Wilson-Meyer link spread out over time

Urban Meyer, left, and Kevin Wilson will square off Saturday when Ohio State travels to Indiana. US Presswire

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, a good friend of Indiana coach Kevin Wilson's, came up with the term.

"[Sumlin] called everybody 'play burglars,'" Wilson said. "We're all watching what works and getting neat ideas. I don't know if I'm a fan of other teams, but you always watch other teams, just to get an idea of a new shift, a new motion, a new wrinkle."

Both Wilson and Urban Meyer were play burglars from 1999 to 2001.

Wilson, then the offensive coordinator at Northwestern, traveled with Wildcats head coach Randy Walker to Clemson to meet with the Tigers' offensive coordinator, Rich Rodriguez. They returned to Evanston and installed almost a carbon copy of Rodriguez's spread offense, keeping some of the terminology exactly the same. After Meyer landed his first head-coaching job at Bowling Green in December 2000, he also visited Rodriguez, as well as two Big Ten schools that ran the spread offense: Purdue and Northwestern.

Meyer's trip to Northwestern marked the first of several connections with Wilson. The two men meet Saturday in Bloomington, Ind., as Meyer brings No. 8 Ohio State to face Indiana.

"Tremendous coach, kind of on the front edge of everything," Meyer said of Wilson, whom he called an "innovator" this week. "... We studied them. When I first became a head coach, we visited Northwestern and Purdue, and then also Rich Rod's one of my close friends, so a lot of these concepts, we were researching anyway, and he was very helpful."

Wilson quipped that Northwestern wouldn't have let Meyer come visit before the 2001 season if the staff knew they'd be facing Meyer's Bowling Green team that fall. After a game against Navy was cancelled because of the Sept. 11 attacks, Northwestern had to scramble for a replacement and ended up getting Bowling Green on the slate.

The teams met in mid-November, and while only 23,545 fans were in attendance, they witnessed a spread-offense showcase that foreshadowed what would take place around the rest of college football. Each team had 32 first downs. Each team eclipsed the 600-yard mark. Northwestern ran 97 plays, while Bowling Green ran a modest 86. Bowling Green prevailed 43-42 after converting a 2-point try with 36 seconds left.

"We couldn't stop 'em," Meyer said. "I remember in the fourth quarter, they had Zak Kustok, and it was just a lot of yards, I can't remember the final score, it was nuts. We went for it on the last play of the game, a 2-point conversion and we won, but we couldn’t stop 'em."

Added Wilson: "It was a heck of a game."

The Bowling Green-Northwestern game came up a lot before the BCS national title game following the 2008 season, as Meyer's Florida team went up against an Oklahoma squad that had Wilson as its offensive coordinator. The two men have tracked one another through the years, leading up to Saturday's game.

"I've always loved his coaching," Meyer said. "[Ohio State offensive coordinator] Tom Herman and I were talking about him today, Kevin Wilson, and we've stolen a lot of stuff. He's an innovator. Lot of respect for him as a guy."

Meyer has incorporated a faster tempo, a trademark of Wilson's and also Herman's, into Ohio State's spread. From afar, Wilson has watched Meyer's version of the system evolve from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida and now to Ohio State.

"It's spread, but it's a spread that includes a physical running attack and a physical style and a soundness, and it's well coached," Wilson said. "The scheme's one thing, but the fundamentals and the physicalness and the soundness is what wins. That's always been the backbone of every Urban Meyer offense. They've all changed, they've all tweaked due to different coordinators and influence, and really different players, but the common bond is ball security, physical style of play, taking advantage of what the playmakers do."

The scoreboard operator at Indiana's Memorial Stadium had better be ready Saturday night. Ohio State and Indiana both average more than 32 points and 430 yards per game.

While the matchup features two spread-offense gurus, Wilson notes that it still will come down to the core principles of the game.

"You can window-dress it all you want," he said. "Shift formation, I-formation, huddle up, not huddle, three-man, four-man, two-deep, quarters. It doesn’t matter. It's a physical, combative game, played hard, and that's what I think he’s got going on at Ohio State now. That’s what we're getting to at our place."