Looking back a year ago, the hype for the Ohio State offense was through the roof.
Everyone wanted to see what the Buckeyes would do in their first season under new head coach Urban Meyer with talented quarterback Braxton Miller running his unique power spread.
And for the most part, the team delivered. Miller amassed 3,310 total yards (including an OSU quarterback record 1,271 on the ground), Devin Smith led the Big Ten in yards per catch (20.6) and Carlos Hyde led the Big Ten in scoring (10.2 points per game).
The Buckeyes led the Big Ten in scoring (37.2 points per game, fifth all-time at OSU), were second in the conference and 10th nationally in rushing and were third in the Big Ten in total offense.
They scored 128 more points than the 2011 unit despite one playing less game and outgained their predecessor by more than 900 total yards.
But Meyer and Miller want more this year, and they believe they have the tools to do it. Not only is Miller expected to be a more efficient passer this year, he has a better grasp of the offense. The junior quarterback is also looking forward to having more weapons at his disposal, including senior Jordan Hall (returning from injury) and freshmen Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall.
In fact, the head coach and offensive coordinator Tom Herman agreed last season only showed part of what his offense is all about. Sure, the Buckeyes’ scheme looked different than it had most of the time in previous years because Miller was almost always in the shotgun and there were typically at least three receivers on the field, but in action it was not as different as it appeared.
The offense still often boiled down to a running back following a blocker (often one who motioned from tight end or the wing) up the middle or off tackle. Despite all the bells and whistles Meyer was known for at Florida, the success of his first Ohio State offense was mostly predicated on power blocking by an improved offensive line and power running backs.
Of course there was also a liberal dose of running by Miller, who at times reverted to essentially a single-wing halfback when he ran on designed plays.
“We ran two-back power and we ran two-back tight zone,” Herman said. “We did not have all of the misdirection, perimeter pieces to our offense that we would like so it became a very pro-style offense from the shotgun, which you can do. Our two base plays are two-back run plays – two-back zone and two-back power – and then like you said single wing where to gain that numbers advantage your quarterback becomes your ball carrier.”
Miller and a plethora of power backs as well as four starters up front return for the Buckeyes this season, but Meyer and Herman hope the addition of the new skill players (and Hall’s return) will add the “read” back into the “read option offense.”
“In theory, what is a spread offense?” Meyer said. “There’s a read component and you force the defense to defend 53 1/3 yards. The Ohio State Buckeyes did not do that a year ago. They didn’t have to defend it. And then you have the vertical component, and that’s all speed. That’s creating space and guys in space doing things with the ball. I’m seeing more of that, like Evan Spencer right now is playing much faster than he did a year ago.”
On top of spreading the field more, Herman and Meyer intend to speed up the tempo of the offense. They had visions of doing that a year ago, but ended up playing at just about the nation's average speed according to advanced stats guru Bill Connelly.
This is another area where Miller's better grasp of the offense figures to come into play.
There is precedent for good turning into great when it comes to Ohio State offenses. In 1968, legendary head coach Woody Hayes took new offensive coordinator George Chaump’s advice and installed the I-formation. Inspired by what he saw during a high school game in nearby Upper Arlington, Hayes also let quarterbacks Rex Kern, Ron Maciejowski and Bill Long run a hurry-up offense.
That season the new offense was a fantastic success as the Buckeyes nearly doubled their scoring average (up to 32.3 from 16.1 in 1967), ran 10.2 more plays per game (84.4), went 10-0 and were named consensus national champions.
That was just the beginning for the Buckeye offense, though. Kern and Maciejowksi returned as juniors in ’69 and took the offense to yet another level. Though a shocking loss to Michigan at the end of the season prevented the Buckeyes from winning a second consecutive national championship, the ’69 offense ran an almost unbelievable 92.1 plays per game and averaged a school-record 42.6 points per game.
There was a downside, though. Not only did the offense grind to a halt in Ann Arbor, the loss included six Michigan interceptions. That spelled the end to the wide-open offense even though Kern, Maciejowski and most of the rest of the “Super Sophs” returned for their senior season in 1970.
That year the Buckeyes saw their scoring average dip to 29.0 points per game, and they ran almost 14 fewer plays per contest. Hayes also pretty much forgot about the forward pass in 1970 as OSU passers put the ball in the air only 152 times in 10 games. On the bright side, they posted another perfect regular season, going 9-0 including a 20-9 win over visiting Michigan and winning the Big Ten title. The ’70 Buckeyes were denied a second national championship in three years, though, by a 27-17 loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.