Wunderkind Coordinators Square Off in Orange Bowl

By Kyle Rowland on January 2, 2014 at 8:00a
Tom Herman has transformed the Ohio State offense from boring to hold-on-tight exciting.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The picture is so familiar. No, not the Mona Lisa or Starry Night – the offenses.

The Silver Bullets have gazed across the line at a dynamic unit before. Clemson’s defense has gone against a lively offense a time or two as well. In fact, both Ohio State and the Tigers attempt to corral a high-motored, quick-strike offense every day in practice.

Leading up to Friday’s Orange Bowl, the talk has centered around which defense could stop the opposing offense. But the game could boil down to which offense outscores the other. Tom Herman and Chad Morris, welcome to paradise, where no-huddle offenses are as accessible as margaritas on the beach.

“I’ve got the best seat in the house to watch that sucker, man,” Herman said. “That’s awesome. I get to sit up there with my hot dogs and popcorn and Diet Coke and get to watch this thing go down.”

It isn’t no work and all play, though. For four weeks, Herman has been racking his brain to formulate a game plan. It’s been a smorgasbord of staff meetings, practices, watching film and critical decision-making of third-down play calls. Chances are it will look something similar to what the Tigers put together.

These two coaching staffs are so fond of one another’s programs that Ohio State’s offensive coaches traveled to Clemson to meet with the Tigers’ assistants and talk shop. During that three-day jaunt, Herman and Morris went to dinner and even joked about the possibility of playing in a bowl game. Six months later, it’s come to fruition.

“I like Chad. He’s a good dude,” Herman said. “I recruited his schools [in Texas] and have known him all the way from the time he was the head coach at Bay City Black Cats. So me and Chad go way back.

“I wouldn’t say we’re best buddies. We don’t go on vacation together or anything like that. But we do spend a lot of time talking football over the phone. It’s been a very good, productive working relationship.”

Meyer forged the connection when he worked for ESPN. During the 2011 season, he called four Clemson games and took a liking to Morris and his innovative offense. The fast-paced Tigers have reached the 100-play mark, which is the type of thing that excites Meyer. The friendship grew into weekly phone calls. 

Morris is more proof that high school coaches can succeed at the college level.Chad Morris heads Clemson's offense.

“You know Coach Meyer, he’s definitely always looking to try to find something that separates him offensively,” Morris said. “He would come out and watch our practice, and after practice was over, we’d just sit and talk for a while.”

Depending on whom you ask, the two had a lengthy conversation after Meyer became Ohio State’s head coach. Morris all but confirms it, Meyer denies it. What is known is it was reported the two engaged in talks for Morris to come to Ohio State. Shortly thereafter, Morris received a raise that made him the highest paid assistant in the country – $1.3 million.

The confirmations and denials caused quite a ruse in South Florida, along with flu-gate and the controversy swirling around Noah Spence.

“To be considered and to talk to him, it was an honor,” Morris said. “But it was right around our ACC championship game. It was pretty much within hours that we were talking [about a new contract at Clemson].”

Meyer told a different story, one that didn’t involve he and Morris talking.

“I’ll have to ask Chad someday, ‘Did you start that?’ But I have a lot of respect for him and what he did. The transformation from Clemson’s previous offense to his was almost overnight,” Meyer said.

What Herman has done in Columbus might be even more impressive, though. Prior to his arrival, the Buckeyes languished with a boring, antiquated offense. Wins were still the norm, but most of the positive results came via a championship-caliber defense.

In 2011 – the year before Herman came to Ohio State – its offense ranked 107th nationally. Entering the Orange Bowl that number is 100 spots higher. Herman’s value isn’t just concocting high-percentage plays and keeping defenses guessing. He also happens to be a quarterback’s best friend.

At Rice, Iowa State and now Ohio State, he’s consistently improved his signal-callers’ skill set and propensity at making big plays. Braxton Miller is his latest project, turning him from an unpredictable freshman into one of college football’s most dazzling players. He’s the facilitator for an offense that averages 46 points and more than 500 yards per game.

Morris, like Herman, is wired to football. When he tucks himself into bed each night, he does so with a notepad to scribble down notes that might spring into his mind. Sometimes it even involves a text message to an unsuspecting assistant coach. The football life began at Lake Travis High School, outside Austin, Texas, where he won back-to-back state championships with Garrett Gilbert. 

At Clemson, Morris’ quarterback is Tajh Boyd, and like Herman and Miller, Morris and Boyd click and complement each other.  Their companionship is responsible for 40 points and more than 500 yards per game. Sound familiar?

