Not All Spreads are Alike

By Ross Fulton on February 9, 2012 at 9:00a
I will take a side of 'power' with my spread...

Taking a step from the theoretical to the practical, I wanted to look at why Urban Meyer's offense is different from other spread offenses. 

As I alluded to last week, not all spread offenses are created alike.  The differences arise from the most basic question -- what is your offensive goal and what are your base plays to accomplish that goal?   

I will put aside spread passing offenses to focus upon spread to run teams. The most obvious foil to Meyer's Florida teams is the Oregon offense.

Chip Kelly predicates his attack upon the QB read, namely in conjunction with the outside zone.  The Oregon offense is therefore a descendant of Rich Rodriguez and the original zone read offenses.  The zone read is Oregon's bread and butter and will be run a majority of plays.

The other plays run by Oregon are implemented with the idea of countering a defense's steps to stop the zone read, such as reading the defensive tackle rather than the end with a midline read (see also here).



Meyer's base offense, by contrast, is largely inspired by the original, one-back pro-style offenses that currently flourish in the NFL. Meyer's run game reflects this.

Of course, the read and QB run threat is everpresent and crucial to the offense's success. But unlike Oregon, the offense is not completely centered around the read.

Instead, the offense puts more emphasis on the inside run game, including the use of angle and power blocking.  Hence, you will see an emphasis on plays like counter-trey and inverted veer, which uses the same power blocking but adds a frontside option.  


The Inverted Veer Play     


As Meyer himself stated, then, they may run the plays from different formations, but the base run plays are the same as a pro-style run team, with the added dimension of the QB as run threat that the defense must account for.



These distinctions have corresponding results.  For example, Meyer will feature more H-backs and tight ends, becasue it permits the type of angle blocking necessary to run the above-plays.  Meyer also employs heavy amounts of motion, moving tight ends and backs to and from the slot.



Meyer can also run power plays by using the halfback as lead blocker and quarterback as the ball carrier.  This allows Meyer to run one-back power concepts from the spread. 

The differences between an Oregon and Urban Meyer are not vast, but rather shades of gray.  Nonetheless, these distinctions are crucial, for everything else these offenses do are built off the base scheme. 


Comments Show All Comments

awwwwwwop's picture

My god is Percy Harvin fast. He was making South Carolina look like a community college team.

"Who cares? Go Bucks." - Aaron Untch

RBuck's picture

It's amazing how fast he hits the hole. Not used to seeing that here. It seems our backs have been waiting too long for a hole to open on counter plays. However I do remember OSU running almost the exact play with Saine two years ago for a TD. Always wondered why we never saw it again.

Long live the southend.

awwwwwwop's picture

It was far too effective for proper Walrus Ball.

"Who cares? Go Bucks." - Aaron Untch

SPreston2001's picture

Yeah but you have to put alot of the blame on JT too! Tres called the plays! lol

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

Walrus ball is all about making the defense tired and bored with the same play. Then outta nowhere....BAM, you run a different play. You can't make a defense tired if you score on the first play.

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

cplunk's picture

^ This is hilarious

cplunk's picture

Thanks, Ross. Another good one. Glad to see you here- used to read at ATO.

I wish you success in your quest to explain the different philsophies and types of spread offenses. If I had a nickel for everytime I hear something like "the spread won't work in the Big Ten" and "didn't Ohio see what happened with RichRod?" I'd be a rich man indeed.

One day people will realize a spread means you want to spread out the defense- that's it. It doesn't dictate passing or running, power or speed, or any other particular area. It's a concept not an offense in and of itself.

Looking forward to seeing more of your articles, especially after we've seen a little of the new Urban O in the spring game!

nickma71's picture

One day people will realize a spread means you want to spread out the defense- that's it.


Everybody tries to do that. Even Belicheat and Bollman. The problem lies in that some coaches (remember what Kosar said and later did) want to do the same thing on 1st and 2nd down, and if it didn't work because they forgot you were going to do it, then pass on third. Hence, changing the plays and cutting your quarterback while in first place.

cplunk's picture

"Everybody tries to do that" is kinda my point. There are offensive schemes that are not primarily based on the concept of spreading the defense. The primary goal is, of course, to either outnumber or out-talent a specific targeted small section of the defense, this section can be isolated by spreading the defenders and picking your spot, by overloaded formations, by  relying upon a talent mismatch in one section of the line, by simplely being too strong player for player on one part of the line, by misdirection, and many other ways. 

