At 1-6 on the year, Purdue football is clearly not having a successful inaugural season under head coach Darrell Hazell.
I’m among those who thought hiring Hazell, who was the epitome of class when dealing with the media as an Ohio State assistant who regularly turned out NFL-quality receivers for six seasons in Columbus, was a good move by the Boilermaker brass, and that could still turn out to be the case. It’s early yet in his tenure, and I’m sure there was a lot to work on after the dysfunctional Danny Hope era.
But the offense has been, to put it mildly, a disaster this season, and perhaps this is why:
Yeah, I guess using only 10 guys is a good way to get to 90th in the nation in passing yards and 118th or worse in pretty much every other major statistical category.
How does this happen? That’s a good question. There are plenty of options to fill out that last spot. While Wisconsin would probably go with another tackle, Purdue could list a third receiver or a second tight end – maybe even a fullback since Hazell seems to want to move toward more of a pro-style attack.
Did they forget about fullbacks after all those years of pass-happy spread offenses under the Joe Tiller? There are a few guys listed on the roster as fullbacks, so that can’t be it.
Is this depth chart is a simple protest from a spread offense loyalist in the sports information department, or are they just waiting for the next donation check from Mike Alstott to clear?
Of course there are plenty of other things for Hazell to worry about when it comes to restoring the Purdue program, but hopefully we can get to the bottom of this sooner or later.
Ohio State’s first season in Urban Meyer’s spread offense was a big success by most measures, but the head coach and his offensive coordinator want much more in year two. We examine how they can improve and take a look at a past example of an OSU offense going from good to great in its second season with a new attack – Scout.com: Buckeyes Want To Add Read, Speed in 2013
I cannot hide from the fact I have been a pure spread skeptic. Or, perhaps more accurately, a skeptic of the pure spread.
As the movement evolves, I can, too, right? Sure, why not?
While the benefits of spreading a team out to use more of the field are clear, it is also easy to paint one’s self into a corner with systems that do not utilize all types of players and plays.
So as far as that goes, Ohio State fans should be happy to see the spread movement coming to Ohio State only after it has had time to more fully mature.
There are plenty of different ways to move the ball, it’s not just zone run, zone read and bubble screens.
The big addition to the repertoire is the inverted veer, which is really a beautiful play and one that might have saved the shotgun run game movement as defenses had figured out some ways to consistently give a false read key on the zone read and screw up what was the scheme’s base play. Hybrid players also made a difference, as you might recall seeing smaller ends like Thaddeus Gibson and Nathan Williams give quarterbacks a “keep” read then have the athleticism to close distance and bring him down anyway or at least make him cut and give time for pursuit to arrive.
The inverted veer involves a read of the front side end (like the classic veer) while blocking a strong-side zone or “power” play (a.k.a., the same blocking scheme from the play Jim Tressel called “Dave”) instead of just making the backside end pay for overplaying a handoff going away from him. The alteration gives the offense an even better numbers advantage as it adds an extra blocker to the play side while still optioning an end.
Over time the type of personnel used within some versions of the spread has changed, too. That’s another key distinction between what Meyer plans to do at Ohio State versus what Rich Rodriguez did at Michigan or for that matter what Joe Tiller did at Purdue (two very different approaches, of course, but both designed to take advantage of personnel that would be considered “nontraditional” in the Big Ten).
Defenses adjusted to the early spreads by putting more speed on the field, negating some of the advantages it initially gave inferior teams. Offenses responded by bringing back some of the big guys who had been relegated to the sidelines by the influx of 3- and 4-WR sets. That gives the offense a chance to take advantage not only of the full width of the field but also to win physical matchups closer to the middle. One of my early criticisms of the spread as a weapon of traditional powers such as Michigan or Ohio State was that it could marginalize one of the advantages those schools have over the Michigans and the Texas Techs: the ability to recruit not only big guys and fast guys, but big, fast guys. The latter group is much more exclusive than the first two.
And so as Meyer takes Columbus, Ohio State has plenty of personnel that should fit into a power-oriented spread offense. That begins with quarterback Braxton Miller, who has the speed and agility to make plays and the toughness and willingness to run inside even though he lacks the ideal build to do that too often, and goes on to a foursome of fast power backs (Meyer acknowledged last week here he has a “scat quarterback” instead of a power QB like Time Tebow). Jordan Hall could kind of fill in the cracks as a tough-to-tackle edge guy when he returns from foot surgery.
Then there is the trio of athletic big guys: Zach Boren, Jake Stoneburner and Jeff Heuerman (Meyer seems ready to add Nick Vannett to this group recently as well) who should give the staff the capability to be less transparent with intentions to run or pass. They can move around the formation and make blocks at the first or second level.
