Going into the 2007 BCS National Championship game, Ohio State was undefeated, the consensus No. 1 team in America and heavily favored to beat Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators for college football’s ultimate prize.
Coming out of the title game the Buckeyes were outmatched, overpowered and more than anything else, slow, losing to the Gators 41-14.
A longtime weakness of the Big Ten has been its inability to match the speed of teams from the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12.
Since Meyer’s return to his home state of Ohio to head the OSU football program, speed has become a focus of the No. 2 ranked Buckeyes in fall camp.
Young players like freshman running back Dontre Wilson have been the talk of Columbus since practices started, showing off blazing speed that Meyer thinks this incoming freshman class can add to an already quick team.
“Well the ‘06 team did that at Florida. The ‘06 team injected a bunch of speed and playmakers into that 2006 team. I see very similar qualities,” Meyer said. “You look again and you see what number that is and I feel like same way on offense. I feel a little bit of a jolt that’s really going to help us.”
At an OSU Media Day, Wilson said he was in a new situation coming into a team and not being the fastest player on the field.
“I don’t know, I could probably say that right now about (Bradley) Roby. I don’t know me and him haven’t raced or anything like that yet,” Wilson said of who he thought was the fastest on the team. “I’ve been pretty much one of the fastest players on each of the teams I’ve played on.”
Junior wide receiver Evan Spencer was a big part of the offense last season, finishing fourth on the team in both receptions and yards, but has seen a vast improvement in the team’s second year under Meyer’s system.
Spencer said he’s confident the team knows its playbook so far.
“We’ve still got a lot of tricks up our sleeve and a lot of concepts that we didn’t put in, but in terms of the base core stuff that we’ve got in, everybody’s got it down (pat) and that’s what’s helping us play fast,” he said.
Spencer said speed is going to be a big part of his team’s success this year.
“Team speed is going to help us win games. I welcome all the speed that we can get, (it will) help us win as many games as possible.”
An aspect of Meyer’s system at Florida that the offense did not given much attention last season was the H-Back role, played by a speedy player who has the ability to line up at running back or receiver. The position was made famous by Percy Harvin in his time with the Gators.
Redshirt senior running back Jordan Hall was expected to fill the position in 2012, but a freak injury sustained prior to the season coupled with a injuring his right knee during OSU’s 17-16 victory at Michigan State forced him to sit out of all but three games. His return in 2013 should add to an already potent offense.
“It’s a lot faster, our tempo’s faster, everything’s clicking,” Hall said. “Everyone knows what they’re doing and that’s when everyone is playing at their best. It’s going to be a fast offense with fast players.”
The players aren’t the only ones seeing a difference so far this fall, as the coaches are taking note of the team’s growth in speed.
Running backs coach Stan Drayton said he’s excited to open up the playbook more this season and take advantage of a faster group of players.
“Urban and I had a conversation about this a few days ago, just in passing. We feel like given the talent we have now we can finally get this thing clicking on all cylinders,” Drayton said. “We’ve got speed, we’ve got some depth at some critical positions right now from a skills standpoint on offense and we’ve got a quarterback that is very knowledgeable of what it is we’re asking him to do.”
Meyer is excited for the team to show off its speed in the season opener against Buffalo Aug. 31.
“We’re faster. I hope you see that in three weeks. We’re a faster team,” Meyer said.