Also I'd point out the "Belicheat" offense is a perfect example of a use of spread philosophies that will not bear a heavy resemblance to what we see from Meyer next year. This is despite the fact the Belichek contacted and studied Meyer's offenses when developing the Patriots scheme. 

bassplayer7770's picture

Yes, I have a stepbrother who has basically said the spread won't work in the B1G and he won't watch this coming year, etc.  If he wasn't technologically challenged, I'd have him read this article.  Very nice.

LouGroza's picture

Opposing defenses will have to prepare for something other than an I-formation dive play on 90% of first downs. What a thought!

BigMoosie's picture

The H-back blocks were key in both of the runs in that Florida video.  Who do we expect to play the H-back position next season??

JKH1232's picture

Better believe it.  That fellow's a snowplow and a half.

Maestro's picture

Boren is best suited as the blocker in that scheme.  He has great hands too and is a threat out of the backfield to pick up first downs.  Who are your 2 RB's then?  Hyde and Hall flanking Miller?  I like the sound of that.  I see Stoneburner in the slot more, but if he improves his blocking he could be the H-back.

vacuuming sucks

JKH1232's picture

I think it all comes down to formations and playcalling.  If the players take to the system- the big if- then you can rotate players through a number of positions, through lining them up in different positions, motion, etc.  This offense's Final Form Boss Mode would be having Stoney, Boren, Hall and Hyde out there, and the D not knowing what the formation or likely playcall will be, and then screwing the presnap read with motion into or out of likely playsets.


Mind you, it'll take a lot of practice, and practice time is the major limiting factor in college football.

DMcDougal24's picture

Another great read. Thanks Ross.

OSUBias's picture

@ BIGMOOSIE I assume Stoneburner is the most logical choice

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

Maestro's picture

I think Boren gets the nod.  Stoney isn't half the blocker that Boren is.  Stoneburner is more WR than he is H-back.

vacuuming sucks

BuckNut1070's picture

Awesome look into the future of tOSU offensive scheme, and it's variations!! Thanks!! Go Buckeyes!!

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium."  ~Woody Hayes~

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

Ah, it is going to be fun watching teams try to prepare for something they haven't seen yet!  Urban will have the speed, the power, athleticism, aggressive angry killer 'eat their young' attitude, and his genius football mind to unleash on his opponents. I dare say they really don't know what is about to occur.  They will no doubt default to thinking OSU will come out in the same shape they always did and with the same attitude - they'll probably watch Ducks and old Gator film and prepare - then Urban unleashes the Buckeye Kracken and it will be over before they realize what hit them!  Can't wait!!!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

Ethos's picture

careful, he doesn't have all of his athletes yet so it will be still some Tressel ball in there simply because of the athletes he has available.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

cplunk's picture

There will still be some Tressel ball in there because:

1) It worked very, very well against the Big Ten under Tressel, hence the conference championships

2) It will be even more effective when mixed with Urban's philosophies

3) Tressel ball is not all that different from Urban's base mindset

Tressel ball and Urban ball are NOT opposite. There is quite a bit of overlap, and many of Meyer's players are just extensions and modifications of things Tressel used. Doesn't matter what personnel Meyer has, we'll see Tressel ball.

hodge's picture

So much this.  

I recall once reading an article on Meyer talking about how Tebow was actually bummed that he cut him from Special Teams.  Such is the emphasis that he puts on them--he coaches them himself and puts his best players there.  Guess what coach I immediately drew a parallel to?

The more I've thought about it, I've kind of realized that Meyer is like a sexier version of Tressel.  He champions the importance of special teams, plays ball-control (one of his main goals is 2 first downs per series), run-first offenses, abhors turnovers, and thrives on defense.  He just uses a more progressive offensive philosophy to ensure that his playmakers can make plays.

Maybe I'm just trying to further reconcile my former and current mancrushes.

Jason Priestas's picture

Absolutely. Meyer will attempt to put his fastest athletes on special teams and treats the unit with reverance. They're the first group to get in line for food at team meals, etc.

We may see one minor difference, however. Under Tressel, the punt was the most important play. With Meyer, the punt block may be the most important play.

