If Ohio State fans had any reservations about Urban Meyer's hire in 2011, it was that they didn't want the Buckeyes to run a spread offense. It was hardly a secret that Carlos Hyde was Urban's first-ever 1,000 yard rusher after three previous head coaching stops, and many fans didn't want the legacy of great Ohio State running backs to end because of a move to an all-shotgun, three-receiver, small-and-speedy skill player offense.
Obviously that's not how it's happened. Braxton Miller crossed the 1,000 rushing yard barrier in 2012 and Carlos Hyde was 30 yards away from joining him, then Hyde bulldozed his way to 1,500+ yards in 2013 as Urban had not only his first-ever 1,000 yard season from a running back, but from two offense players as well. Finally, Ezekiel Elliott exploded in the last quarter of the season, rushing for 200+ yards each against Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon.
With three years of rushing and playcalling data, it's clear that Ohio State does not run a spread offense -- at least not the version that many fans were hesitant about before the Meyer era began. According to a recent analysis from Football Study Hall, the Buckeyes are the 84th-most spread offense.
Bill's article looks at offenses that generate the most solo tackles as a way to understand who spreads opposing defenses out the most. From his 2013 article:
At its heart, though, the spread ethos is about putting playmakers in space and giving them room to make plays. It originally developed as an underdog tactic of sorts, as a way to spread out and harry more talented defenses and hopefully force some mistakes. But there is a certain level of tactical superiority to the idea, and after a while, a lot of the most talented teams in the country began to employ more and more spread tactics.
But who actually spread you out the most in 2013? Whether a team is actually doing it well or not, the spread is designed to create numbers advantages and get the ball-carrier away from a mass of tacklers. That often leads to solo tackles. So which offensive systems led to the most solo tackles?
And the Buckeyes, in both 2013 and even more so in 2014 (they were 3.1% less spread in 2014), did not have an offensive system that generated a great deal of solo tackles. While traditional spread offensive philosophy is all about isolating playmakers in space, the variety of spread offenses overall -- and specifically Urban Meyer and Tom Herman's version of the spread offense -- did not produce solo tackles at the rate of teams like Clemson, Baylor, Arizona, or TCU.
The Ohio State version of the spread, which Ian Boyd calls the third generation spread, is just fine being called a power-run spread. Here, a bigger back can run inside zone or countert trey all day, many of which end in a gang tackle. Scat running backs have become H-backs, or slot/running back pivot players, who add diversity, balance, contraints, and play making ability to a bread-and-butter power run game. The Buckeyes offense still has third generation features like operating out of the shotgun exclusively, a high level of post-snap reads (and reading other defenders besides a defensive end, like an alley linebacker or defensive tackle), and run-pass options. But it is essentially a modernized version of old-school "pro" football concepts -- power run football for a new era where underdogs no longer have a monopoly on the spread. And the data supports that.
Bill's measure for getting at whether a team is spread-to-run (Auburn, Ohio State) or spread-to-pass (Texas Tech, Washington State) further solidifies the Buckeyes as a power run offense rather than a traditional spread team. According to Adjusted Run-Pass rank, which standardizes everyone's standard and passing downs to look at the run/pass rates, the Buckeyes were the 28th-most run-heavy team last season, behind the first tier of triple-option (and no other option) folks.
As a comparison, teams similarly-ranked in terms of "spreadness" include Oregon (86th), Alabama (82nd), Florida (85th), and Boston College (88th)-- a very diverse collection of offenses. But even though the Buckeyes ranked similarly to those teams, they actually ran the ball more often than either Alabama or Oregon.
This isn't news necessarily -- just watching the team plow through Oregon's defensive line on five-straight counter trey runs or hearing Urban talk about the importance of Ed Warinner and the offensive line's cohesion is enough -- but it should serve as additional confirmation that the Ohio State offense blends the best parts of the new spread offensive era with Ohio State's power run legacy.