. Granted they supplemented with Tebow. That game still pisses me talking with one of the LBs from the 2006 OSU squad he said the defensive coaches panicked and just kept calling "Cover 2" defensive package which was getting killed. I'm excitied about Meyer's offense and never really understood the differences in the spread until your series of posts, thank you. Obviously big, strong traditional OSU tailbacks came to understand why it would benefit them to play for Meyer.

"The minute I think I'm getting mellow, I'm retiring. Who ever heard of a mellow winner?" ~ Woody Hayes 

gobucks1226's picture

Ross, you mention in the article the importance of establishing the inside run game in Meyer's offense, yet you go on to say how the downhill run game is more diffult to execute in a shotgun spread formation. How do you see Meyer overcoming this challenge within his offense for the Carlos Hydes, Rod Smiths, and Brionte Dunns of the world?

buckeyedude's picture

I guess 2012 will be the year of El Guapo.



nickma71's picture

RichRod didn't work because he didn't have better athletes. It is more than just the QB. The spread only works if all of your players are faster than all of their players. There is no numbers advantage. It is 11 on 11, but the center, guards, and tackles are removed from possible ball carriers.

William's picture

Not true at all. The very purpose of the spread is to create a numbers advantage. With the the pro-style for instance, the QB is not a runner and therefore that gives the defense a numerical advantage in that the defense didn't need to defend against that. With the power spread Meyer employs, the QB is a run threat and that therefore forces the defense to guard against them as well. The spread does in fact create a numbers advantage for if the QB is the runner, that allows for an extra blocker instead of the QB just handing the ball off. Rich Rod's offense worked, his defense didn't. Also last time I checked Meyer's Power Spread put up 41 points on us. The notion that the spread only works if all of your players are faster than theirs is way off base.

BrewstersMillions's picture

Not even close to true. Any offense works better when you have faster players but to say that is the only thing that determines success and failure is not only wrong, its actually sort of dumb.

Its not always just 11 on 11. Yes, there are 11 defensive players on the field to stop the 11 offensive players but the idea behind the spread is to isolate the amount of defenders who can immediately stop a play. Look at the X and O drawing. It perfectly illustrates the number advantage. 4 WR's are covered by 4 defenders. A deep safety is required. That puts 6 defenders in the box against 7 offensive players. 5 linemen block 5 of those 6 players. That leaves 1 defender to attack 2 potential ball carriers. If the safety comes up in the box to eliminate that man advantage (creating a scenario where 2 defenders are left to defend against the QB\RB) the defense exposes itself to man on man coverage on every WR\DB matchup with might as well be a numbers advantage. If you have 4 guys in Man coverage with no help over the top, you will get beat.


The spread is a numbers game. Simple as that. It "SPREADS" the defense out and creates space for the offense to maneuver. It creates space to maneuver in by putting more offensive players in the same area as less defensive players. You really missed with that whole "Only works with speed thing". Might be a candidate for worst comment of the year, if I can be so bold.