Death of a Meme: Ohio State's Attacking Tight Ends

By Ross Fulton on April 8, 2014 at 1:15p

You read it in media articles and it is whispered in the ears of recruits – Ohio State does not throw the football to the tight end. In fact, it is so frequently mentioned that it is almost accepted as some unending truth.

But while it may be easy to include as a throw away line in an article, in Urban Meyer and Tom Herman's offense it has little basis in reality. Perhaps somewhat under the radar, the Buckeye tight ends were in an integral part of an uneven passing game in 2013. And this should become only more true in 2014.

So it may be time to forego the OhIo State does not throw to the tight end cliche once and for all.

Every Meme has a Basis in Fact

Although it is often forgotten that Ben Hartsock was the second leading receiver for Jim Tressel's national championship team, it is undeniable that the tight end became a sidelight as a receiver in Tressel's later years. Tressel's tight ends were often prized more for their blocking than receiving skills. As a result, they were overshadowed by more talented wide receivers.

But it is fairly obvious to all that Meyer is not Tressel and the two have very different offensive systems. So why does the meme live on?

Part of it is a reflection of practical decisions by Meyer and Herman regarding their team's strengths and weaknesses in 2012 and 2013. Like all good coaches, Meyer's primary concern is not x's and o's on a chalkboard but ensuring that he is putting any given group of players in the best position to win.

Meyer's mandate to himself every year is identify his best six playmakers and get them the ball. In 2012 – and to a lesser extent 2013 – Meyer's best playmakers were Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde running behind a talented offensive line.

The Buckeye passing game was far shakier in comparison. But when the Buckeyes did throw the football their best options were Corey Brown for short to medium completions and the occasional downfield shot to Devin Smith. The Buckeyes' young tight ends, Heuerman and Nick Vannett simply did not threaten a defense as those four did. As a result the tight end remained a secondary option.

New Threats Emerging

Yet potentially lost in that overarching story was the emergence in the last half of 2013 of the Buckeye tight ends, particularly Heuerman, as legitimate receiving threats. Heuerman's 26 catches in 2013 were good for third on the team behind Brown and Smith, and the Ohio State tight ends contributed 19% of the Buckeyes' total receiving yards.

The Ohio State tight ends should continue their move to the main stage in 2014. With Brown's departure, Heuerman has the opportunity to become the Buckeyes' primary option in the middle of the field.

Waiting for the Right Part

Fortunately for Heuerman and his fellow tight ends, Meyer and Herman's offense seeks to utilize the tight ends as receiving threats – assuming they have the right personnel to do so. That is because Meyer's passing attack looks to exploit the middle of the field against linebackers and safeties overplaying the run. In fact, Meyer's tight ends have a critical role to play in both the possession and explosive passing game.

For instance, one of Meyer's base routes is H-Y Option. As the name describes, the slot H receiver and Y or tight end run option routes. This is a fancy way to say the two receivers are going to attack the underneath curl-flat defender to their side and get open between eight to ten yards. The receivers have the option to hook inside or outside or even work across the field on a shallow cross. The point is to spread the defense out and let the receivers quickly find open spaces.

H-Y Option

This play is an effective method to get the ball to the H receiver in space and let him use his athleticism. But it can also be used to string together high percentage completions and stay ahead of schedule. In those circumstances, the tight end becomes a critical target, particularly if that tight end is a reliable receiving threat.

Going over the Top

Meyer and Herman's tight ends are also frequent targets to create big plays off play action down the middle of the field against safeties overplaying the run. The primary method is with seam routes off variations of three and four verticals.

For instance, against Clemson, the Buckeyes had repeated success with a seam route combined with a wheel route out of the backfield off play action. Clemson's backside linebacker and safety actively flowed to the run fake, leaving Heuerman open down field.

Seam Route

So Buckeye tight ends have ample opportunities as receiving threats under Meyer. Glimpses of those opportunities should only become prevalent in 2014. As noted, with Brown's departure, Heuerman is perhaps Ohio State's most consistent returning receiver and should be a critical component of the 2014 passing offense. In so doing, Heuerman's legacy can perhaps be the Buckeye who finally put the Ohio State doesn't throw to the tight end notion to bed. 


