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Ohio State Buckeyes Spring Game Draws Record Crowd

Cardale Jones and the Spring Game attendance at the Horseshoe in Columbus were the big stories Saturday afternoon, as an announced crowd of 99,391 showed up for their first look at the defending national champions, and Jones threw for 304 yards and two scores to lead his Gray team to a 17-14 victory over the Scarlet.


(photo credit - Marvin Fong - Plain Dealer)
The Spring Game is an exhibition for the fans, and Urban Meyer has done more than any coach in memory to involve Buckeye fans in his program at every opportunity. More on that attendance figure in a bit, but Meyer’s program had almost as many fans as players on the field on Saturday, pitting them against OSU players in a push-up contest, a QB skills drill, and a running race. 

With numerous starters sitting out the game, and the rest of them split between the two squads, the game was not an artistic success...but then it never is. It’s impossible to judge the various position units, so the best a fan can do is watch and evaluate individual performances. On the plus side….it’s springtime...and the Buckeyes always win.
Throw the ball...and then throw it some more...


“This was not a Cardale day,” said Urban Meyer afterwards. The coach had promised a game plan heavily oriented toward the passing attack, and he was true to his word. Jones wasn’t sharp as he showed off his howitzer arm, but he threw the ball all over the yard in compiling his 19-for-42 afternoon. In fact, he said that his arm was tired at halftime, which explained why he only threw the football 74 yards in the QB skills competition against Troy Smith and J.T. Barrett at intermission. 

Seventy-four.


Jones winged several errant deep balls, and looked a bit rusty overall, but his effortless delivery, the ability to fling a football 40 or 50 yards with the flick of a wrist, is still a marvel to behold. Two of those rocket shots found wide receiver Corey Smith for touchdown completions of 58 and 37 yards, the last one coming with 3:43 remaining and providing the winning margin for the Gray. It should be noted that on both TD’s, Smith got behind walk-on cornerbacks, but he looked like a true deep threat in spite of that detail.


Scarlet QB Stephen Collier looked like a redshirt freshman getting his first ever game action in a Buckeyes uniform in the first half. But he rallied in the second half, completing six straight passes at one point, including a 34 yard TD strike to Terry McLaurin, and he finished 15 of 33 for 157 yards, with two TD’s and three interceptions.


Catching On


With Devin Smith gone and leading returnee Michael Thomas out with a sports hernia, most of the players on the receiving end of the 75 passes thrown were seeing their first extended action, and there was a lot to like in what we saw. Corey Smith has the most experience of the group, and he led the way with six catches for 174 yards and the two touchdowns from Jones, but several others impressed with their hands and athleticism.


Noah Brown has been penciled in by Meyer as the starter outside opposite Thomas, and the big sophomore caught four passes and showed some nice moves after the catch. Senior transfer Jeff Greene also showed well, using his impressive size and ball skills to haul in five receptions for 55 yards.


Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary's Parris Campbell flashed his speed and answered some questions about his hands with five catches for 56 yards, including a three-yard touchdown on a shovel pass from Collier. Sophomore Curtis Samuel was used extensively in the passing game as well, and caught three passes for 30 yards. Finally, redshirt freshman Terry McLaurin made a circus catch to beat excellent coverage by corner Damon Webb, grabbing a nice throw from Collier for a 35-yard touchdown reception.


What Pass Protection?


With starting offensive linemen either sitting it out (Boren) or playing limited reps (Decker, Price, Elflein) and the pass-heavy scheme no secret, both defensive lines were able to treat every down like it was 3rd and 13.  As a result, neither quarterback had much time to throw, and most of the plays that went into the book as rushes weren’t called that way, as Collier and Jones scrambled early and often.


Redshirt freshman defensive end Sam Hubbard had two (touch) sacks of Jones, and the pass rush contributed greatly to Collier’s first half ineffectiveness. Joey Bosa exited the game in the first half, as did most of the veteran first-teamers, but he wreaked the usual havoc while he was in there.


Standing out for their performances on defense were Nick Conner, the true freshman middle linebacker who led all defenders with seven tackles, and Erick Smith, the sophomore safety, who picked off two passes as he continues to make his case for more playing time.


Tickets Sold, Maybe


Far be it from me to rain on the “all-time record crowd for a spring game anywhere” parade, but attendance figures for these affairs are notoriously nebulous and/or inflated. Call me skeptical that 99,391 actually populated the Horseshoe on this afternoon. I suspect the advance ticket sale was added to the sale at the gate to reach that total, as opposed to actually counting the humans in attendance, which is impossible without scanning each ticket (which doesn't happen at spring games). The people are much more spread out in the spring, as the “15 inches per butt” method of cramming in the fans for regular season games is not in effect, so the crowd looks bigger than it is.


None of that detracts from what was a delightful sunny April afternoon in Columbus, an event that, possibly more than ever, celebrated Buckeye fans’ well-known attachment to their football team. Bragging rights forever about spring game attendance is just an added bonus.

They say there are two seasons in Columbus. Football ... and spring football.  The three month break between them begins now.
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