Last week before playing Ohio State, Army coach Jeff Monken said he thought Urban Meyer, at his core, was an option offense kind of guy.
It’s true, especially this week, but with a caveat.
It’s the run-pass option that Meyer likes even more headed toward a game Saturday against Nevada-Las Vegas. The Buckeyes and quarterback J.T. Barrett wielded it effectively in their 38-7 win over Army.
Perhaps a third or more of their plays gave at least the hint of Barrett deciding whether to hand off, to keep the ball and run, or to pass, either to a running back on a flat route or to a receiver on a screen route. Versions have been in the Meyer-influenced spread offense since he became a coach in 2001.
“We've got to use that more. That's been a directive,” Meyer said, meaning a message to offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. “And we're going to use that more.”
Wilson is on board, especially with the way Barrett and the offense perked up after a 31-16 loss to Oklahoma the week before. The idea was to pare the play list to gain rhythm and confidence.
“You play to the strength of the guys,” Wilson said Tuesday.
With Barrett, that means a quarterback with running, reading and throwing skills, of which only the middle one perhaps jumps off the chart.
“A lot of really running guys can’t throw, a lot of throwing guys can’t run,” Wilson said. “I think J.T. is pretty adequate at both.”
As Wilson said, other quarterbacks may be better ball carriers than Barrett, but he’s effective, and Barrett at least is a “solid, adequate passer. When you put them both together, and when both things get working, he makes our offense complete.”
The threats to the edge, especially the screens to receiver K.J. Hill, helped spread the Army defense, with freshman J.K. Dobbins exploiting it often on the way to 172 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just 13 carries. Augmenting the running game was Barrett on option keepers.
“It keeps the defense honest,” Barrett said Tuesday. “With run-pass options, you really can't just be heavy-loaded whether it's run or pass (defensively). … They have to be prepared for both.”
Not every play is going to go for a touchdown, Barrett said, and some might go for just a yard or so when the defense guesses right.
“But I think it puts us in the best position to attack the defense,” Barrett said.
On one play against Army, he faked a handoff to Dobbins after reading the defense, stepped forward and to the left and then slung the ball to receiver Austin Mack in the left flat for a decent gain. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield pulled a similar stunt for a touchdown the week before, and though Barrett’s attempt looked like a copycat, he said the Buckeyes have had it in the playbook all along.
In other words, when Meyer made his directive, there was no scrambling by Wilson and his staff.
“It wasn’t a whole lot of change,” Wilson said. “It was just emphasis of things that were there.”