Look around college football for a moment, and take inventory with me. Quarterback efficiency ratings, total passing yards, passing touchdowns, and just about anything related to the passing game is higher than it’s ever been. Fewer and fewer of the quarterbacks making that happen can also be found on the rushing stat leaderboards. Hell, almost no quarterbacks can be found on rushing stat leaderboards, whether they can throw or not.
Now, look at offenses on the whole. Look at how teams are scoring points. The days of grind-it-out football with a couple big plays per game are gone. Even more, the days of the spread option are gone. In their place stands offenses more efficient than we’ve ever seen, more wide open than we’ve ever seen, and more predicated on the pass than we’ve ever seen.
All four of the teams in the College Football Playoff have elite offenses, capable of gashing defenses through the air. To win at the highest level of college football, in any time period, you have to be willing to adapt your offense and defense to keep up. It’s because of the evolution of the game in the past four or so years that today’s announcement of Urban Meyer’s retirement is exactly what Ohio State needs.
Sure, Ohio State won a ton of games under Urban Meyer even after the spread option went out of style around 2015, but as we saw in each of the past four seasons, Ohio State isn’t competing for national titles. A 31-point loss to Clemson, a 28-point loss to Iowa, a 29-point loss to Purdue? That isn’t competing. That isn’t what Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and any other consistent playoff stalwart is doing. Those teams are adapting to the times, and it’s time for Ohio State to do the same.
I’ll give Meyer credit, he certainly tried to move his offense into the future these past two years by hiring Kevin Wilson and then Ryan Day, and to an extent, he succeeded. Ohio State was elite this season thanks in large part to Dwayne Haskins and one of the best passing attacks in the country. That isn’t Meyer’s offense though, it’s Day’s. And moving forward, with the recruits that Ohio State has coming in — and young players already on campus — that are made to play in a modern pass-first offense; guys like Matthew Baldwin, Garrett Wilson, Jameson Williams, Dwan Mathis, and Jack Miller; they should be Day’s too. He knows how to use them, and Urban Meyer doesn’t. Not anymore.
Defense was another story. While offenses changed around him, Meyer refused to budge from the four linemen, three linebackers, four defensive back look that he’s used his whole career by bringing in 4-3 advocate Greg Schiano. That move was fine when Ohio State had NFL caliber cornerbacks in 2016 and 2017, but as we’ve seen this season, that defense simply doesn’t work as well as it once did, at least not with the current personnel.
Defenses need more speed on the field because of the offensive changes happening around the country; hence the move to nickel by just about every Big 12 team that sees better passing offenses than anybody. We can only hope that Ryan Day goes away from Greg Schiano (and Billy Davis, obviously) and hires a young innovator on that side of the ball to match his innovative offense.
Ultimately, all of this is to say that Urban Meyer, was — and could still be — an elite football coach. However, he was passed a few years ago by a new version of football that he just didn’t fully understand.
Both things can be true. You can appreciate Urban Meyer for all of the incredible things that he did in his career, especially at Ohio State, while also accepting that if he wasn’t willing/able to adapt his style, then his time had probably come, and the younger and less stubborn Ryan Day is better for Ohio State in 2019 than Meyer would have been.
Go watch old games on YouTube, and do so with the piece of mind that Ohio State is in good hands as football moves into its fastest era yet.