I decided to post this today because Michael Citro claimed that Urban Meyer “could have won both of them if the OC had remembered he had a goddam Sherman tank in the backfield. I can't bash a HC for trusting his hand-picked OC, even though he's a Mensa member who should have learned from the MSU loss.” He is of course referring to Carlos Hyde, Braxton Miller and the failed 4th quarter rush against Michigan State.
Urban Meyer doesn’t get a pass on this call.
After the Michigan State game, Meyer was quoted "My call," said Meyer. "I wanted to put it in the hands of our best player." If there was ever one line that summed up Meyer’s coaching from my point of view, that was it.
I’ve looked at some numbers for Meyer’s Florida teams with Tebow and his Ohio State teams. There is clear evidence that when games are tight, Meyer leans heavily on his QB’s rushing ability. It’s because he “wanted to put it in the hands of our best player.” (No secret that he considered Tebow his best player at the time, and now Miller.) One may argue that in tight situations, Meyer leans heavily on his QB rushing because it tends to be effective. One could conversely argue that in tight situations, Meyer resorts to these measures as a safety blanket and that he gets predictable and when the games are tight.
Take a look at these numbers from 2007, 2008, 2009 Florida teams and 2012 and 2013 OSU teams. I didn’t include 2010 because I doubt Meyer would have called Brantley his best player, and Brantley split too much time with Burton and Reed. It would have been a hassle to sift through the data for that year. I picked an arbitrary margin of victory (10 pts) to differentiate between tight games and less competitive games. I thought two scores sounded reasonable. These are the average number of rushes by Tebow/Miller in games decided by >10 or <10pts.
Game Decided by 10 pts or more: 14.1 rushes/game
Game Decided by 10 pts or less: 18.5 rushes/game
In tight games, Tebow rushed 4.4 more times per game
Game Decided by 10 pts or more: 11.0 rushes/game
Game Decided by 10 pts or less: 18.0 rushes/game
In tight games, Tebow rushed 7 more times per game
Game Decided by 10 pts or more: 12.3 rushes/game
Game Decided by 10 pts or less: 21.2 rushes/game
In tight games, Tebow rushed 8.9 more times per game
Game Decided by 10 pts or more: 19 rushes/game
Game Decided by 10 pts or less: 19.1 rushes/game
In tight games, Miller rushed .1 more times per game
Game Decided by 10 pts or more: 10.3 rushes/game
Game Decided by 10 pts or less: 18.6 rushes/game
In tight games, Miller rushed 8.3 more times per game
Obviously, these stats aren’t situational, and they don’t demonstrate whether all of the QBs carries are coming early in the game or later in games. I don’t have data to demonstrate that Meyer will always turn to his safety blanket in crucial 4th quarter calls. That’s not the point. Also, I’m not sure the 10 pt margin is the best way to define competitive games, because some games are far closer than they appear, and others aren’t nearly as competitive as the score indicates. But, generally speaking, Meyer will ask his QBs to rush more and take more hits in tight games than in less competitive games. This play calling habit makes his teams more predictable when their backs are against the wall. It’s not surprising that Miller rushed 21 times in the MSU game, his second highest carries performance of the season (also not surprising that his most carries came against Wisconsin (22) which was also a tight game.) The MSU game was called very much in an “Urban Meyer style” and he, not Tom Herman, made the predictable call to rush Miller. It's on Meyer.