The stark contrast is how each team gets to those videogame numbers. The Buckeyes use a power-run game, while the Tigers’ biggest strength is the vertical passing game.

“There’s always something out there that’s on the cutting edge, and as a coordinator, it’s my job to find it,” Morris said.

To Luke Fickell and Brent Venables: good luck.


Comments Show All Comments

pjtobin's picture

I might be a little worried about our d going against their o. I'm just glad I'm the only one!

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

mb5599's picture

Prior to his arrival, the Buckeyes languished with a boring, antiquated offense. Wins were still the norm, but most of the positive results came via a championship-caliber defense. 
Give me a stout/aggressive defense over any offense.  9 times out of 10 the stout defense will win the game.  Look at Oregon and Baylor. Score lots of points but have won absolutely nothing.

Big B

nfischer's picture

...and look at Michigan State.

Hovenaut's picture

Agreed, defense still wins championships.
I like what Urban, Herman and company have done with the offense, and it should be even more exciting with the young talent coming up.
But I cannot wait to see the young talent on the other side of the ball. I like the line, and feel very good about the linebackers and defensive backs coming in.

mb5599's picture

i just dont want to see us become the oregon of the east.  i know urban is an offensive minded coach, so we need a top notch d coordinator to handle the other side of the ball and so far, fickell has not been up to the challenge.  we are recruiting at a high clip, now the coaches have to develop and utilize the talent.

Big B

Furious George 27's picture

I would say lack of depth the last few years could have more to do with a lack luster defense than anything. The DL was better than expected, LBs and DBs were thin with injuries and inexperience and of course coaching comes into play as well. The push for LBs and DBs in recruiting will add to the much needed depth to improve. With MSU's win yesterday, perhaps we were not giving them the credit they deserved and Cook did have a career day against a stout Stanford D as well. I hate losing but MSU proved themselves to be a worthy opponent. Lets keep in mind we had a stout D and lost to the likes of Purdue, Illinois and Wisky? I doubt we are anywhere near 24-0 w/out the new offense. I'll take the offense knowing that the defense will get better.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

mb5599's picture

when i said stout d, i meant the type of d that sparty played yesterday.  attacking, aggressive, swarming defense.  linebackers attacking instead of trying to read the play and then attack. we have not had that type of defense since 2002 and we saw what it did to miami.  you have to have a defense that can get stops.  we havent had that for a while. we need to focus on defense first, then once we get that taken care of, we can get exotic with the offense. 

Big B

Furious George 27's picture

You cannot have the MSU Defense when you are replacing 8 starters, that is where depth and experience comes in. OSU has not had that for 2 seasons, but they are working on it through recruiting. I wouldn't call what OSU does as exotic on offense, they are having better OL play which allows them to do more. I am pretty confident in the recruiting of LBs and DBs that the issue will work itself out. The DL play has been quite good with the amount of sophomores and freshman playing. Fact is the D was too thin when Meyer came in to expect the results MSU has, that was a veteran team, OSU is not.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

mb5599's picture

since 2002, when have you seen our defense be as nasty as that sparty defense we saw yesterday? we get 4 and 5 star recruits, year in and year out.  alot of the issue has to due with defensive philosophy.  tressel played a bend dont break/field position defense.  it won a lot of games, but only one championship. how many bend dont break defenses have won it all in the past decade?  not many. point is, defensive philosphy is just as important as the players themselves.  even when the defense was not thin, we did not play defense like sparty.  we need to embrace that aggressive style. for those who are afraid we will get burnt too much if we do, look at our defense now.

Big B

bucknasty13's picture

But the game could boil down to which offense outscores the other.  

It usually does.  Truer words have never been said.

stantmann's picture

Love Herman, but man did he make a few bad calls in the MSU game. I can give him a pass for trying passing plays when he should be running, I can give him a pass on a few decisions on who to run the ball, Braxton and Hyde are both capable. However, trying to run Braxton without Hyde in the backfield against MSU on an obvious running down, is just not very smart. I hope he learned a lesson...

NitroBuck's picture

Interestingly enough, Stanford opted to run up the gut on 4th and 1 instead of running wide.  I wonder how much trying to run Braxton wide on 4th and short influenced Stanford's decision?  I've noticed Stanford fans questioning Shaw's play calling today.  It strikes me as being similar to what some of our fellow Buckeyes said after the B1G title game.  My feeling is that Sparty simply played damn good defense when it mattered most.  I'll tip my hat to them, and hope we out run Clemson in the Orange.  Hopefully a pair of Big Ten BCS Bowl wins will shut down some of the pro SEC narrative in the media.

Ferio.  Tego.