The weekly “Cus Words” column returns with a Zeppelin song to kick things off as the Buckeyes look toward facing Miami University in Urban Meyer’s first game as head coach of his home state’s flagship university.
What we learned last week:Change has a way of highlighting all kinds of good and bad things about a situation. It also changes the perception, swinging some things from one category to the other.
The offseason was certainly the most fascinating I have been a part of covering college football as the new Ohio State staff learned what to make of their new faces and put the players through their paces.
I could try to sum up the last eight months in a tidy little package, but I’m not sure that’s possible. Besides, I’m sure you’re as ready to look forward to an actual game sason as I am, so let’s just get on with it, shall we?
What we can expect to learn this week: How someone else constructs a game plan, and how Urban Meyer adjusts to his personnel.
As I wrote last week, the spread offense has arrived at Ohio State in an advanced form, and Buckeye fans should realize that and be grateful.
One thing that often struck me when studying and reading/hearing people talk about various types of spread over the years was that many of the “early adopters” of the offense were pretty much predisposed to think they couldn’t win at the line of scrimmage so there was no point in even trying.
That is definitely not the point of view of Meyer and co-offensive coordinators Tom Herman and Ed Warinner, although I think they are completely against doing anything when outnumbered. When in doubt, they would rather have space to work with than anything else. That’s why they are always in the spread instead of switching back and forth like the old staff here.
Some spreads don’t give you any more to think about at one time than does a double-tight I team, but that is not the case with Meyer.
Jim Tressel, Jim Bollman, et al were very clear they saw the pros and cons of spread and “tight” football, and they had a playbook that had enough stuff in it to give teams a lot to think about and prepare for, but they weren’t very good at balancing those things from week to week. The result was their plans could be read pretty easily.
The way defenses generally align against each look, tight formations can actually produce more big plays, but spreads tend to be able to create more consistent short and medium gains. It’s not always bad to face a loaded box if you have the ability to take advantage of it.
If the I-formation were a person, I would kind of feel bad for it based on the way Tressel and his staff sometimes treated it. I can’t blame anyone who came to the conclusion it was a dinosaur of a formation because they often only used it in prehistoric ways. If they were in the I, it was going to be a power run, an iso handoff, or a drop-back pass. Sprintouts and bootlegs were mysteriously rare, even with athletic quarterbacks such as Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor.
Other Big Ten teams like Iowa and Penn State were often more creative within the realm of the I-formation and its close cousins because they lived more exclusively in that world.
Ohio State, on the other hand, would flip flop between the I and shotgun sets with three (rarely more) wide receivers in both passing situations and when it wanted to free up some room for the quarterback to run.
I always found that a bit curious because Dick Tressel himself said once that a quarterback can be more dangerous as a runner if he begins the play under center. Why? The defense is generally more mindful of him keeping the ball if he is in the shotgun. They never really used that to their advantage despite that stated opinion.
Their version of the shotgun was not really tricked out, either, but it was a little more versatile than their pro sets.
All in all, the entire deal was just strange because they would show off just about every play anybody involved with football ever dreamed up (not only in practice but also in games), yet there rarely was much cohesion with how everything was used. (I did not intend to go off on a long screed about the past decade at Ohio State, but it doesn’t hurt to relive some parts of it as we look toward the future.)
I’d say pretty much everyone expects an upgrade in the offense with Meyer’s attack in place and Herman calling the plays. Though the I-formation will probably be seen only rarely, if ever, the staff insists there will be no loss of physicality.
The commitment to the shotgun spread (which does nothing more than promise the quarterback won’t be under center and at least three guys won’t be attached to the five offensive linemen) figures to bring with it the opportunity to more easily package plays.
That in and of itself should make the offense a little less predictable, but I also am convinced pretty much every fanbase suffers from the thought that it can tell what is coming from its coaches on a regular basis, so predictability can be a bit overrated at times. (Guess run or pass and you’ve got at least a 50/50 chance of getting it right, yeah?)
Meyer has been susceptible to such claims, too. He had two perfect players for his scheme – Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin – at Florida but fans still mocked him for doing little besides having one of them handle the ball on every play, which I guess tells us a few things.
First, that whole idea about predictability being overrated probably has merit, and even diversified schemes can fall back on safe choices at times.
I have often wondered since Meyer took over here if the unique state of the offensive personnel – several big backs, a quicksilver quarterback and some long-striding wide receivers – could actually serve to force him and his staff to learn more about how their offense works than if he just had a couple of guys to rely on play in and play out.
He clearly wants the latter as he has talked endlessly about looking for another Harvin (of course this is fed by his being asked about it regularly, too) even as he salivates at the possibilities Braxton Miller presents. Meyer also one day acknowledged Harvin-type guys are few and far between, so I wonder how often he’ll ever even have one at all. That would make learning to adjust that much more important.
However it all shakes out, this should be a fascinating year.
Meyer not only brings a new offense but also many new ways to run a program. Regardless of the effectiveness of the old ones – Tressel’s teams almost always got better as the season went on, and I think he really did make an extreme effort to bring in high quality people for his team and staff – Meyer’s ways of cultivating a locker room culture are really interesting. Clearly, they are not for everyone, but I have talked to plenty of people who really respect the ideas he has with treating players like adults while understanding they are kids who make mistakes. It can be a fine line, and there will be those who fail to see the nuances and write him off as playing favorites, but I think overall it’s a good strategy for this day and age.
Tressel was very conscious of dealing with the modern athlete. He commented often about how kids these days are more interested in knowing why they are doing something as opposed to simply following orders. I think that’s a change that has been going on for decades, but he gave the impression he felt things weren’t the same even since he took over at Ohio State. I think ultimately he gambled and lost with who he brought in towards the end, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Meyer is here having gone through his own ups and downs. The scars are there for everyone to see, but now he has a new set of challenges.
Tressel had already reinvented his program a couple of times, as any good coach has to do if he is around for three decades. This is really the first time Meyer has had to do that, and that makes it even more interesting to see how this whole Ohio State experiment works out.
It’s not just a new place. It’s home. It’s where he was forged, where he came from. There are feelings involved that you can’t just find anywhere. He also comes from a scary place not that long ago, something that surely colors his approach to this redux.
When we have talked to him in preparation for this season, he definitely looks like someone ready to get back to football.
I know I am, too.
How about you?