Meyer helps spread word about his offense

System rolls up points, victories

Urban Meyer, right, created his own spread offense in 2001 at Bowling Green, but the Ohio State coach has never been afraid of tweaking his own system.
Urban Meyer, right, created his own spread offense in 2001 at Bowling Green, but the Ohio State coach has never been afraid of tweaking his own system.

COLUMBUS -- The offense that will revolutionize the look of Ohio State football this fall was born just up the road in a cramped and musty old meeting room where water dripped onto the table whenever it rained.


Sept. 1: Miami (Ohio), noon

Sept. 8: Central Florida, noon

Sept. 15: California, noon

Sept. 22: Alabama-Birmingham, TBA

Sept. 29: at Michigan St., TBA

Oct. 6: Nebraska, 8

Oct. 13: at Indiana, 8

Oct. 20: Purdue, TBA

Oct. 27: at Penn St., 6

Nov. 3: Illinois, TBA

Nov. 17: at Wisconsin, TBA

Nov. 24: Michigan, noon



Adolphus Washington arrived at Ohio State this summer as a 6-foot-3, 245-pound defensive end. Or so it said on the Buckeyes' roster. The five-star recruit from Cincinnati could only laugh. That was about, oh, 50 pounds ago.

Washington, a Parade All-American touted by as the top recruit in Ohio, packed on the weight during the offseason — though coaches are not concerned. Now listed as a 289-pound defensive tackle, he remains quick-footed and is considered the program's next cornerstone interior lineman. Washington and fellow blue-chip arrival Noah Spence at defensive end are both expected to contribute early as top backups.

"I mean, he's grown up," defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said. "I don't know if you guys have seen Adolphus Washington, Sr., but he's a large individual. Dogs with black and white spots usually have puppies with black and white spots. Adolphus is a big kid, and he's a big, athletic kid."



■ Ohio State's schedule aligns favorably, with its eight home games matching the most in program history. OSU also played eight games at Ohio Stadium in 2002 and 2003.

■ Eight of the Buckeyes' 10 coaches hail from Ohio, including Urban Meyer, who was born in Toledo and raised in Ashtabula. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman was born in Cincinnati but is from Simi Valley, Calif., while co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers is a Charlotte native.

■ An offensive line anchored by St. John's Jesuit alum Jack Mewhort at left tackle must replace three starters, though coaches are confident the front will be improved. OSU's 46 sacks allowed last season were third-most in the nation.

■ OSU's defensive line is the strength of the team, with ends John Simon and Nathan Williams and tackle Johnathan Hankins combining for 15 sacks and 43 tackles for a loss in their last full season. Williams missed 2011 recovering from microfracture knee surgery but is expected to play Saturday.

■ Meyer has put Michigan on watch. His teams are 21-3 in professed rivalry games. Bowling Green was 1-1 against Toledo; Utah was 4-0 against Utah State and BYU; and Florida was 16-2 against Florida State, Tennessee, and Georgia.

■ The most glaring question remains at receiver, where all it took was 14 catches for Jake Stoneburner, Corey Brown, and Devin Smith to be co-leaders in the nation's 115th-ranked passing offense last season. That trio returns to lead a unit Meyer calls much improved.

Urban Meyer, newly introduced as the head coach of Bowling Green State University, and his staff of assistants gathered there at Doyt Perry Stadium each morning the spring of 2001. They would spend the next 10 hours writing one of the first gospels on the spread offense, scripting everything from schemes and terminology to snap counts and how the Falcons would huddle.

For Meyer, it was a time of excitement and possibility, the blinding search for perfection that tormented his final seasons at Florida still years away. There was nothing yet to maintain.

"One of the greatest experiences I've had because there was no model," Meyer said. "Go build something, and by the way, there's no book to go build it."

More than a decade later, the foundation Meyer built in Bowling Green will guide the Buckeyes' offense from its old-guard past to an open new era where every inch of between-the-lines real estate is in play.

The 100,000-plus fans at Ohio Stadium for Saturday's season-opener against Miami (Ohio) will see OSU football as never before, with sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller directing a no-huddle spread option that history suggests will ultimately yield prolific results.

Meyer's teams in his second season at BGSU and Utah averaged 41 and 45 points, respectively, while Florida amassed 372 touchdowns during his six seasons in Gainesville -- 66 more than any other Southeastern Conference school in that span.

The track record is enough to imbue even a Buckeyes team that ranked 107th in total offense last year with a rush of confidence. Asked what should be expected from Ohio State this season, junior running back Carlos Hyde smiled and said, "A lot of points."

Area fans will notice key differences from the offense Meyer used a decade ago to upend the Mid-American Conference. Former BGSU quarterback Josh Harris praised his former coach's ability to adapt -- both to his players and the times.

In Meyer's first two seasons at Florida, for instance, he played to quarterback Chris Leak's strength as a traditional drop-back passer. (Leak rushed for only 111 yards in 2005 and 2006.) Miller, who ran for 715 yards last season, is a more ideal fit as a dual threat who's just as comfortable running the option as he is throwing a fly route.

