Walking off Bryant Denny Stadium on October 1, 2005, Urban Meyer knew he had a problem. A coach who has always preached the value of speed knew his Florida team was lacking. No athlete on the roster was able to round out his scheme against the rigors of the Southeastern Conference. These shortcomings cast his eyes on a recruit that would change his system and legacy forever.
Meyer’s RPO History
Urban Meyer’s offenses have always featured run/pass option (RPO) elements. He frequently used a wide receiver on a jet motion to create an outside pitchman, the H-Back in Meyer’s terminology. Longtime NFL fans unfamiliar with Meyer’s vocabulary may be prone to think of a hybrid tight end like Chris Cooley as an H-Back. Trust me; there is a maddening differentiation in terminology.
The use of a speedy wide receiver or running back in this role allowed Meyer’s offenses to run a traditional triple option look against defenses lined up to defend the spread. The spread option was born with lethal results. In 2004, Meyer’s Utah team finished third in the nation at 45.3 points per game en route to an undefeated season. Meyer’s team utilized wide receivers Steve Savoy and Paris Warren to account for 16% of the rushing yardage, but the SEC would require unique talent.
Enter 2006 number one wide receiver recruit, Percy Harvin.
Harvin’s impact started slow, 855 yards as a true freshman on the eventual National Champion Gators. The next season was something else entirely. In 2007, Harvin racked up 1,622 yards in 12 games. Florida’s offense also improved from 29.7 to 42.5 points scored per game. Harvin’s final year in Gainesville coincided with Meyer’s final Florida championship. His role took 20% of Florida’s offensive opportunities. Meyer would never again conjure the magic to make it through the SEC gauntlet while Harvin was NFL bound.
The Minnesota Vikings tried to duplicate Harvin’s Florida magic and nearly got there in 2011. Harvin totaled 1,312 total yards, but the volume took its toll for a player generously listed at 200 lbs. Injuries prevented Harvin from ever reaching his true NFL potential. Meyer would chart a different course. One that led him to Ohio State.
Heading back to his roots, Meyer would see immediate success mainly on the legs of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. Miller’s athleticism, in particular, made the H-Back role more of a luxury than the valued role it was in Florida. A career-altering injury to Miller’s shoulder would change that.
Miller’s replacement, JT Barrett, was basically a fullback compared to Miller’s ability to attack the edge. This led to a return to RPO and a valuable H-Back role, yet again. Multiple recruiting cycles found Meyer in a position to overhaul his offense and opened the door for a string of successful H-Back’s during Meyer’s tenure. Miller did well in the role after his switch to wide receiver. Followed by Jalin Marshall, Parris Campbell, and most notably Curtis Samuel.
Samuel’s 1,636 total yards over 13 games on 21% of opportunities in 2016 allows the mind to wander. Before 2020, Samuel’s college usage bore little resemblance to his NFL game. Early in his Panthers career, his primary role was as a vertical threat, posting depth of target averages of 11.9 and 14.6 in 2018 and 2019, respectively. In 2020, that plummeted to 7.3 in a Joe Brady scheme that featured hybrid college elements refined during Brady’s time with LSU. The result was Samuel’s best fantasy season, 1051 total yards and five touchdowns. This placed him 24th among wide receivers, but he would have been 10th among running backs.
The Next Level
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