SPreston2001's picture

While the schemes themselves arent much different, the manner in which they call the plays is the big difference! Meyer will mix it up and throw some curve balls at you while Tres kept it tight and close to the vest. Fg's = TD's in Tres's offenses lol.

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I know, shocking that an OC would dare call something else on 1st and 2nd down but a run right, then run left.  Occasionally to mix it up, call the same direction twice in a row, or reverse the direction on 1st down!

I forget what it was like having no clue what was going to be run on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down!  It is going to be refreshing!!!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I get that - however, the team is stacked with talented athletes that will be driven harder than they have ever been before so they will show up in a much different shape, both mentally and physically.  They were so under utilized that we really don't know how great they can/should be.  Now throw in some of the monsters that he just picked up, mix in a brand new aggressive offensive scheme, and toss in a big helping of destroy all attitude - I am just saying that I believe this team will overwhelm those that aren't thoroughly prepared.

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

cplunk's picture

With all my heart I hope you are right (and think you are too). The one big difference is Meyer is more aggressive than Tressel, and I can't wait to actually BEAT bad teams instead of just outlasting them and squeeking by.

SPreston2001's picture

Very true. We have let teams like Akron, Ohio & Toledo come way too close to beating us in the past. We should be hanging 50pts on those schools. Not saying their awful but this is tOSU! 

bassplayer7770's picture

And let's not forget that game against Marshall back in '04...

SPreston2001's picture

Aww man I forgot about that game! Hell even when we won it all in 02 we could have easily lost 2-3 games that year!

Jdadams01's picture

Now, just have to get the explosive playmakers like Harvin.

cal3713's picture

Nice to see your writing here Ross.  Your in season offensive reviews of each game plan are my favorite buckeye readings...

bassplayer7770's picture

Ross, I know it's been said a million times already, but I also look forward to learning more about the game reading your articles.  Thanks for joining us here at 11W.

btalbert25's picture

Obviously, there's no Harvin on this team right now, but it's funny how people think he won't be able to run his system simply because Ohio State doesn't have the athletes.  C'mon folks, it's not like we're playing with D-II talent here.  Will the 2012 Buckeyes have the athletes to beat Bama or USC?  No of course not,b ut they don't have to either.  They are going to be more talented then pretty much every team they play this year.  Last year's lack of success had more to do with lack of focus, preparation, and experience(coaching and players) than it did bad players or guys lacking in talent. 

This same group, with a coach like Meyer or Tressel for that matter will be significantly better than it was with Luke running the show.  There won't be so many brainfarts because Urban won't allow it.  He'll have these guys prepared to play every week and they'll be successful.  They may not go undefeated, but his has a talented bunch of guys.  He doesn't have that Ted Ginn Jr on this team, but for 2012 he doesn't need him.  Perhaps he does have it already too and just hasn't realized it yet.  Some of the young players from last year's team showed flashes of being very good.  We'll see.  Plus 2013, he'll have that guy in Marshall and possibly 2012 with Diggs.

Jdadams01's picture

Urban himself said speed at the skill positions was a glaring hole. I don't think he needs a Harvin clone, but he needs guys he feels confident in. Hopefully a current player flashed in spring or we get Diggs. If not, we have Marshall next year as you said.

btalbert25's picture

As I said, he needs that kind of elite player to win a national title.  The talent he has for 2012 will be enough to beat teams in the B1G.  Plus, there is speed on the team on the offensive side of the ball.  One of the WR's is running track right now.  I understand what Urban said, but the talent is there for them to be a very good team in 2012, and by 2013 they'll have that speedster the need and maybe several of them by the time the season actually starts.  Sure they'll be young, but come 2013 the Buckeyes are going to be primed to win a title.

With the 2012 non conference schedule, and combined with how bad the B1G is, this team will be just fine next season.  As bad as the Buckeyes were in 2011 they still were able to beat the best team in the conference, nearly pull of a win in Lincoln, and in a game they were dominated in against MSU, they came up just short in the end, and an overthrown ball away from Victory in Michigan.  It's not going to take much improvement for the 2012 Buckeyes to be the best team in the B1G.

cbusbuckeye's picture

I'd like to think that the comments he made regarding speed were more aimed at recruiting...i.e. massaging Diggs' ego because we "need" his talent. There is speed on this team, no doubt about that.