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GVerrilli92's picture

Was sitting behind the endzone Heuerman was running towards in that last GIF

When he first caught the ball nobody thought he was taking another step. Instead he showed insane hip explosiveness and acceleration, got going in the right direction quickly and didn't get tracked down. In other words, this kid is really fast. I expect a lot of TDs for our TEs this year because of the threat of our perimeter players and Braxton running the edge option.

Don't forget about Marcus Baugh either, this is Urban's first "Hernandez" type, athletic TE. Huge threat with the ball.

I got a gray kitty, white kitty, tabby too, and a little orange guy who puts snakes in my shoes. Got mad MC skills, that leave ya struck, and I roll with my kitties and I'm hard as f*ck.

+4 HS
chirobuck's picture

Yeah I think the Clemson db was surprised at his can tell he thought he was going to catch him at first


^ best post ever ^

+1 HS
AWalk3r1's picture

I agree Heuerman did a great job, First he was able to adjust to a pass that was thrown at him instead of leading him down the field to where he could run to it, and two would be the speed to get there. 

The one thing that scares me next year, is Braxton throwing the ball and that gif shows it all right there, His inabilty  to anticipate an open receiver, and to throw someone open. combine that with the his slow decision  making and accuracy and label me worried.



+1 HS
Bamabucknut's picture

Agree.You have to have a QB who  can get through his progressions better.I still think we have an  athlete who wants to play QB as our starter.

+1 HS
CGroverL's picture

"Inability to ANTICIPATE an open receiver"? The ball was snapped and Heuerman caught the pass 4 seconds later. Sure, it wasn't a perfect pass, but QB's do tend to throw the ball with a bit more air underneath it and away from defenders when a receiver is THAT WIDE OPEN. And, like I said before, Heuerman caught the ball 4 seconds after the ball was snapped...Miller practically caught the ball, dropped back, recognized the wide open target and threw it immediately. Sure, the ball wasn't thrown on a rope perfectly in line with Heuerman's footsteps, but Heuerman ran in for the TD without being touched for the most part. I think you might be being a bit too hard on Miller there.

QB's often throw up lobs when there is no defender makes it easier for the receiver to adjust and gives him plenty of time to get in position to take it to the house if he did. If it scares you when Miller throws a TD pass to a wide open TE, you may be in for a tough season. I remember when Miller threw a perfectly thrown pass to Devin Smith against Michigan State. He threw the ball 39 yards on a line to Smith who had just one step on the defender when he threw it. The defender fell while trying to make a play on the ball but the ball was perfectly thrown...there was no stopping it unless Smith had dropped the ball.

My point? Two different TD throws by Miller where the receiver went into the end zone practically untouched. The pass to Smith didn't make me think that every pass by him would be perfect, just as I'm not scared that Miller lobbed up a pass to a wide open TE...I think I'd be scared if Miller threw an INT rather than getting the ball to Heuerman 4 seconds after the ball was snapped...especially when it was a play that turned into an easy TD. Look at the play and see how SLOW Miller's decision making really was....he caught the snap and lobbed the pass. Not pretty but pretty effective, right? Tough fans we have in Buckeye Nation....

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



-1 HS
AWalk3r1's picture

Not tough fans at all. and four seconds in decent time.

so on with your points here, and what i was talking about, Milled threw the ball behind him. a wide open TE. he did not float it, for him to run under it. He threw the ball behind him. He did not throw him open, and him going into the endzone untouched was more about the TE speed then Miller. That was his first read, and it took four seconds.

   He did not have to antcipate the TE being open, it was a blow coverage on the D and he was already open. If he would not have been open. and there was a corner behind the TE. its an incomplete or INT. but this is one example.

For that play and for that open of a man... yeah i do think the ball stayed in his hands to long.

your welcome


Squirrel Master's picture

everyone forgets the passes that do go to TEs. Some are incompletions but some are really nice plays. People also forget how the TE was effectively used down in UF where Tebow would throw it over the front 7 playing the run and hit a wide open TE about 10-15 yards out. Plus the jumpshot pass that typically went to the TE.

