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Spread 'em

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Chip Kelly studied Urban Meyer's spread offense. Urban Meyer and Tom Herman studied Kelly's up-tempo ideas. Now the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday is Ohio State's up-tempo spread vs. Oregon's up-tempo spread, a mind meld that created two sides of the same quickly moving coin.

"There's a lot of similarities between the two programs as far as how you go target a defense," Meyer said Tuesday. "We run similar offenses, a lot of similar plays."

Spread 'em out, speed 'em up and attack. It's not an unusual idea anymore. But the expected high-flying affair to determine college football's best team will be different than when the Buckeyes and Ducks last faced off five years ago, in the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season.

The question then, before Ohio State's 26-17 victory, was whether the defense-first Buckeyes could stop Oregon. They did. The idea now is more whether Ohio State's No. 5 offense (45 points per game) can keep up with Oregon's No. 2 offense (47.2 points per game).

Neither offense should be stopped, though the Ducks are now led by second-year coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost, since Kelly left for the NFL. But the efforts to slow each other down might be helped by each defense understanding how the opposing offense works, thanks to facing their own offense in practice.

"It's very similar in a lot of ways," Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee said. "They have speed athletes, they like to work space and like to work their athletes in space. Whatever way they can get their athletes the ball in space, it's just like our offense. That helps us for our defense because we see it every day so it's not like we'll be seeing anything new too much."

Oregon averages 311 passing yards per game (11th in the nation) and 242 rushing (18th), while Ohio State averages 248 passing (52nd) and 262 rushing (10th.) So they are not carbon copies, with Ohio State more run-first.

But by adding an up-tempo component when he came to Ohio State, which he didn't have at Florida, Meyer took the final step that brought a spread style more in line with the wave that Oregon was riding. Hiring offensive coordinator Tom Herman, a coach that Meyer called "a disciple" of Kelly, was part of that move.

And Meyer and Kelly still talk now. Meyer so admired the Oregon style, not just the up-tempo idea but the entire program philosophy, that he had to stop himself Tuesday is the middle of what sounded like a free commercial for the Ducks.

These minds think alike. Kelly, now coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, was at Ohio State's Pro Day this year and the coaches hung out a lot. Kelly told reporters in Philadelphia this summer that Meyer is still one of the guys with whom he talks football.

"It's plays, it's schemes, it's what are you doing off the field, it's everything," Kelly said in August, according to csnphilly.com.

Again, Kelly isn't at Oregon anymore. But he's the godfather of the Oregon way, and his fingerprints will be all over this game, on both sides. Because it took a while for Meyer to come around.

Meyer at Florida sent then offensive coordinator Dan Mullen to study up-tempo offenses elsewhere, then chucked the idea a few practices after Mullen returned. Meyer said players lost their technique, coaches were more concerned with signaling plays than coaching and he hated everything about it, including what might happen in a game when that style of offense doesn't work.

"The risk of tempo offense, which I debated for years, you three-and-out them and 24 seconds you just took off the clock. And you're playing a good team, that's not good," Meyer said. "So there's plus and minuses."

By the time he was hired at Ohio State, after spending some of his year away from coaching visiting Oregon and observing how that program worked, Meyer felt he didn't have a choice.

"It's an advantage for the offense," Meyer said. "And if you don't take it, then that's fine. But even I know Alabama is moving in that direction. Is it full speed all the time? We're not. But certainly that gives us an advantage at times."

At the moment, the teams will hope to nullify that offensive advantage, at least a bit, with defensive familiarity. Meyer can tell the Ohio State defensive coaches how the Oregon offense thinks by telling them how the Ohio State offense thinks.

"I know I've gone in there and told our defense what we don't like and what bothers us, and I'm sure they are doing the same thing," Meyer said. "They see it every day in practice. And there are some things they do much better than we do on the perimeter and there's things we do a little better than them.

"So it's not exactly the same, but similar philosophy. So I'm sure there's a lot of conversation between the two staffs (at each school). More than normal games."

The Buckeyes will practice against the Buckeyes and the Ducks will practice against the Ducks and when the game kicks off Monday, each defense will have a good idea of what's coming.

"We practice it all spring and summer. We go against a decent number of tempo teams during the season," Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "That seems to be the new thing, because I think tempo makes good teams great and great teams even better."

This game is proof of that. Looks like Ohio State and Oregon were both right.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota leads an explosive Ducks offense. AP PHOTO
Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones guides a dangerous Buckeye offense. AP PHOTO