SPreston2001's picture

Speed and Ted Ginn Jr/Percy Harvin speed are two totally different things lol. I remember when I first saw Teddy get in the game I said to myself (as im sure everyone else did) "where the hell has this kid been?!!" Teddy went from 0-60 in like 3 steps and Percy was just insanely fast. Speed absolutely kills in todays college game and Meyer knows that. Were gonna need to get faster all around the board before we can begin to compete with the SEC. When we got dismantled by USC a few years ago (35-3) I knew then we had taken a few steps back to the big boy competition and needed to make some changes. Sadely I dont think JT would have ever changed. He kept his job secure by constantly reeling in B1G championships that were soley based on talent alone. I really think we struck gold with Urb.

DJ Byrnes's picture

I was at the Troy Smith's coming out party in 04 against Michigan, when Ted Ginn caught a put surrounded by about 5 Wolverines and somehow ended up in the end-zone 70 yards away.

The last person he had to beat was the punter, but the punter took an absolutely perfect angle and all he had to do was make contact with Ginn to push him out of bounds, and Ginn glided past him with ease.

Still the fastest guy I've ever seen in person.

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

BrewstersMillions's picture

My last game as a senior. Actually the second to last game I've seen in the shoe (NIU in 2006 was the last time I've been there). I remember thinking we didn't have a snow balls chance in hell in that one and actually said that morning "Troy Smith is holding Justin Zwick's spot in line, its only a matter of time before Zwick gets what he has coming to him".

As for the Ginn comment, without a doubt. That was a funny punt return because it was two moves and a sea opened up in front of him. He never looked like he was running at all. It looked like a guy on the old school Nordic Track machines. His feet never seemed to leave the ground.

poop's picture

Possibly Foster too. There are some big-time offensive players in next years class and we need as many as possible.

RB's picture

"Perhaps he does have it already too and just hasn't realized it yet.  Some of the young players from last year's team showed flashes of being very good."

I see Devin Smith being one of these guys, and turning into a legit play maker.  People like referring to Hall as a poor mans Percy.  Stoney will be a valuable possesion type receiver.  Michael Thomas will be an immediate contributor and should be a threat to make big plays on a regular baisis.  Verlon was showing a lot of promise before being injured.  Between Fields, Brown and Spencer, you have potential for anyone of them to take the next step.

Long story short, I think this team has a number of "play makers" just waiting to be given a chance in a viable offensive system.

SPreston2001's picture

Lol the thing is speed is not something that needs to be discovered. You know when somebody has speed! And honestly, I dont see anybody on our team that can run down a rabbit....

btalbert25's picture

Again, my original point was that the team has more than enough talent to have a very good 2012, and by the time we'll need such speedsters to compete against the elite of college football (2013) we may very well have more than one such player.  If we have a sophomore Diggs, and Freshman Marshall going into 2013 there will be the Teddy Ginn type of weapons. 

This team will not be 6-7 this year.  There are guys on this team who are good and are fast.  People are talking like just because we don't have that Ginn or Harvin yet(we will very soon, perhaps Friday night) that there's no way Urban can run his offense.  It's just not true.  The 2012 Buckeyes will have more than enough talent to beat anyone in the B1G, and in 2012, that's really all we have to play for, spoiling the rest of the B1G's season. 

2013 when Urban has Diggs, Marshall, Foster, and others then the SEC, USC, Oregon and others need to watch out.

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

Oregon has never defeated OSU so they already know that!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

poop's picture

Percy Harvin is ridiculous and he looks just as fast in the NFL. I think he was as important to the Gators success as Tebow. We reaaaallllly need someone with his combination of speed, quicks, and complete disregard for his physical well being. Braxton is one of few that comes close on this team.

SPreston2001's picture

Lol I wouldnt even say Braxton is close in terms to speed and quickness.

dsbgobux's picture

Allof the idiots who say the spread won't work at Ohio State must not have been watching any OSU games over the past few years. Many times they employed several of these same concepts with TP and Troy Smith. Spread is not a bad word!!!!!

Buckeye in PA purgatory

poguemahone's picture

I definitely prefer our new offense to Oregon's. Oregon's "quick-strike" BS usually leaves the defense dead tired - Regardless of whether the offense scored - because it's only on the sidelines for two or three minutes at a time. As a result, Oregon's defense finishes 67th in the nation or thereabouts (the highest I've ever seen was mid-30's for them). It seems like all these up-tempo teams have terrible defenses: Michigan under RR, Oklahoma State, Auburn Houston, etc. etc.

