The Urban Meyer Ohio State Offense: Foundation

By Ross Fulton on February 14, 2013 at 2:30p

It is time to revisit a topic that we speculated about last offseason — what will the Ohio State offense look like under Urban Meyer, Tom Herman, and the Buckeye offense coaching staff? With a season under our belts, we can now more definitively describe the Buckeye offensive philosophy.

To better understand the Buckeye attack, it is helpful to begin with the theory behind Meyer's approach. We can then drill down upon the base Ohio State offense.   

What's Old is New Again

As surmised last year, Meyer's Buckeye offense largely reflects the same spread to run offense that he employed at Florida. Underneath all the bells and whistles, Meyer's basic goal, the foundation of his offense, is running the football between the tackles.

Everything that Meyer does on offense is predicated on facilitating the ability to run the football inside. The primary way to do so is improving his offense's arithmetic. The focus is upon the number of safeties the defense can apply against the run game. 


The defense will always have a numeric advantage vis-a-vis the offense because the offense necessarily cannot block the ball carrier's counterpart. In recent years, defenses gained a second unblocked defender against a pro-style team in the run game — the quarterback's counterpart — once he handed off the football.

Enter the 'shotgun spread.' Meyer seeks to reset the equation by making the defense account for the QB in the run game. OSU often bases from '11' personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB).


This formation puts 8 offenders in the box. With the QB as a run threat, the defense must match those 8 defenders. If the defense tries to play two deep safeties, the offense has a one-man advantage in the box. OSU will happily run the football unless and until a defense adjusts. If the defense evens numbers by employing a safety against the run, the offense has 1) limited the defense's coverage options and 2) left fewer defenders to cover 4 potential immediate vertical threats.

For Meyer, the pass game is itself a constraint, i.e. a way to protect the base run game.

Arithmetic Games

Meyer uses the QB in two methods to further protect that inside run game. The first concept is 'defensive end confusion.'

As indicated in the above slide, Meyer, Herman & Co. never want either defensive end to know whether and how they will be read or blocked. This works on two levels. OSU wants to disguise who is being read to slow the defense as a whole. On nearly every handoff, the QB will read a defender. This forces an unblocked defender to constantly consider whether he is being read and not pursue the football.

And at a personnel level, OSU wants to slow defensive ends, who they believe are often a defense's most disruptive players. This is why zone read and inverted veer/power read work well together. From the same pre-snap formation, the offense can read either the backside or frontside defender.

Real Old School Football

The other way the Buckeyes use the QB to re-equate numbers in the run game is 'single wing' plays. That is, lead QB runs. With the halfback as the blocker — not the ball carrier — the offense can run basic I formation plays even after putting a third wide receiver wide. This again leaves the defense with one fewer defender to play against a lead play as they would from the traditional I formation.

For example, one of OSU's favorite plays in 2012 was QB counter trey. Note in the below video that OSU has a 7 v. 6 advantage within the box. 



Meyer's embrace of spread to run is to increase his offense's ability to run inside by creating an additional potential ball carrier the defense must account for vis-a-via pro-style offenses. Next week I will look at some of the layers Meyer and his staff put on top of this arithmetic to further protect his base plays. 


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OSUAndy07's picture

Ah, a Ross Fulton breakdown. My day just got better

"But I'm tryin' Ringo. I'm tryin', real hard, to be the shepherd"

Doc's picture

Valentine's Day, Woody's 100th AND a Ross article!  Holy crap this like Christmas, Kwanza and Chanuka all rapped up in one for me.

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The Official DDS of 11W

Oben_Where's picture

So THAT'S how they beat us in '07. In the first Florida slide, lower right play, there are only 6 men on the line. That and the blatant holding/offsides non-calls on every single play. Shameful.

CowCat's picture

Great read again, Ross.

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

Ahh Saturday's picture

I hope that Meyer liked what he got out of Hyde last year.  My hope going forward is to recruit more Braxton/ JT Barret guys who can attack the edge, and leave the middle to the power backs.  First, I just think they do it better.  But having a big guy back there just seems to put a Buckeye stamp on Urban's offense.  Watching Hyde run out the clock on TSUN this year would've put a smile on Woody's face.

Ross Fulton's picture

That's my discussion for next week. The ability to stretch the defense horizontally further opens the inside run game. 


