The Urban Meyer Ohio State Offense: The Passing Game

By Ross Fulton on March 21, 2013 at 10:30a

I previously looked at the concepts and run game behind Urban Meyer's Ohio State offense.

Now I want to turn to the passing game.

Throw when theY're on their Heels

As previously noted, OSU is a run-first offense. If a defense plays with its base defense against the Buckeyes, OSU will continue to run the football. OSU looks to pass once a defense begins overplaying the run game.

To put it another way:



It follows that the passing game is designed to defeat teams using aggressive safety support. The passing game cannot only do just that, because the Buckeyes must be prepared to throw in passing situations. But the goal is to run the ball effectively until a defense has to overcommit. Then OSU can take advantage of a numbers advantage downfield.

Throw it where they ain't

The Buckeyes' passing game therefore seeks to exploit safeties and linebackers who are overly focused upon the run game. Much of the playbook attacks a 15-yard box inside the curl to flat zone on each side of the defense.

OSU wants to take advantage of a defense having fewer linebackers and safeties within area because they are playing the run. The Buckeyes then use route combinations that create 'stretches' upon those remaining safeties and linebackers. 

Meyer's primary weapon for doing so is his slot or 'H' receiver. Meyer's inside receivers are generally the focus of the passing game. Corey Brown filled this role on third down for OSU in 2012 and led the Buckeyes in catches. Meyer wants to quickly get the ball to his most dynamic receiver in these vacated spaces to earn yards after the catch. 

The base of the OSU passing offense then is routes featuring its playmaker at H in the middle of the field area. This comes in the form of option routes, shallow crossing, and triangle stretches. I will address each in turn.

H Option

If the 'H' receiver is Meyer's go-to receiver, then "H" option is his simplest way to get that player the football. As Coach Hoover wrote:

H Option is a play designed to get the ball into the hands of the offense's most dynamic playmaker.  First it was Paris Warren at Utah, and then at Florida it was Percy Harvin, after whom the position was commonly referred to as the "Percy Position."  It is the football equivalent to the basketball play where everybody spreads the court and gets out of the way to let your best player take his guy 1 on 1.

The H-receiver is going to run right at the inside defender. He wants to attack that defender's inside leverage and try to beat him inside. If he cannot, he will plant and cut outside. If he is bracketed, he will hook and settle down. If he cannot get open on this initial cut, he has the freedom to cut across the middle on a shallow cross. The upshot is that this receiver has the freedom to use his athleticism to make one cut and get open. The mechanics are less important than this straightforward facet.  

The backside inside receiver runs an option route at 10 yards. He will also work at the inside defender but then hook or break outside so as not to interfere with the primary option route. The other wide receiver runs go routes, but 'tags' can also be built into the play, such as hitch or out routes if the defense is playing soft coverage. Again, though, the goal here is to give the H receiver freedom to get open.

The Shallow Cross Duo: Follow and Drive

The next prevalent plays for the Buckeyes are shallow crossing routes. OSU's shallow cross plays build off H-option. As with H-option, one inside receiver is going to commence the play by attacking the inside defender's inside shoulder. Rather than running an option route, however, he is going to continue going vertically with a seam route. The goal is to occupy that curl/flat defender. Then, from the opposite side will come the two shallow-curl routes.

Meyer's primary shallow cross play is 'follow.' With follow, the inside receiver runs an immediate shallow route. The next receiver runs the "follow" or dig route that trails behind the shallow cross. He will break the route off inside at 8 yards. With the frontside defender occupied with the threat of H-option, the two shallow crosses should have a 2-on-1 vertical stretch on the inside linebacker. Alternatively, if the defense is in man coverage, the crossing receivers can run away from the man coverage. The QB reads the play shallow to follow route. He will key the first defender over the seam route to the next inside linebacker. It is a straightforward 2-on-1 read that occurs immediately in his vision.

'Drive' is the same basic concept as follow but flips the two crossing routes. With drive, the outside receiver runs the shallow cross route, while the inside receiver runs a 12-yard in. Drive again seeks a hi-lo vertical stretch. Teams will vary the primary read. OSU generally seeks to hit the square-in behind the shallow route. The Buckeyes then put a post route over the top to hit if the safety jumps the in-route.   

OSU will also combine a shallow cross concept with an outside two-man route combination, such as 'smash.' This allows the offense to be prepared versus a variety of coverages. For instance, the shallow crosses are good versus man or cover 3 while smash attacks cover 2.  

These option and shallow crossing routes form the base of the Buckeye passing game. Next week I will expand to the next group of routes, particularly those OSU runs against cover 4


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buckguyfan1's picture

Good stuff.  For several years I get frustrated with most of our receiver's ability to run effective routes.  It's an "art" that the elite receivers seem to master.  Maybe it's just me, but I hope to see improvement in this area this year. 

yrro's picture

Ross: does the passing game, at this point, differ much if at all from what Urban ran at Florida? I have been hoping that the influence of Herman might lead to a more effective passing attack once we feel comfortable with what Braxton can do to it.
Secondly, how does it compare to the passing system used by Tressel? Or was the Tressel offense consistent within itself enough to be a considered a passing system?

Ross Fulton's picture

Lots of great questions everyone.


It does differ. What I discussed today is largely the same (though they also run mesh now). But next week I will begin to show some of the ways it is different. I would say that Herman (and Meyer) have updated the passing game. For instance, they now use lots of 'triangle stretches' like snag. Levels is another new favorite play. They also combine concepts together, which is an update.


In some ways the same, simply because teams often run many of the same patterns. But with Tress, it really depends on the year you are talking about. Because a lot of concepts he would only do if he thought his QB could handle it. So with TP in '10 for instance, they used a lot of similar concepts like drive, 4 verts, snag, snatch, etc. But other years it was very basic, mainly all curl and other patterns to the outside.

yrro's picture

Thanks for the response.
It is interesting looking at what Meyer does with a raw quarterback vs what Tressel does. Herman and Meyer did and excellent job of making a simplified and limited offense still be dangerous. Whereas Tressel just wanted to make sure his simplified offense wouldn't turn the ball over.

sharks's picture

Ross, as you indicated, Philly got third down time at H last year, and I assume he'll want to continue getting looks there.  What kind of sets would you envision that would allow multiple slot guys to get on the field at the same time- Hall, Wilson, Marshall... do you see those guys rotating at H and flanker?  Is Hall going to line up primarily as a receiver or out of the backfield?

A man got to have a code...

omahabeef1337's picture

Also, thanks for that video which reminded me how much fun I had at the Iowa game in 2009.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Excellent article.  Love the technical writing like this Ross.  Now let's just hope that the Buckeyes can execute it like it's drawn up.  Looking forward to seeing how the men of Scarlet and Grey develop this coming season.  The sky is the limit! 

Buckeyeholicwompa's picture

The receivers that best run these types of routes are Holmes, Gonzo, and Sanzy. Those guys were excellent route runners with shiftiness to compensate buying time for the QB to throw. Its good to have these types of route runners along with the home run threats.....Ginn, Jenkins, Robo. Now we have Devin Smith as our home runner along with Michael Thomas, Philly as our route master. Evan Spencer may even get looks and split time with Jordan Hall. Just makes me think what more of a passing team we would have been had Holmes stuck around for the 2006 season. The 2nd half of the 2005 season with Ginn, Holmes, and Gonzo was lethal!!!

BuckeyeNationProblems's picture

I can't wait to see dontre Wilson at h back. It's hall's position to lose, but Wilson will get looks. I am thoroughly impressed with Wilson's route running and shiftiness, especially for someone with high school level expertise.  It's clear he had excellent coaching in Texas.