Commentary

What's old is new for Urban Meyer

Originally Published: May 2, 2012
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State coach Urban Meyer sees plenty of similarities between his new school and his old one, the University of Florida.

Both schools have sprawling campuses, great tradition and rosters chock full of former high school All-Americans.

"It's very similar," Meyer said. "The biggest difference is [Columbus] is a big city without pro sports. It's not a major league town. The whole city's about Ohio State."

And, as he did at Florida, Meyer will face sky-high expectations in his first season, even though the Buckeyes are coming off a 6-7 campaign in which former coach Jim Tressel and starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor left months before the season started in the wake of an ugly NCAA scandal.

Two years after Meyer retired from Florida for the second time, and less than five months after the NCAA placed Ohio State on three years' probation, the Buckeyes and their new coach are getting a fresh start as they prepare for the 2012 season.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Khris Hale/Icon SMIUrban Meyer is installing a new, fast-paced offense that might even rival Oregon's tempo.

Meyer, who worked last season as a college football analyst for ESPN, spent spring practice installing a spread offense and trying to restore his new team's shaken confidence. The Buckeyes return 19 starters, including sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller. Ohio State, which opens the season against Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 1, is ineligible to play in a bowl game in 2012 as part of its NCAA probation.

"You've got to get the group to drink the Kool-Aid and start believing in your staff," Meyer said. "Then you go recruit like heck."

It certainly didn't take the Buckeyes long to drink the Kool-Aid. Meyer abandoned Tressel's conservative offense for a wide-open, spread attack, which he used to help lead the Gators to BCS national championships in 2006 and 2008. Meyer said the Buckeyes might play even faster on offense than the Gators did.

"All you've got to do is look at Oregon," Meyer said. "We're committed to it. We're still going to pop a huddle once in a while, but we're committed to it."

While the Gators were built to get the ball into their best playmakers' hands, like 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and speedy receiver Percy Harvin, their offense was never the true no-huddle attack Meyer intends to employ at Ohio State. At Florida, Meyer said he went as far as sending former offensive coordinator Dan Mullen -- now Mississippi State's head coach -- to Missouri to learn the nuances of the no-huddle offense. But the Gators never used it during Meyer's six seasons at Florida, in which he guided the Gators to a 65-15 record.

"The minute you go no-huddle, you lose the intangibles and the immeasurable leadership of guys like Tebow and Mike Pouncey," Meyer said.

Without huddling, the Buckeyes are hoping to run as many as 85 plays per game.

"As soon as it's caught or incomplete, it's sprint to the ball," Ohio State defensive end John Simon said. "You don't even have time to catch your breath. It's a whole new pace we're going through."

Meyer is gambling that Miller will master the no-huddle offense. After Pryor abruptly left Ohio State to enter the NFL's supplemental draft -- he would have faced a multigame suspension if he'd returned to school for his senior season -- Miller was thrust into the starting role as a freshman. Miller completed 54.1 percent of his passes for 1,159 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions, while also leading the Buckeyes with 715 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.

"The thing I like the most is his competitive spirit, which I needed to see," Meyer said. "With Tim Tebow, you saw it all the time. I didn't see it with Braxton in the beginning. We were worried, but then spring ball started."

Miller ran a spread offense at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio. He looks like a tailor-made fit for the offense.

"I love it," Miller said. "It reminds me of high school because it's similar to what we did in high school. It showcases my talents and what I can do. I've got a year under my belt and I'm more mature. I feel a lot different."

Meyer said Miller has been eager to learn as much as he can about the Buckeyes' new offense.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Greg Bartram/US PresswireOhio State quarterback Braxton Miller is learning a new offense under Meyer.

"He always wants more," Meyer said. "He texts me all the time and says, 'I want more. What about this?'"

If Miller is going to be successful, the Buckeyes will need more playmakers around him. Ohio State ranked 115th nationally in passing last season, averaging only 127 passing yards per game, worst among teams from BCS conferences. No OSU player had more than 14 receptions in 2011.

"He can really throw it," Meyer said. "He has a really good release and his accuracy is improving. He's good. As with any quarterback, we have to make sure we surround him with good players. That's how you get a quarterback to go from good to great -- to surround him with wide receivers."

Senior tight end Jake Stoneburner might be OSU's top returning playmaker; seven of his 14 receptions went for touchdowns last season. The Buckeyes also moved tailback Jordan Hall to receiver during the spring. Meyer hopes to use Hall in a role similar to what Harvin had at Florida.

"He doesn't have the speed of a Percy, but he's smart and tough," Meyer said. "We put him at receiver and he was a natural. That's a good sign."

While Meyer hopes the Buckeyes will play at a faster pace this coming season, he seems more at peace at a slower pace. Meyer said he's concentrating on coaching the Buckeyes, instead of speaking to myriad booster groups and trying to solve the problems in college football.

"I'm doing what I like to do," Meyer said. "I'm not doing what I don't like to do. I love to coach. I love to teach. I'm not involved with all these committees to solve the evils of the world. After practice, I go home, which is unusual."

Even before Meyer has coached a game in Columbus, Ohio State feels like home.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball