Power and Its Discontents (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Dave)

By Ross Fulton on August 30, 2012 at 2:00p

It is no secret that critics of Jim Tressel's Ohio State offenses focus their ire on one play in particular—Power, also known to Tressel (and Earle Bruce) as 'Dave.' Dave was Tressel's favorite play, and to critics, it was everything that was wrong with Tressel's style (it is difficult to argue with Tressel's ultimate record, however). Dave was blamed for everything from too much reliance upon the run game on first down (whether or not the play was Dave), to victories that were too close to comfort.  

Yet 'Dave', which simply involves the playside blocking down, followed by a kickout block and the backside guard pulling and folding on the frontside linebacker, may be the most ubiquitous play in football today.   

If this is the case, how could Dave have been such a detriment to Tressel's offenses? The problem for Tressel was that all too often he did not employ constraint plays to protect Dave. Both by formation and initial action, all too often the defense could identify what play was coming and worse, could attack this play without fear of being punished for over-aggressiveness. This was particularly true for the backside edge player. It was a common sight to see an unblocked backside defender take a shallow path and stop the play from behind, without fear of giving up backside contain to a bootleg, reverse, or other counter. The basic constraint idea of controlling this backside defender to open up the base play was rarely utilized by Tressel.  As a result, Tressel's favorite play was not maximized and instead was often left still-born. Thus, Tressel's critics were not far off, but were focusing on the result, which was minimal yards on the Dave play, and not the cause, which was the fact that the Dave play had no chance of success without constraining the defense. 

Yet upon further reflection, perhaps Tressel's goal with Dave was not always to maximize offensive opportunities. Instead, Dave at times was simply a way for Tressel to 'hold serve,' squeeze field position, and run clock. This style was often frustrating to many, but it was difficult to argue with the results.  Nevertheless, it did not often win style points. 

Hello Urban...GoodBye Dave???

In welcoming Urban Meyer and his power spread, many of those Tressel critics wistfully hoped that Dave was a distant memory. Yet those hoping will be disappointed. Meyer's offense is predicated upon I-formation run plays from the shotgun spread. One of those base plays is Dave (and its cousin counter trey). Meyer has long run Dave from his shotgun spread. For instance, at the :20 second mark of the Spring Game video below you will see 'Dave' run for a touchdown.  It is the same down blocks, with the H-back kicking out and the backside guard pulling and folding. It simply coming from a shotgun, one back, H-back formation.

For those that really do not believe me, check out the clips from Meyer's Florida days starting at :40 here.

The biggest difference between Meyer and Tressel is not the play but Meyer's desire to constrain the defense from keying against the play. Meyer will run the play towards the halfback side, as shown at the :40 second mark in the above video. He will also run it away from the running back, wrong keying the defense. (1:00 mark). Meyer will send a slot in motion and run jet sweep or speed option off the power fake, preventing the defender who is being kicked-out from automatically crashing and wrong-arming the play. Finally, as demonstrated during the Spring Game, Meyer will fake Dave away from the halfback, then have the QB naked bootleg behind the unblocked defensive end. In so doing, this punishes a defensive end for doing what he did all too often to Tressel's offense: crashing down and making the play from behind. Now, if he does so he has left the quarterback with a wide open run-pass option in the open field.

The upshot is that Dave is alive and well at Ohio State.  But the difference is that Meyer will make sure that a defense can never tee off against the play as they did under Tressel.  Meyer's will instead attack the defense with Dave from a variety of angles and with constraint plays built in, ensuring not only that a defense that overpursues will be susceptible to big plays, but that the offense retains a favorable numbers advantage for the Dave play itself.  


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hodge's picture

My avatar graciously approves of your title.  Well played, good sir.

SilverBulletNYC's picture

Best avatar on 11W my friend.

The South will NOT rise again!

Ohio Guy in Jersey's picture

A wonderful testament to why there is nothing wrong with "Dave." There were times when OSU clearly had a game plan and it was beautiful to watch. First half vs. Nebraska is a prime example of that. Most of the time it looked like plays were called without a coherent philosophy other than "don't turn the ball over."
Great piece, Ross.

COB's picture

Great stuff as always.  

yrro's picture

Sometimes it seemed like Tressel would only break out the best constraint he had to this play to ice games. The Pryor fake dave bootleg got *so* many first downs for us. We practically won the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl on that play alone. But we never broke it out until the end of big games when we were just trying to kill clock and keep possession.