What I'm most interested and excited about seeing are the new plays that develop as a result of the upgrade at the other skill positions, most notably at WR and slot. I watched enough UF games under Meyer to know that there were certain plays they ran that prevented defenses from keying on anyone. It became an exercise in "pick your poision." I'm thinking Meyer and Herman will uncork some new but familiar plays but will still have a few tricks up their sleeves including the talk of using elements from the 49ers diamond formations.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Diamonds are a girls best friend.....could be a Buckeye fan's best friend this year as well....

sharks's picture

Great article- we'll be hearing about the importance of Percy Harvin-types from now until doomsday, but when you have a tailback that can clock a LB like that, the whole O opens up.
I swear I appreciate Hyde more and more every time I see him in action- just a complete player.

A man got to have a code...

Ross Fulton's picture

Yup. As I said above, those players stretch out the defense. But the purpose for doing so is to enable the inside run game. If they cannot run the football inside the rest falls apart. 

Mighty Mike's picture

Thanks as always Ross. While I love the added speed of the smaller running backs, I do have some concerns that we might not recruit players that can run between the tackles/provide blocking like Hyde did this year. 
Ross, from your interview with Chris Brown from last year, Chris identified some short comings with Florida's offense during Urban's tenure. Did you feel Urban is so far on the path to avoiding these issues? OSU's red zone offense seemed fairly potent but the outside receiver production seemed an issue for OSU down the home stretch. 

Ross Fulton's picture

Good question. IMO, Meyer's biggest shortcoming at Florida was the inability to run the football inside except with Tebow. Yes, it is great to give it to Harvin on counter trey and have his ocassionally hit one, but they lacked consistency. Meyer has admitted he never got the back he needed.

He needs to continue to recruit guys like Hyde, Dunn, etc, that can run the football between the tackles.  Obviously can't rely on finding 250 lb QBs.

As to outside WR production, two points. There is no doubt that Urban likes featuring the guys in the slot--option routes, shallow cross, etc. He tends to put his best athlete there, and it again is a function of stretching the second level players horizontally, which then opens up the run game.

But the other issue is less on the WR themselves, more on the QB. As always, when you are looking for a guy that can run, its a question of how well they can throw. We have seen how limited Tebow is as a passer. Braxton just needs to continue to develop. Those guys will become more effective when he is going through his progresisons.

js2378's picture

I have a suggestion for one of these posts. Urban has been quoted as saying that San Fran is doing things he's never seen before and that he'll implement those wrinkles into his offense. I think it'd be a great read if you could analyze some San Fran tape, figure out what they do that's got Urban excited, and let us know which elements may be incorporated into our system. Watching San Fran in the playoffs, I couldn't help but think that I was watching a preview of our offense next year.
Just a suggestion. I've been a long-time reader of this blog mostly for your posts, so thanks for all the work!

Ross Fulton's picture

Already beat you to it.  Check it out this article.  

Mighty Mike's picture

Very interesting. Thanks Ross. Looking forward to your next piece.

mrinder83's picture

I think Urban learned from a couple short comings that he had at Florida.  First of all was obviously the lack of a true power back at Florida that was not named Tim Tebow.  He came into last year with a open mind of how Hyde was going to fit into the system and I think Hyde blew him out of the water.  Even Smith and Dunn showed in their limited carries that its just not Hyde but a power back works great in this system.  The next shortcoming is not really having a true split end at FL.  He had great slot guys and good flankers in his passing game with a great hybrid TE in the mix.  He never really had that athletic split end though that was not a hybrid te/hback.  A good, tall, athletic split end further puts strains on a defense in this offense because he adds another threat in both the possession reception game as well as in the red zone.  He is a complete mismatch for the corner back because of his height.  When you look at guys like Harris, Kief, the kid from AZ and looks like he wants to address these issues.  These are kids that will play split end and he won't lose what he wants out of speed with them.  Ever Meyer offense has changed some from team to team because he has gotten better athletes at every level.  I think his offense at ohio state will be the most dynamic and balanced that he has ever had once he adds in these next level of receivers next year.  He will be able to attack and beat defenses equally in vertical passing game as he can in the horizontal passing game.  He will also be able to attack and beat defenses equally with edge running as he can with in between the tackle running.  This will be the most complete offense he has ever had in my opinion