The spread offense has taken over college football, and there may not be a bigger name behind this style of play than Ohio State's Urban Meyer. One of the first things you think of when it comes to the Buckeyes head coach is his offense, one that has become extremely tricky to defend.
He has had success running the spread everywhere he has coached, and with an undefeated record in his first year in the Big Ten there is little reason to believe the wins won't continue to pile up.
Is there any team in this conference that will be able to slow down the Buckeyes? If so, the defense must find a way to defend the spread and stop Meyer's offense in its tracks. There are some teams on the Buckeyes schedule that can provide a challenge, but in order to do this we must figure out what makes this offense so difficult to defend in the first place.
Meyer's spread offense is really a simple style of play. It is all about putting the most available playmakers on the field at once, "spreading" them out from sideline-to-sideline and letting them operate in space. With the defense stretched to its limits, running lanes open up for the guys in the backfield and the secondary is forced to stay on its toes by covering speedy guys in the open field with little help.
It is not really how to defend this offense that gives defensive coordinators headaches; it is whether or not you have the players available to get the job done. You either have the personnel or you don’t. And if you don’t, you might as well scratch the game off your schedule and begin looking for victories elsewhere.
In order to defend the spread offense, you need to have disciplined tacklers who are great in the open field. Generating a pass rush with only your defensive line doesn't hurt, and you want to be able to have guys that are able to disrupt the timing between the quarterback and receiver.
Meyer is all about utilizing his playmakers and creating mismatches to his advantage. The only way to defend this is by matching strength with strength and putting a disciplined defense out there on the field.
Only a handful of teams in the Big Ten have enough pieces in place right now to get the job done, and here they are.
The Spartans have a chance against the spread because of the pressure they are able to get with the defensive line, as well as the stingy run defense. This was one of only eight teams all of last season that allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards on average, and seven of those starters return in 2013.
Last season the Buckeyes rushed for 204 yards against Michigan State, which may seem like a lot, but was actually tied for the fourth-fewest. With a dual-threat quarterback in Braxton Miller and a number of running backs to count on, Ohio State finished ranked 22nd in college football with 559 rushing attempts, which was fourth in the Big Ten.
Clearly, stopping the running game is key and Michigan State has proven time and time again it can do just that.
With arguably the best defensive line in the conference led by defensive end Marcus Rush and solid linebacker play with Max Bullough leading the way, the Spartans have more than a punchers chance to get the job done against Ohio State.
Michigan has an interesting defense that continues to improve by leaps and bounds under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. The Wolverines were absolutely brutal on this side of the ball just a couple of years ago, but actually finished ranked 13th in the country in total defense last season. This was such a drastic improvement for a team that was ranked dead last in the Big Ten back in 2010.
But the reason this defense has a chance is because of its pass defense that finished ranked fifth in college football. With corners such as Blake Countess and Ramon Taylor, guys who have potential to be shutdown players and knock receivers off their routes, it allows the rest of the defense to do its job and focus on shutting down the running game.
Linebacker Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan are also players who cover a lot of ground and are able to keep an eye on Miller when he is looking to take off. In last year’s meeting against Ohio State, Michigan was only one of six teams to hold the Buckeyes to less than 400 total yards and held Miller to under three yards per rush.
The Wolverines gave Ohio State all it could handle last year and that should continue in 2013.
The Badgers have a lot of work to do in the secondary. Shaky at best in the defensive backfield a year ago, this is a unit that only returns one starter out of the four. However, that may be the only weakness to this defense, as six experienced players return in the front seven.
Wisconsin has a defensive line led by Tyler Dippel and Brendan Kelly that knows how to get after it in the sack department, and they helped the team finish in the Top 25 in rushing defense. This is also a team that has quick linebackers and guys who can tackle in space with Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong returning for another year.
So maybe you are one of the folks who are still questioning the issues in the secondary.
The good news for Wisconsin fans is that Miller completed less than 60 percent of his passes a year ago and that's with only having six games of at least 20 pass attempts. It is clear Ohio State is more comfortable with him running the football and if Wisconsin can take that part away, questionable secondary or not, this defense will have a shot to shut down the spread.
Note: All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.