Football 101 - So Long Dave, or Maybe Not
By Ken Pryor
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet
Much has been made of the recent hiring of one Urban Meyer as the next coach at the Ohio State University replacing Luke Fickell who played the role of the good steward when he stepped in admirably for the displaced Jim Tressel.
We’ve already bore witness to myriad changes in the way things are being done in and around the program. One of the more highly anticipated changes we may see could be the departure of Dave!
Who is Dave you ask? Dave is not who but a what. Dave is the name of the power run play that has been an Ohio State staple for years. Dave seemed to become a personal favorite of Jim Tressel and Jim Bollman. To be fair, the power run is a favorite of many a coach whether they be in high school, college or pro. Power run often sets the identity of a team. It lends to the overall team identity. The use of the word “power” says “We’re going to line up and run the ball right at you and we don’t believe you can do a damn thing about it.” This has always been a function of Ohio State football.
Dave of Late
Somewhere along the way, Ohio State lost its way. The coaching philosophy seemed, at times, to revolve solely around Dave. If it was the first play of the game, they’d run Dave while they felt out what the opponent was doing on defense. When Ohio State built a decent lead, it appeared they ran Dave in a manner that seemed to steal momentum from its own offense. When the game was salted away, they ran Dave so as to remain classy and not run up the score. If the game were tight, they definitely ran Dave to reduce the risk of turnover while trying to gain field position advantage via punting the ball. Even when outnumbered on the blocking front, the OSU coaching consiglieri seemed to adopt a stubbornness similar to that of my old Canton Midget League coach, Mr. Weir, who used to say, “Run it ‘til we get it right, gentlemen”!
Dave became that favorite meal that we enjoyed each and every day, but we found ourselves asking the cooks (Tressel and Bollman) why do we have to have Dave all the time when there were so many other tasty treats in the cupboard? Indeed Urban Meyer has adapted a version of the same run play to his vaunted spread attack and employs it generously. We shall examine this, but before we do so, let’s examine Dave from its more traditional formation.
The following is a breakdown of the Power Run play aka Dave:
For those of you who want to see how Dave diagrams out, below is how it is run against 3/4 defenses and 4/3 defenses.
- The linemen on the side the play is being run (play-side) will “down” block which means they will take the man to their inside or any man lined up directly in front of them (head-up) and use the leverage they have to drive that defensive player down into the wash of players. In other words, if that man is to your left, use your leverage and momentum to take him further left away from the play. Down blocking rule is generally reserved for the center and guard to the play-side. Generally the play-side tackle is not required to block the end man or defensive end on this play as he will be asked to double team with the play-side guard or go find the linebacker. Coaches often use the term “OIL”—‘on, inside, linebacker’ to teach the blocking scheme on this play.
- You might ask “What about the end man or defensive end?” So often this play is run from the “I” formation meaning the quarterback, fullback, and tailback are aligned in a straight line behind center. The fullback will be designated to head toward that unblocked end man or defensive end and rattle his teeth! He will use his natural directional momentum and angle to employ the blocking technique called “kick out” on the defensive end. Many times we’ve seen the Buckeyes employ an H-back to do the same thing.
- The last detail involves the backside guard. He is asked to “pull” from his natural positional alignment and lead the ball-carrier through the crease area created by the kick-out block provided by the fullback/H-back on the previously unblocked defensive end. As he leads through the crease he will block the first man he sees (usually the play-side linebacker) and take him whichever direction is best depending upon his angle. It will be up to the back to read the block and select his running lane accordingly.
Death of Dave?
It's not hard to imagine that the Buckeye faithful are hoping Meyer will combine his high-flyin’ spread offense with his adroit play-calling and all the talent Ohio State corrals in the recruiting wars wherein he will start slicing and dicing defenses like a whopper chopper. Meyer indeed fired a salvo at Big Ten rivals when he addressed the team before his press conference and informed the players in no uncertain terms that he intended to score points at a high rate and he would not apologize for doing so. Did you hear that Penn State? Were you listening Michigan? How do you like them apples, Wisconsin?
All that said, it's certain we haven’t seen the last of Dave. If you were able to watch the press conference at which he was formally announced as new head coach, you heard him say he will run Power from the shotgun and even from the I-formation still. Urban Meyer is well aware that Power has long been a successful play not only for Ohio State but in football in general and he has plans on the continued use of it.
