Like-minded: Clemson's Morris, OSU's Meyer two branches of same tree

The spread has served both programs well, but with personnel-dictated differences

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, right, talks with his quarterback Braxton Miller, left, during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Illinois on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. Ohio State won the game 60-35

AP Photo/Jeff Haynes

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, right, talks with his quarterback Braxton Miller, left, during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Illinois on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. Ohio State won the game 60-35

'Twin Sons of Different Mothers' is a 1978 progressive rock collaboration between singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg and jazz flutist Tim Weisberg that paired musicians of different backgrounds but similar inclinations.

Chad Morris, meet Urban Meyer.

They'll face off this week in the Orange Bowl in a clash of spread, up-tempo offenses; but it will be far from their first encounter.

Morris - a native of Van Zandt County in east Texas - and Meyer - a Midwesterner - represent two branches of the same spread-offense tree. The off-shoots are at times intertwined and on other occasions divergent, dependent largely on available personnel. The concept is nearly identical.

Meyer tried to lure Morris to OSU

During his first two years at Florida, Meyer's offense adopted a drop-back flavor suitable to the talents of quarterback Chris Leak. From there it morphed into run-heavy option spread directed by Tim Tebow, similar to what Meyer had done with his offense at Utah with Alex Smith.

Morris learned his version of the spread from high school coaching guru Gus Malzahn, who, like Morris, has made a meteoric climb through the college coaching ranks.

Statistically, Auburn's offense doesn't appear to be all that much like Clemson's. But again, the concept of spreading out defenses and forcing one-on-one matchups differs in application based on personnel - Auburn's offense currently run-heavy with Nick Marshall and Tre Mason, Clemson's passing-oriented with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins.

Meyer, meanwhile, is back in his element at Ohio State, employing the same spread principles and unleashing a dynamic rushing double-threat in speedy quarterback Braxton Miller and workhorse back Carlos Hyde.

In his book published earlier this year - 'Football Revolution: the rise of the spread offense and how it transformed college football' - former Greenville News sports editor Bart Wright traces the origins of the spread back to California high school coach Jack Neumeier, whose brainchild of playing "basketball on grass" has, over the past two decades, spread like wildfire in the college ranks.

"The spread is...about a concept, not about plays," Wright wrote. "Your team's personnel tells you which small handful of running and passing plays you need in your offense. The rest of it is a matter of confusing the defense with an array of personnel packages that confounds preparation."

When Meyer took over as head coach at Ohio State prior to the 2012 season, one of the first things he tried to do was hire Morris away from Clemson as his offensive coordinator.

Having earlier schooled himself in the spread by visiting with coaches like John L. Smith and Scott Linehan at Louisville, the late Randy Walker at Northwestern, Bill Snyder at Kansas State and Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, Meyer became familiar with Clemson's offense during his year out of coaching, when he worked as an ESPN analyst.

He already knew Morris, who had taken his Stephenville (Texas) High coaching staff to Gainesville when Meyer was head coach at Florida.

"When he first got there from Utah we took our staff down and spent four days with them, learning some of the things they had done and taking those back with us," Morris said last week. "That's where our relationship kind of started."

The connection deepened during the 2011 season - Morris' first at Clemson.

“He called several of our games, and obviously I had known Coach Meyer from him recruiting some of our (Texas high school) players," Morris said. "I was able to talk to him quite a bit and bounce some ideas off of him. It was good to talk to him to compare how he used some of his players and how we used some of our players. That is what you do in this profession – it's a big fraternity. You just kind of bounce ideas off each other.”

Morris said he was "flattered and honored" when Meyer approached him in 2012 about joining his staff at Ohio State.

“He was intrigued about what we do offensively, and he wanted to run a version of it, and so obviously when he reached out we spoke several times about it," Morris said. "Watching them, you see some of the wrinkles they've added."

Morris has studied what Meyer does with his running quarterback and knows that Clemson's defense will have its hands full containing the OSU attack.

"We studied Ohio State's offense last year," Morris said. "I've been able to watch (Miller) - what a great athlete. He can very much change the game in a hurry.

"I think you have to do what fits your guys - what you're built for. Obviously, he's an unbelievable athlete. He definitely creates in space. That's what they're trying to do, trying to create as many one-on-one matchups with him in space, whether that's third-and-15 or first-and-10.

"Us on the other hand, some of our guys are a little bit different in some areas. You just have to build on what you have."

Meyer says the Orange Bowl will be a showcase for two of the college game's best quarterbacks.

"They are two of the best quarterbacks in the country," Meyer said. "We've actually studied Tajh - Coach Swinney and I are good friends, and our staffs get a long very well. We do a lot of work together in terms of studying the game. So I know Tajh better than most.

"The one thing about great quarterbacks is they usually have a great surrounding cast around them. Sammy Watkins and that crew of players are dynamic...They have a great offense. It's going to be a war."

During a recent press conference, Meyer was asked whether he's worried about Clemson throwing the ball.

"Oh yeah. You think?" he replied wryly.

Dabo Swinney and Brent Venables will be thinking the same when the Buckeyes line up to run on Friday night.

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