The philosophy: "You want to force the defense to defend the whole field," says Meyer. "All things being equal, anybody can stop the run and anybody can stop the pass. But can you stop both?"
The system: Meyer's 12-0 Fiesta Bowl team at Utah last season lined up almost exclusively in the shotgun with either one or no running backs and four or five receivers. Players shifted and went into motion prior to the snap on almost every play. The base play was a "zone read" in which, after reading the defense, the quarterback could either hand off to the tailback on a counter or keep it himself. The unique scheme mixes spread passing -- with an emphasis on short, high-percentage throws -- and old-school option football, including a modernized "triple-option" play in which the quarterback runs along the line and either pitches to the motion receiver or tosses a forward shovel pass to the tailback or another receiver.
The results: During his four seasons as head at coach at Bowling Green and Utah, Meyer's teams went 39-8 and improved by an average of 5.5 wins in his first seasons there. Last year's Utah team finished third nationally in both scoring (45.3 points per game) and total offense (499.8 yards), while Meyer's 2002 Bowling Green team ranked third in scoring (40.9) and ninth in total offense (448.9).
Influences: While the Ohio native grew up on the traditional power-I styles of Ohio State and Notre Dame, Meyer developed an interest in the more modern, one-back offense as an assistant at Colorado State from 1990-95. While the receivers coach at Notre Dame ('96-2000), he studied Louisville's spread offense and, later, the run-oriented versions practiced by Northwestern and Clemson, which he used as the basis of his own offense upon arriving at Bowling Green in 2001.
Why it works: By spreading the field with four or five receivers, Meyer forces defenses to adjust their personnel accordingly, often leaving them soft against the run, and both the quarterback's quick release and the threat of the option limits defenses' opportunities to blitz. "They don't ever let a defense get very set or aggressive in what they're doing to counter it," says Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads. The extensive use of shifting, motion and reverses means that the offense can run nearly any play out of any formation. "We have built-in misdirection," says Meyer, "because on every play, the quarterback is going one way and the running back is going the other."
How to stop it: Defenses have to master their assignments and exercise extreme patience so as not to fall for any of Meyer's tricks and misdirection. The defense needs cornerbacks and safeties who can lock up the receivers, and the linebackers and safeties have to be "option-sound," particularly against the threat of the shovel pass. Some question whether Meyer's system can be as successful against the faster defenses of the SEC, but it all comes down to having a quarterback (like Utah's Alex Smith) who can master the scheme and make the appropriate decisions.