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Youth is Served in OSU Spring Game

Mike Weber - #20 (photo courtesy of OSU Athletics)
Before we get to the Ohio State Spring Game recap, we should probably start with a disclaimer about the many “spring” things that you don’t want to put too much stock in...like spring flings...and spring training...and around here, spring thaws. To this list we can add surely college football spring games, as anyone who remembers Bam Childress can attest.


With that understood, it’s fair to say that the backup quarterback job at OSU was locked down on Saturday, as redshirt freshman Joe Burrow was the offensive star of the game, throwing three touchdowns passes in leading his Gray squad to a 28-17 win over the Scarlet. Wide receiver Torrance Gibson was also making his OSU debut after redshirting a year ago, and the converted quarterback was on the receiving end of two of Burrow’s TD connections.


In his only previous appearance on the Ohio Stadium turf, Burrow had thrown for 446 yards and six touchdowns in a wild state championship game in 2014 that his Athens High School team lost on the game’s final play. After Saturday’s scrimmage, Burrow said “Now I know I can play here,”...a reference to the questions some OSU fans had voiced about the level of competition he faced in high school. Urban Meyer admits to having had some concerns about Burrow a year ago, but after this performance, he allowed that the youngster “has been coming on”.


Mother Nature cooperated with a gorgeous sunny afternoon for the event, and an announced crowd of 100,189 filed into the Horseshoe to watch a scrimmage that had been billed in advance by Coach Meyer as a “pass-heavy” game plan. The two sides combined to throw the ball 57 times, compared to 41 rushes. It must be said too that several of those rushing plays were of the “scramble” variety, as the pass rush on both sides got the better of the pass protection.



A Football Factory 
  

In most years the OSU Spring Game is only secondarily a football scrimmage, serving more as a recruiting event, an exhibition for the fans and students, and a celebration of the program overall. Part of that celebration at Ohio State this year is the elevated stature of Urban Meyer’s program as a major producer of NFL football players.


As many as 15 members of the 2015 Buckeyes are expected to be drafted later this month, with perhaps half a dozen of them becoming instant millionaires as 1st round selections. You can bet that fact was not lost on the blue-chip high school prospects taking in the scrimmage. It could hardly be otherwise, given Ohio State’s relentless promotion of their ability to attract and develop the kind of talent that plays on Sundays.


But this year’s exodus to the NFL also made the game itself more important for the Buckeyes of 2016 than it is most springs. There were jobs to be won or lost for the 16 spots not occupied by returning starters. Nearly 30 players (either redshirt freshmen or early enrollee true freshmen) were making their first appearances on the field in front of people, and Meyer has often said he wants to see how kids respond with 100,000 watching...(more on that attendance in a bit)


The format of the game itself can change from year to year based on injuries and/or suspensions, etc. (Last year there were barely five healthy offensive linemen, let alone enough to field two complete units) This time around Meyer and his staff decided to keep the starting units relatively intact, so J.T. Barrett and the rest of the offensive starters were in Scarlet, while the presumptive starters on defense played for the Gray.


A few of the position groups were of particular interest (concern?) coming into this exhibition: receivers, safeties and defensive tackles for starters, but it’s hard to leave anybody out, so we’ll take a look at the individuals in each group that made an impression Saturday. Starting on offense….


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QB


Joe Burrow - #10 (photo courtesy of OSU Athletics)
Burrow was 14 for 23 for 196 yards passing, with the three TD’s, but the numbers could have been better than that, as he had at least three passes dropped. He rushed for 51 yards (net 31 after sacks) including a 31 yard scamper on a scramble out of the pocket. He was especially impressive with his touch on the deep balls, hitting Terry McLaurin on completions of 52 and 47 yards, the latter for a TD, and another that McLaurin couldn’t hang on to.


J.T. Barrett had a relatively forgettable day, playing only the first half, and completing 13 of 22 for 102 yards and 2 interceptions. Nearly half of his completions were to tight end Marcus Baugh on short routes, and he was a bit erratic on his longer throws. Barrett wore the black, no-contact jersey, so the game plan took away his running plays for the most part, which is a bit like asking Clapton to perform without his guitar.
 

Third year sophomore Stephen Collier relieved Barrett in the second half, and went 4 of 11 for 154 yards with an interception. Getting better at throwing the deep ball has been a major point of emphasis this spring for Meyer, and he had all three of his QB’s airing it out deep all day.

RB


Redshirt freshman Mike Weber was the best running back on the day, looking shifty and quick, but with tackle-breaking strength. He had 38 yards on 8 carries for the Scarlet, with TD runs of 2 and 8 yards, and added a pass reception for 5 yards. True freshman Antonio Williams ran for 29 yards on 7 carries, and at times flashed the skills that made him a 4-star recruit. Senior Bri’onte Dunn did not play.


