COLUMBUS — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer loves the spread offense.
He loves winning with a robust running game even more.
In that regard, he’s far closer to Woody Hayes than he is to, oh, Chip Kelly.
“We like to pride ourselves on being balanced,” Meyer said Tuesday. “However, (our spread) is very physical — it’s not the chuck ‘n’ duck, basketball-on-grass type of offense at all. It’s a power-oriented run game.”
So in other words, when No. 23 Wisconsin comes to Ohio Stadium on Saturday night to face the fourth-ranked Buckeyes, both sides want to throw the ball, but their first priority is jamming it down the opposing defense’s throat.
Even though most Ohio State fans think of Meyer’s spread as a cutting-edge offense with multiple receivers, backs getting the ball out wide, quick snaps, no huddles and lots of passes, in many ways it’s back to the future for the Buckeyes.
Make no mistake about it: The Buckeyes like to run the ball. And they like to run it straight at you, if at all possible.
Wisconsin first-year coach Gary Andersen, a former Meyer lieutenant who remains a close friend, isn’t misled.
“They’re going to do what they do. They want to run the ball first,” he said. “They want to be very effective in the play-action run game. You’ll see the football go out sideways to get you to run, get the defense tired, and they’ll come back at you and start running the ball and trying to be physical with you.”
Both Ohio State and Wisconsin are best when running. Wisconsin is third in the nation in rushing, averaging 350 yards. Ohio State is sixth at 311.
In the first half of last week’s 76-0 shellacking of overmatched Florida A&M, an FCS team, the Buckeyes passed 34 times. But that was an anomaly.
Wisconsin would like nothing better than for its big guys up front and in the offensive backfield to decide the game.
The Buckeyes swear that regardless of how people define the spread, they remain a power team.
“It probably is a little bit of a throwback,” Ohio State center Corey Linsley said. “In terms of our offense, we definitely run a high-tempo offense. That’s our whole goal. But the physicality has never left.”
The offense is based on double-team blocks on the line, he added.
“If we can’t do that,” Linsley said, “we’ll lose the football game.”
That’s a product of the coach. Meyer may be an innovator in the spread, but he first learned the game as an Ohio State graduate assistant under Earle Bruce in the late 1980s.
Bruce loved power backs like Keith Byars, but his teams actually passed for more yards than they ran for almost every year. That’s because he used talented receivers such as Cris Carter, Doug Donley, John Frank and Mike Lanese in the open field.
“The head coach sets the tone for the program, the mentality of the team, the attitude of the team,” said Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith (who also happens to be Bruce’s grandson). “It’s no more evident than what we’ve done up to date here, just the intensity that we play with and the physical demeanor; that is who our head coach is, and that’s why we play that way.”
So Meyer will revert to his old self and try to power the ball against a Wisconsin team that will attempt to do the same behind a former acolyte of Meyer’s.
The Buckeyes are happy to be a part of it.
“It’s a more fun week of preparation in regard to it’s more physical,” Linsley said. “We’re pounding the ball. When we go 1s against the 2s in practice, it’s going to be run-blocking. We’re not going to sit back there and pass it. We’re going to work on our run game.”
WHO: No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 23 Wisconsin
WHEN: Saturday, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Ohio Stadium, Columbus
TV/RADIO: Channel 5; WEOL 930-AM, WKNR 850-AM