Dave's New Setting
What we will see is some different usage of the play from some non-conventional formations. Urban Meyer is a student of the spread offense. He is a disciple of some of the greatest spread attack coaches the game has seen. Scott Linehan is one such coach to whom Meyer looks as his mentor. Other coaches who run prolific spread offenses are also on his call list. Names like Joe Tiller (formerly of Purdue), Randy Walker (formerly of Northwestern), John L. Smith (formerly of Michigan State), and…get this…Rich Rodriguez. Yes that Rich Rodriguez.
While none of these men have orchestrated national title teams, they are viewed by their peers as some of the best and brightest minds when it comes to running the spread offense. All of them became involved with the spread at the ground level and committed to it almost right away. Meyer became enamored with the offense in 2001 when he was an assistant at Notre Dame. After a tough loss, he found one of their best players crying at his locker. The player was so distraught because he didn’t get a chance to help his team win. He never touched the ball the entire game.
It was at that moment that Meyer vowed he would run an offense where he would always get the ball in the hands of his playmakers as often as possible. He set up meetings with Linehan at Louisville where Linehan was coaching under John L. Smith. Meyer sat at the feet of one of the masters and studied the spread exhaustively. After taking the head coaching job at Bowling Green he insisted that his staff take annual pilgrimages to sit with the Tillers, Walkers, and Rodriguezes to study the scheme also.
Before long, Meyer also was considered a mastermind of the spread attack. While he employed some new wrinkles here and there, the basics of the scheme remained the same. A slight difference in his spread from others can be found in the heavy employment of an H-back in his offense. The use of the H-back gives him more versatility in his blocking schemes. The H-back allows him to affect the look on the front while creating leverage without affecting the entire style of the offense. He can motion the H-back to a certain area in the backfield or he can bring him in tight or he can split him out further in a “flex” position. Depending upon the formation, the H-Back can be on or off the line of scrimmage thus making him a passing threat or blocking threat due to the gained leverage based on his alignment.
Dave's New Look
One of Meyer’s favorite plays from the spread formation is “QB Power”. With QB Power we will see what we’ve already seen with Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller to some degree. However, we saw Meyer run QB Power at Florida to absolute perfection as he totally devastated his opponents with Timothy Robert Tebow as his quarterback. Under Meyer, the quarterback was oftentimes the tailback. The advantages are fairly obvious in that this play allows the offense to have a numbers advantage in the blocking scheme. It also places added stress on the defense to defend yet another running threat in the quarterback vs a traditional quarterback who hands off and then becomes a spectator of the play.
As you can see in the diagram (below) some of the same principles in regular Power apply to QB Power. The backside guard still pulls while the center and playside guard continue to block down. However, notice the defensive end on the playside is actually blocked by the offensive tackle. The pulling guard makes a bee line through the C-gap to seal off the middle linebacker. The tailback in this instance (this could also be an H-Back) is driving right toward the strongside linebacker. This is the lead block as the quarterback will follow right behind the tailback where he will cut left or right off his block.
As QB Power gains success, it opens doors to QB Option which then may lead to QB Power Rollout Pass. Heck, we might even see the famed Tebow jump-pass. However, we won’t address those in this column.
Dave Will Remain, but Will Have New Friends
Urban Meyer’s offense will still have the same major concepts in the run game. He will run Power (Dave) just as Fickell and Tressel did before him just as Cooper and Bruce did before them as did Woody Hayes before all of them. He said as much in the press conference. Some have declared his offensive style to be more of a “spread option” but actually it is more spread than option. We could see an entire game coached by Meyer and never see the option.
The Urban Meyer style offenses wear down the defense. He will still pound the defense with some I-formation under center, and with some Iso and Counter, etc. He will also stress the defense even more by forcing defenders to run sideline to sideline with QB Power out of the shotgun, option, then with the passing game. He will punish with speed, quickness and elusiveness by getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers in areas where they can really put their skills to work.
Power, however, will not go away. It means too much to the identity Ohio State has established over the course of more than 100 years of football. It screams smash-mouth, physical strength and superiority. These are the tenets Ohio State has always been about. The football program was built on these principles.
Whether we call it Dave, Power, QB Power, QB keep, or just plain ‘give it to the tailback’, Ohio State will once again enjoy dominance on a national stage while employing the same play and the various principles of it.
A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.