I'm glad you wrote this Ross, unfortunately some will continue the "OSU doesn't throw to the TE" meme until OSU features the TE as the main option on every play and its Jimmy Graham! Going from 5 years ago to what OSU has now is a massive improvement. And even if a spectacular TE does come to this team, they won't be featured like UNC does because there are actually talented players at other positions. If a TE wants to be featured as the sole talent, lose the whole time and eventually bust in the NFL because now they do have to compete for passes and won't know how to deal with it; then by all means go to UNC.

if a TE wants to win, learn how to play not just the pass but run block, and still go to the NFL....OSU is the place! Despite the "lack of a solid TE" in the past decade, there are at least 3 on an NFL team and Heuerman will be heading there too.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

+1 HS
Will in Arizona's picture

I was always impressed with the triple option that Meyer used to run at Florida which was basically a speed option but with Aaron Hernandez trailing for the inside shovel pass.  With the talent they had, that was almost unstoppable.

bignut2017's picture

I expect Jeff heurman to be a total beast this year. Losing a playmaker in Philly brown I expect Jeff to be much more involved this year. I see him having about 50 catches for 700 yards and the big one, anywhere from 7-11 touchdowns.

"Championships aren't won on Saturdays, they're won on Tuesdays in August" Kerry Coombs

+1 HS
rock flag and eagle's picture

Here's a few stats, in case anyone wants to see how OSU stacked up against other B1G squads in 2013, and their respective proportional use of tight ends.

According to my quick research (I use, please let me know if you see any calculation errors or typos) Ohio State had 238 receptions, 34 of which went to Heuerman/Vannett.  That's 14%.

Illinois had 302 catches, 52 of which were made by tight ends.  17%

Indiana had 279 catches, 36 of which were made by tight ends.  12%

Iowa had 213 catches, 57 of which were made by tight ends.  27%

Michigan had 237 catches, 70 of which were made by tight ends*.  29%

Michigan State had 248 catches, 23 of which were made by tight ends.  9%

Minnesota had 137 receptions, 33 of which were made by tight ends.  24%

Nebraska had 218 catches, 22 of which were made by tight ends.  10%

Northwestern had 241 catches, 0 of which were made by tight ends.  0% (none of the catches were made by players cfbstats or ESPN list as TE)

Penn State had 241 catches, 60 of which were made by tight ends.  24%

Purdue had 235 catches, 59 of which were made by tight ends.  25%

Wisconsin had 217 catches, 52 of which were made by tight ends.  23%

*The Funchess Phenomenon needs to be taken into account.

Ohio State TEs accounted for a higher percentage of their team's receptions than Indiana, Northwestern (laugh out loud), Michigan State and Nebraska.  They accounted for a lesser percentage of their team's receptions than Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin.

Interestingly, in 2012, OSU TEs accounted for 20% of catches (compared to only 14% this year.)  In 2011, TEs at Iowa State (Herman's former team) accounted for 9% of catches.  In 2010, TEs account for 27% of ISU catches.  In 2009, TEs accounted for 21% of ISU catches.  Looks like Herman doesn't have a propensity for or against utilizing tight ends in the passing game.

+3 HS
Buckeye5000's picture

Didn't Herman have a TE catch 110 passes in a season when he was the OC at Rice? I'm pretty sure he did.

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+2 HS
rock flag and eagle's picture

It appears so.  111 rec for James Casey.  2008.  35% of teams receptions (120 out of 339) came from TEs.


+2 HS
Buckeye5000's picture

Thanks for the response. Also thanks for the info on how Coach Meyer and Coach Herman use the tight ends. I'm kind of a stats guy and it's food for thought. I am hoping that the Bucks use the TE's more this season. With the talent we have it would help open up so many other things. Like I said I HOPE they use them more.....but how long have we, as Bucks fans, been saying that?

2014 Undisputed National Champions!

Chris Lauderback's picture

Yep, Rock Flag. I wrote about this last Saturday and I had the TEs accounting for 14% of the receptions and 19% of the yards last season.