On the other hand, Meyer's defenses at Florida ranked 9th, 4th,  and 9th with 2007 being an exception, where they were 41st after replacing basically everyone form the '06 team, which had another killer defense. The day Ohio State forgets defense wins championships is the day Ohio State begins an irreversible decline to mediocrity. I'm glad to see that won't be happening under Meyer.


btalbert25's picture

I think a lot of it depends on the defensive athletes they recruit too.  Those DickRod Michigan teams had no talent on the defensive side of the ball, and they had their own kind of Bollman on the Defensive side of the ball.  I know Oregon has some good recruiting classes, but I'm not sure how many are elite defensive prospects either. To be sure their D sees the field more, but is their lack of defense because of fatigue, or because they just don't have elite defnesive players?  Interesting food for thought.  I mean this years Defensive class is truly an elite group that Meyer is bringing in.  It looks like in a couple of years not only will the D be very good, but it's going to have a lot of quality depth.  In my opinion, this year's class is proof why Ohio State will always have good defense, no matter what kind of offense they run.  They put an emphasis on grabbing really good defensive recruits this year.  I'm not sure Oregon, Oklahoma State, or Houston ever have the kind of defenisve classes Urban just pulled in.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Oregon's defenses in 2009 (v. Pryor in the Rose Bowl) and 2010 (v. Auburn in NCG) were actually pretty decent.

Now, I'm not a big fan of the hurry-up philosophy (and neither is Meyer), partly for reasons mentioned by Poguemahone: when an offensive system like Oregon's runs into an elite defense with great depth of talent, the hurry-up does not tire out the opposing defenses (which make frequent substitutions) and thus, if anything, that approach only ends up tiring out Oregon's defense and/or fails to take advantage of field position at key points in the game.

That said, I do feel that we should judge Oregon's defense on a curve, so to speak. How many yards and points are they giving up per play, or per possession, etc.?

btalbert25's picture

No doubt the other team gets more chances on offense and could wear down the D, that's why I said you need quality and quality depth.  I think Urban's recruiting will do just that, where their 2nd wave of guys will be impact guys as well.  I just don't know that it's as cut and dry as well they score fast, their D will always be tired.  Oregon is the one example of the schools mentioned who had a potentially decent defense.  Auburn, had some pretty nasty impact players on that side of the ball too, but I have no idea what their D actually looked like overall the year they won it all so I can't really comment.

I definitely wouldn't lump Michigan's defense under DickRod or Houston's defense in there though.  They just didn't have quality athletes, and I don't the Oklahoma state has ever neccessarily been known for churning out elite defensive prospects.  That's all I was trying to say.

Just trying to say that because something has happened somewhere else, doesn't mean it will happen here.  Urban's offense isn't the hurry up style (so it likely wouldn't matter anyway)of Oregons, but If they do score quickly and often, I'm not too concerned about it because of the depth of talent they have and will recruit on the defensive side of the ball.

JKH1232's picture

"Hurry-Up", or uptempo stuff has always struck me, at least at this level of football, as a "win more" kind of thing.  It'll let you blow out teams with worse depth, especially late in games,  but I'm not convinced it'll put you over the top in an even game (more plays can easily just mean more turnovers), and doesn't seem to get you ahead against slightly better teams- Oregon's lackluster performances against OSU in the Rose, Auburn in the NCG and LSU to open last season- though they did get past Wisco this year.

(NB: The usual caveats about small sample size and confirmation bias still apply.)

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Good point. Up-tempo would help blow out inferior competition for at least two reasons:

1. The weaker teams typically lack depth on defense, so they're more apt to get exhausted against the fast tempo and cave in the 2H.

2. The more plays a superior team runs against an inferior team, by the "law" of numbers so to speak, the more opportunities for that differential to multiply itself.

Up-tempo not only does not help against elite, deep defenses, it might be detrimental because up-tempo systems are often not adept at adapting to game situations in highly competitive games - e.g., sometimes you need to slow it down, try to get two FDs, and punt the other team into bad field position; other times, maybe when there's 4 minutes left in the 1H and you're down by 3, you want to score with little time left on the clock; etc. 

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

Wait...the "spread" formation, motion, and a snap count that goes on something other than 1?  Wow....

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

chiahead024's picture

Glad to see Ross his work!