WR


With their top four pass catchers not playing from scrimmage (WR’s Noah Brown and Corey Smith, and H-backs Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson) this was one of the highlighted groups to watch Saturday, and for the most part they didn’t disappoint. Redshirt freshman  Torrance Gibson dropped the first pass he was thrown by Burrow, but settled down to have a nice afternoon, with 6 catches for 50 yards, including a TD reception of 18 yards, and another for 2 yards on a touch pass sweep. The potential there is mind-boggling. Gibson had one pass attempt on a double pass, and demonstrated why he was converted to wide receiver.

Marcus Baugh - #85 (photo courtesy of OSU Athletics)

As noted above, sophomore Terry McLaurin had one drop on a deep throw from Burrow, but had a very good day overall (4 rec, 111 yds, TD)


Parris Campbell had a nice day too, with 3 grabs for 102 yards, showing some nifty moves after the catch on a 40 yard gain, and then hauling in a 55-yard bomb from Stephen Collier late in the contest. Early enrolling freshman Austin Mack had 3 catches and 3rd year sophomore Johnnie Dixon had two. Tight end Marcus Baugh showed off his hands and athleticism with 7 catches for 64 yards, most of them on 1st half connections with Barrett. Backup A.J. Alexander had 2 receptions. The TE position is really thin until two touted recruits (Jake Hausman and Luke Farrell) arrive in August.



OL


The offensive line starters in Scarlet went for a little more than a half, with Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince at the tackles, Demetrious Knox and true freshman Michael Jordan at guard, and Brady Taylor at center (starters Pat Elflein and Billy Price sat it out). The young tackles struggled at times containing the first string pass rushers of the Gray team, as Barrett was (touch) sacked three times and pressured many others. This group is a work in progress, including their new coach Greg Studrawa.

Burrow had to contend with an O-Line group composed of backups, and they had a rough day against a very deep defensive line unit, which we’ll get to next…

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Defense:


DL


The depth of this team at defensive end is pretty well documented, even considering the loss of Joey Bosa. Sam Hubbard looks like a dominant force, and in returning sack leader Tyquan Lewis (who didn’t play Saturday) Jalyn Holmes, Darius Slade, and incoming freshmen Jonathan Cooper and Nick Bosa, this unit looks good. One surprise to me in this group on Saturday was the speed and athleticism of converted tight end Rashod Berry, a redshirt freshman who looks like he has finally found his position.


Most of the question marks have centered on the defensive tackles, so it was encouraging that several of them really flashed in this scrimmage. Last season ended with Michael Hill and Tracy Sprinkle as the starters, and both return, but the staff has been looking for depth at those spots and they must have really cranked up the competition in the guys fighting for playing time.


Meyer singled out redshirt freshmen Jashon Cornell (5 tackles, 2 sacks, 3.5 TFL), Dre’Mont Jones (2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL) and Davon Hamilton (5 tackles, 3 sacks) for praise afterwards, as the inside players got great penetration all afternoon, disrupting both offensive lines. Robert Landers is another name in that group to keep an eye on. (Donovan Munger did not play)


LB


The starters Raekwon McMillan (4 tackles) , Dante Booker (7 tackles) and Chris Worley all looked solid. But the story of the game at linebacker was sophomore Jerome Baker, who had seven tackles and made a spectacular one-handed grab of an interception of Burrow to thwart a Gray drive in the red zone. Reserves like Craig Fada, freshman Tuf Borland and walk-on Zach Turnure (6 tackles) got a lot of snaps, with more touted players like Nick Connor and Justin Hilliard out with injuries.


DB


While Burrow was stealing the show on offense, it was sophomore safety Malik Hooker who was doing likewise on defense. Hooker led all players with 10 tackles in the game, and he added two interceptions, returning the first one 82 yards for a touchdown. Hooker played mostly on special teams a year ago, blocked as he was by NFL-bound veterans Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell at safety, but he looks more than ready for prime time in his third year in the program. Damon Webb, who has moved over from cornerback, started at the other safety spot since the position is a bit thin with Erick Smith and Cam Burrows struggling with injuries.


Sophomores Denzel Ward and Marshon Lattimore continue to battle for the starting corner spot opposite Gareon Conley, and on this day it looked like Ward had the edge. Redshirt freshman Damon Arnette looked fast and physical, and may have earned some consideration by the staff.



Attendance Breaks Another Record?


It’s a good thing the NCAA has better things to do (like regulate texts to recruits) than verify “all-time record attendance” at college spring games. Ohio State announced Saturday’s attendance at 100,189, claiming to have broken last year’s mark of 99,351.


Whatever.


As I did last year, I’ll be the killjoy who points out that the school can’t know how many people were actually there. They add the number of tickets sold in advance to the number of students they admit free with a student ID (a guess, probably) to come up with their estimated total. Anyone who has ever attended a regular season game knows how they pack the people in like sardines on game day, allowing about 15 inches of bench per butt. Seasoned observers put the realistic attendance Saturday closer to 80,000….but so what?  


It was sunny, and the Buckeyes won. What else do you need?


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