OSUNeedles's picture

Quickly flipping through the game breakdowns for the year, 10 of those 34 TE catches were also in the 3 games that Kenny Guiton was the primary QB. That leaves 24 for the other 11 games of the year. A difference of 3.33 vs. 2.18 catches per game for Kenny G vs Braxton. My memory told me that Kenny was better at finding the underneath receiver, but I was curious if the numbers agreed. This was in no way in depth research, but at least a starting point if anybody cared to take it further.

d5k's picture

Miller has had a tendency in the passing game to hold on to the ball looking for bigger plays or just scrambling rather than dumping to a security blanket.  He did find Heuerman on play action for big chunks quite a bit.  Having a bit more of an explosive rather than possession receiver at the H will open things up for Heuerman to be the possession guy on 3rd down some more.

+4 HS
allinosu's picture

I love the double tightend, two wideouts and one back look. Puts a lot of pressure on the linebackers if done right. It looks to me we have the tightends to do it..

+3 HS
d5k's picture

During the middle of last season we had some struggles finishing drives in the red zone due to our WR's being decoys while our running game had to deal with additional defenders in the compacted space (i.e. Cover 0).  I argued at the time that we should have gone to more multiple tight end sets in the red zone but we found other solutions.

bleedscarlet's picture

We could run a power formation with 2 TEs, 2 RBs and a receiver and be almost as wide open as a 4 or 5 receiver set. Heurman and Vannett, Wilson and Samuel, and a receiver of your choice... trot in looking heavy run and go 5 wide. That would drive DCs nuts....

Slingin' swag since 1970


sivaDavis's picture

Heuerman is freakishly athletic and it will show I'm his combine numbers. He doesn't really look fast either but he has those long powerful strides that make him have the advantage if he has a 5-10 yard advantage in between him and the tackler. And Ross I'm not a grammar nazi but did you mean Tressel's tight ends were often prized more for their blocking thEn receiving? or prized more for their blocking thAn receiving.

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

Shangheyed's picture

Dump passes will be more important if the O line doesn't mature(fingers X'd they do)... QBs need time to go down field... the short pass and more TE looks should give Braxton an option if protection is an issue, in addition to keeping LBs honest against the run. Still have no idea why it wasn't used more last year, closer to 20% of the passes would be a nice target for next year.

+1 HS
Jpfbuck's picture

although at times the percent of catches by TE's has been a bit low, part of the reason our TE's catch so few passes is we simply don't pass the ball a great deal

last year we had our most productive offense in school history and only threw 26 passes per game or about 6 per quarter.

since we ran almost 72 plays a game, that means we only threw the ball about 37% of the time.

it is going to be hard for any TE to get a ton of catches when you only throw 37% of 1000 total plays

the last time we threw more times per game was in 2010 when we averaged 26.84 vs last year at 26.29, we only threw it 26.15 in Troy's Heisman year

back in 97 Germaine and Jackson threw at a 28.69 clip and in 98 when Joe G ran the entire show we threw at a  34.92 clip,,,and even then our starting TE caught only 17 passes with 144 going to Boston and Miller and all e TE's caught only 20 balls

even Hoying's senior year we only threw at a 28.69 clip

so hoping to have a TE catch 50 passes as another poster listed, seems fairly far fetched unless we yes target them more, but also simply pass more

that 2008 rice team where Herman had a TE catch over 100 balls also attempted nearly 39 passes a game ie nearly 50% more than we attempted last year and Casey played both TE and FB in their offense running for about 4 carries a game as well



whobdis's picture

As a LB in high school I HATED playinga against a team that passed to the tight end. I think most guys playing linebacker are itching to hit someone and bite on the play action way to easy. Playing coverage just isn't fun. Over the years it's been frustrating to watch defense cheat the linebackers so much and we don't make them pay. The tight end is one of the easiest ways to get those guys to back off...just dump it over them as they crash the los.


CGroverL's picture

Having the TE's that the Buckeyes have should be able to cause some match-up nightmares for defenses. Still though....the Bucks had Stoneburner and didn't take full advantage of his abilities, even after moving him around the offense. To get the TE's in the game more, it may help to make some 2 TE packages where one TE is a safety valve of sorts on the side that the option goes to and the other TE is able to be covered by a LB that is overmatched. Meyer is great at exploiting these kind of match-ups. I think we haven't seen it simply because the most dangerous skill players have been ball carriers and not pass catchers of late. When the pass catchers are the dangerous players is when the Buckeyes will be the "most prolific". This is a good thing when you look at what the offense has done WITHOUT a more prolific passing attack.

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.