Ross Fulton's picture

Good call, I agree.  Tress' 'strategic' decision was often to save the constraint plays for games where he considered them necessary. 

penult's picture

I agree to some extent.  But other times he would use plays for big games that have no corresponding constraint play.  Like the regular season game against USC in which he would have the back spilt an extra five yards wide of the QB in a shotgun formation.  Everybody knew it was going to be a bubble screen for the back, and there was nothing else he would run out of that formation (if there even is any feasible play that possibly could be run out of that formation to begin with).

yrro's picture

I'm really not sure what to make of the game against USC. It really seemed, to me, like the coaching staff was really expecting Pryor to pick things up better going into that season than he actually did. At least, that's the only explanation I can think of for an offense that seemed to vary its basic *structure* week to week as they tried to figure out what he could do well.
Unfortunately, instead of picking a simplified version of the playbook that was consistent within itself, they ended up with some weird grab bag plays that I can only assumed were picked because they were what was executed best in practice.
When you look at Pryor's junior season, or Troy Smith's junior and senior seasons, I think you see the offense that Tressel wanted to be running. There were constraint plays, and some very elegant diversity built in once the quarterback could run the entire playbook. They just seemed to do a very poor job of making the simplified subset of that playbook that they ran with a less able quarterback make any sense at all.
At least, that's my inexpert take on it.

cal3713's picture

Exactly.  Tressel took a very long term view on the season and often saved those constraint plays for key moments in which they would be completely unexpected.  And why not, when you could regularly move field position by just outperforming the defenses on the play they expected you to run. 

Maestro's picture

BTN was airing the OSU-Wisky game from last year this morning.  1st play of second half.  Dave for 57 yards.  Proceeded to run it a few more times to failure.  First, second, third and goal....DAVE, DAVE, DAVE with slight variations of running it with Boren and Homan in the backfield.  4th down,constraint play, FAKE DAVE and Braxton walks into the end zone.  Dave was an abused play to be certain.

vacuuming sucks

OSUBias's picture

Wisky defender still hasn't found his jock strap from that play...

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

yrro's picture

Last year played out like a bad parody of Tresselball.

Boxley's picture

Geez Ross, you make my head hurt too much actual informaton for me to process,
Can't we just use guesses and unfounded speculation? I can sound really smart then!
As usual, nice job. Thank you.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

Maestro's picture

I am always amazed when watching video how often the RB fails to have the patience to follow his blockers as a general rule of thumb in college football.  To be honest Herron was one of the worst at it.  He often gained yards in spite of his misread of his lead blockers.

vacuuming sucks

Northbrook's picture

I moved to a new place a couple weekends ago. UHaul I rented for the small stuff had a big walrus on the side advertizing some melting glacier in Maine. I made all my helpers line up and run Dave a few times to get them warmed up.

Tom57's picture

Excellent as always. And I don't think there is any play you can run effectively without constraint. So strange that Tress wouldn't do this, since he was such a student of the game.
I also never liked running Dave in short yardage. I see that it worked in the spring game, but in generaly short yardage allows the DL to get low and dive at the LOS which clutters up the pulling lane. The LB wil also tend to crash which makes it hard for the pulling OL to find anyone to block and the point of attack becomes a dog pile.
You can pull and kick out more effectively, but even so pull action signals both the LB and Safety where to go and the play takes too long to develop. I've always preferred ISO in short yardage where you can still run the constraint plays off of the H back action

Bucksfan's picture

Good morning, Dave...

Or maybe you prefer Dave Classique:

Oh for heaven's sake, MAKE IT STOP!
Anyone up for keeping the DAVE drinking game alive on the Live Blog during games?

spqr2008's picture

You might say with Tressel and Dave, constraints were Slim Pickens

Run_Fido_Run's picture

"He who loses at war is he who is discontented with power."
--Sun Tzu
"I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women uh... women sense the power of my Dave and they seek the life essence. I, uh... I do not avoid women, Mandrake."
--General Walrus D. Ripper

NH-IO's picture

Constraint plays make Dave more effective, just as Dave makes the constraint plays more effective as mentioned by YRRO and Maestro.  Either one can set up the other.  I agree with Ross's comment in that I believe that Tress game planned for the season, not just a game at a time.  Recall how the much different the Michigan game plans and the bowl game game plans were than other regular season games.  These game plans worked not only because the were more "creative" than normal, but because there was not a lot of film on them for the opponents to study.  I think this is one of the secrets of Tressel's success overall but particularly against Michigan and in bowl games.
In addition, I'm pretty sure there are no glaciers in Maine.  Melting or otherwise.  Perhaps it was a really, really old Uhaul.  

Milk Steak To Go's picture

Spot on.  There was not even a pretense of constrarint.  A QB finishing off the hand-off ala Brett Farve would have at least held the back side end - who too often was crashing down the line making the tackle for a gain of 1 or 2.  Instead, the QB would hand the ball off and stare.  TP could have made a living with a bootleg action off Dave.  Add a Wisconsin-type (under OSU old offense) jet sweep and you're in business.
The one Dave pass they had was obvious and so slow developing that it amounted to nothing.

Maestro's picture

See 3:00 minute mark.  One of the best passes TP ever threw was on a Fake Dave pass.

vacuuming sucks

Milk Steak To Go's picture

Great pass, no doubt, but no one was fooled.  Watch the pulling guard - he gets deep when its a pass, OL doesn't fire out and sell run.  LBs aren't sucked up on the PA.  That's just TP and WR making a great play.

smith5568's picture

Great article. Sometimes it is like talking to a brick wall when I've tried to explain this to some buckeye fans. The responses above make me feel much better.