There were questions about the athleticism of the offensive line, but the players and coaches assure us the new training staff did a lot to alleviate those since January.
What about wide receiver? The potential is there and seems to be coming along, however slowly.
Maybe that’s the most telling aspect of the whole progression. Who would have thought five years ago a team could go into a season feeling good about it’s chances of scoring a lot of points with a spread offense with the biggest question mark on the team being the wide receivers?
Certainly this has been an interesting offseason. Watching the system implemented during spring and talking to the new coaches about the challenges they have faced and the benefits of what they do has been very cool.
Now it’s almost time to see it take the field for real. Should be fun.
My No. 1 takeaway from Ohio State spring football: There are lots of good pieces available on offense, but I don’t think they are distributed in the most natural way for them to be used.
Head coach Urban Meyer’s system is based on combining the space created by spread (i.e., three receivers or more) formations with the power of good ol’ fashioned Midwest football. Essentially he wants to run Woody Hayes’ plays without facing as many defenders in the box as the Hall of Fame coach did. Why try to win with eight blockers on nine when you can make force the defense to play seven on eight? (Hayes was comfortable playing nine on 10 for that matter, but the old man went through his own evolutions during his time in Columbus, expanding from the “T” to the “I” in 1968 in a move that in some ways resembles the move from the I to a one-back offense these days but is much different in others.)
But the effectiveness of spreading teams out depends in large part on one thing Meyer has lamented the absence of at Ohio State this spring: Pure speed*. While pro-style two-back offenses let the defense gang up on them then make them pay the price with deceptive actions (a.k.a., play action), the spread is more about individual matchups.
Space is no good if you can’t take advantage of it. The easiest way to take advantage of space is with speed. If you put someone outside who can outrun a defender deep, the defense has to adjust. Same with having a guy who can outrun a containment defender from the inside of the formation out. A defense that fears losing individual matchups like that has to give help, creating more potential weak points the offense can in turn exploit.
Much has been made about the move from the pro-style hodgepodge offense the previous staff preferred to Meyer’s system, although Meyer pointed out the day he was hired there are some similarities.
Offensive line coach Ed Warinner went to great lengths to stress the offense will remain physical and that anyone thinking “spread” equates to “finesse” is mistaken. That should be proven soon enough if for no other reason than the pieces necessary to implement the finesse part of the offense are not necessarily in place.
Meyer volunteered seven names when asked about the playmakers he identified during the spring. In order, they were Jordan Hall, Jake Stoneburner, Carlos Hyde, Brown, Michael Thomas and Smith.
Notice and do not ignore the significance of their positions: Two running backs (Hall and Hyde) and a tight end (Stoneburner) followed by a trio of receivers. Meyer added that two more players – Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman – were on the verge of joining that group. They two are tight ends, too.
What does that mean? The staff has plenty of options for attacking opposing defenses, but they are at their best within a confined area of the field. That area should be less crowded than it used to be, but the staff will still have to get creative in terms of how it uses those pieces.
We may end up seeing an Ohio State offense that lacks of big plays but puts up a lot of consistent medium gains, which is not the worst thing in the world.
Because they can’t depend on someone to run past the defense, they will have to go through it with the power of Hyde, the quickness of Hall and the combination of both in Stoneburner.
Of course, we can’t leave the quarterback out of this equation. Braxton Miller should also be a source of big plays. He might actually be the guy who can get outside containment, to outflank a defense with his speed. In that way I suppose he could be the inverse Tim Tebow. The quarterback was the power back in the Florida spread days. He distributed the ball to playmakers and moved the chains in short-yardage situations. Miller may be the guy creating the big plays and leaving the dirty work to guys like Hyde, Hall or the tight ends later in the series.
The difference is those guys are probably not going to go the distance very regularly. They can use their abilities to turn two yards into six, but they won’t do more than that because the pursuit will have time to get to them. Consistency is not a bad alternative to explosiveness, but sometimes it’s not as productive where it truly counts: The scoreboard.
How it all shakes out between now and the season opener against Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 1 should be interesting.
*At this point it should be observed that complaints about lack of speed are not exactly what they seem on the surface. There are some guys who can stretch the field (Devin Smith and Corey “Philly” Brown come to mind) but the staff is not yet convinced they are worthy of major roles. That’s a result of discipline, experience and consistency, and it figures to be a fluid situation moving forward. As guys prove they know what they are doing and will use their natural gifts the right way, the total of weapons available could grow. In the meantime, it sounds like the staff is proceeding with caution.