Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is known as a spread-offense guru with a history of getting the ball in the hands of elusive players and watching them turn defenders into pretzels.
But because of personnel limits last year, what the Buckeyes ran was probably something Woody Hayes would have endorsed: More of a pro-style attack with a power running game.
“What’s the spread offense? Reading the opponent and making them defend 53 1/3 yards (the width of the field),” Meyer said at OSU’s media day Sunday. “The Ohio State Buckeyes did not do that last year. (Opponents) didn’t have to defend it.”
Meyer believes it’s the role of coaches to come up with a scheme to get skill players past the defensive front. After that, the staff needs to have stockpiled enough talent to turn those one-on-one situations into mismatches.
“Here’s the way we evaluate offense: Get players to the second level and then recruit your tail off,” he said. “At the second level, that’s where you see that crazy stuff that God blesses incredible athletes with. That’s called big hits. We were not a big-hit team last year. We got to the second level, and a lot of times the second level made the tackle.”
But while Meyer may have been handcuffed a year ago, he’ll be able to unleash his entire arsenal this season.
“We’re faster. We’re a faster team,” he said. “I hope you see in that in three weeks.
“You’ll see a different style of offense this year.”
Much of the speed is coming from freshmen. Running back Dontre Wilson of DeSoto, Texas, has created as much buzz as any first-year OSU player perhaps since Maurice Clarett in 2002.
Although he’s been considered a hybrid back because of his knack for catching passes, Meyer said: “He’s a running back. He also has a unique skill set because he’s extremely dynamic and fast. We all know what that means in the game of football, especially in an offense where you try to create space.”
A trio of freshmen, receivers Jalin Marshall and James Clark and running back Ezekiel Elliott, also are making a push for playing time.
Asked if he’s leery of leaning too much on freshmen, Meyer recalled how his 2006 Florida team won a national title after getting a much-needed lift from rookies.
“We injected a bunch of speed and playmakers. I see very similar qualities. That was one of those classes where you watch practice and look to see that number again (because of a freshman doing something unexpected),” Meyer said. “I feel the same way — certainly on offense. I feel a little bit of a jolt. That’s certainly going to help us.”
That’s also going to help quarterback Braxton Miller, who was the team’s lone true breakaway threat last year. Asked if he was eager to hook up with Wilson, the Wayne High School graduate replied emphatically: “Abso-LUTE-ly. Definitely. He’s a special kid. He goes all out. You could tell from the first day of camp, he was like a bolt of lightning.”
Reminded that he may have a challenge keeping all his playmakers happy, Miller said, “Man, I know. There’s a lot of guys — I’d say six running backs and receivers and a lot of good backups.”
Miller also has been drawing raves for how he looks in preseason camp. At one point, Meyer found himself getting too revved and tried to dial it down: “I’ve got to be careful because I just glow — I love Braxton Miller. Him and (quarterbacks coach) Tom Herman have something really special right now. You can see it on the field. You can see it in his maturity.
“I call quarterback the most unique position in sport. You can be a little introverted, but you have to be able to lead. I don’t want to give him an A yet. But he’s pushing ‘A’ work.”
Quick hits: Meyer said Najee Murray has been suspended for a training camp issue, but not dismissed — contrary to a report making the rounds online Saturday.
• Rashad Frazier, a junior defensive lineman from Middletown, has gone from a walk-on to a scholarship player and currently is part of the rotation on the front four.
• Meyer said offensive lineman Evan Lisle of Centerville is likely a redshirt candidate. “He’s going to be a very good player, but he’s not physically ready yet.”