Meyer has also reliably added new creases to the spread. Harris remembers watching Utah running a shovel option play that became synonymous with Meyer at UF and thinking, "We never did that." And this fall, the influence of offensive coordinator Tom Herman will be seen in the addition of a no-huddle element.

"Coach Meyer is not stuck in his ways," said Harris, who lives in Columbus and remains close to Meyer. "People are bigger, stronger, faster than when I was playing, and that was just 10 years ago. He's done a great job of evolving, which has kept coach Meyer relevant."

Still, the driving tenet Meyer brought to Bowling Green remains the same. He wants to get his playmakers the ball in space -- not exactly a strength of off-tackle runs out of the I-formation.

Birth of an offense

The origins of Meyer's spread came in the late 1990s.

He was schooled in traditional packed-in pro sets, including as a graduate assistant at Ohio State under Earle Bruce. But as the wide receivers coach at Notre Dame, he became frustrated as bigger, faster, and more complex defenses made it increasingly difficult to move the ball.

Meyer had seen film of Louisville running plays out of spread-out formations, and asked Notre Dame coach Bob Davie one day in 1999 if he and graduate assistant Dan Mullen could visit the coaches there. Davie agreed.

Meyer, then 34, planned to spend a day talking to Cardinals coach John L. Smith and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. But the ambitious young assistant could not be pulled away. He and Mullen, now the head coach at Mississippi State, stayed for four days.

"I had to go buy a toothbrush," Meyer said. "I was so enamored by the style of play, and that was spread the field, be extremely aggressive."

Wielding a notebook, his biggest question was how Louisville handled pressures. With the offense spread wide, couldn't teams capitalize on the lack of protection? How did the Cardinals handle, say, a safety blitz?

"Coach, I haven't seen a free safety blitz in four years," the coach replied, Meyer recalled. "Because you can see it all happen."

Meyer became sold the next season when he spotted David Givens, the Irish's top playmaker, sobbing in the home locker room after Notre Dame's overtime loss to top-ranked Nebraska. Givens told the coach he was upset because he did not touch the ball. Meyer understood.

"You have to fire me immediately if I ever let that happen again," Meyer said in his biography, "Urban's Way." "I didn't do my job that day. My job is to get that kid the ball."

If Meyer got the chance to be a head coach, he was going to run the spread.

Starting from scratch

The first laboratory for Meyer's experiment was a Bowling Green program coming off a 2-9 season and its sixth straight losing year.

With Mullen as quarterbacks coach, Gregg Brandon as offensive coordinator, and Greg Studrawa as offensive line coach, Meyer and his staff set into uncharted territory. They studied the zone-read option at Northwestern and other variations of the spread at Purdue and West Virginia. But Meyer made the new offense his own.

"We were building something from the ground up, putting an offense together," Brandon said in a phone interview from Laramie, Wyo., where the former Falcons coach is now the offensive coordinator at Wyoming. "There were a lot of things that were sound in what we were doing, but we hadn't done it as a staff and we had never coached it."

The results, however, were immediate. With a roster of about 50 scholarship players -- Meyer had chased off a parade of players he felt were not fully committed -- the Falcons opened the 2001 season with a 20-13 victory at Missouri.

"They had a hard time getting lined up," Meyer said of the Tigers, who were playing their first game under former Toledo coach Gary Pinkel.

It was a common theme the rest of the season as the Falcons pitched, tossed, handed off, and snapped the ball to their playmakers in ways opponents had not seen before. Led by the 245-pound Harris, the Falcons went 8-3 in 2001 and 9-3 in 2002 while rewriting the school's offensive record books.

"People didn't know how to defend it," Meyer said. "We were the novelty."

Not everyone was immediately on board. Meyer said the first time Bruce saw one of his spread sets at BGSU, he said, "What the hell is this?" But his mentor came around when he realized, beneath the surface, the offense did not stray from his old-school values.

"He started watching it and really loved it," Meyer said. "He knows we're a physical power team that runs it from different sets."

In fact, Meyer bristles when his spread is mentioned in the same breath as air-it-out offenses like Purdue was with quarterback Drew Brees. Florida's 15,109 rushing yards from 2005 to 2010 led the SEC.

"Purdue changed the Big Ten, but that was throw it, throw it, throw it," Meyer said. "We want to be 50-50 and be real physical. They were called 'Basketball on Grass.' I told our coaches that you won't coach here very long if I ever hear that come out of your mouth. Basketball on grass? It's power football out of spread sets."

Meyer knows his creation will not blindside anyone in his return to Ohio, noting eight teams in the Big Ten now run a form of the spread. But the former pioneer is aiming to stay on the vanguard.

"For the fans, it will be a lot different from last year," OSU running back Jordan Hall said. "There will be a lot more excitement."

Contact David Briggs at:, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.