Fans and students alike, breaking last year’s national spring game attendance record, flocked to Ohio Stadium on Saturday to watch the annual intrasquad scrimmage by the Ohio State football team.
The 2016 OSU spring game started with a moment of silence honoring both former OSU standout Will Smith and Columbus swat officer Steve Smith. Both men were killed over the weekend in separate instances, and the crowd of over 100,000 stood and remembered the two.
This year’s spring game was a chance for Buckeye faithful to see how OSU coach Urban Meyer would answer many of the question marks left after a multitude of starters left for the NFL draft.
Meyer did not shy away from the high expectations of the new starters.
“We certainly don’t lower our standards just because a player moves on,” Meyer said. “That’s not what this place is all about.”
Starting things off for the Buckeyes was the Scarlet team, led by redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett. After the Gray defensive line put on a display of pass-rush skills, junior Sean Nuernberger came on for a field goal attempt. In an example of an event unique to the spring game, after nailing a 43-yard attempt, he stayed on the field to drill a 51-yard kick.
The Scarlet team struggled to score after the opening drive. Barrett was picked off twice, once by redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker and later by redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The pick by Hooker was returned for a touchdown, and even though the Gray was called for a defensive holding, the play stood, once again evidencing the unusual nature of the spring game.
Gray capitalized off these miscues, finding the endzone twice in the first half. The Gray team’s starting quarterback Joe Burrow connected with redshirt freshman Torrance Gibson on a picture-perfect 18-yard strike over the defensive player for one of the scores.
Burrow provided many over-the-shoulder throws when given time, and looked sharp on his reads.
Gibson scored another touchdown on a two-yard end-around. The score put the Gray up 21-3 before redshirt freshman Mike Weber of the Scarlet side barreled his way into the endzone to end the first half.
Weber impressed the coaching staff, finishing the day with eight carries, 38 yards, and two touchdowns.
“They were starting to compare him to Carlos Hyde,” Meyer said. “Easy now. He hasn’t reached that level yet.”
The second half began with a quick score by the Scarlet, set up by redshirt sophomore Stephen Collier. A 40-yard pass to redshirt sophomore Parris Campbell led to a short touchdown run by Weber.
After a dazzling one-handed interception by sophomore Jerome Baker for the Scarlet, the Gray were given the ball right back immediately following an errant pass from Collier, of the Scarlet team, which was picked off by Hooker for his second takeaway of the day.
“Our D-line got to (Burrow) and I saw Joe under pressure and I went up and got it … I just made a play,” Hooker said.
Redshirt sophomore Terry McLaurin continued his stellar showing with a 47-yard touchdown reception. McLaurin carried two defenders into the endzone with him for the score and finished the day with four receptions for 111 yards.
“I had a lot more confidence coming in,” McLaurin said. “I just want to take that next step forward, being a guy that this offense can depend on, trying to find my role in this offense.”
The wide receiver corps for OSU provided most of the offense on the afternoon. A defensive presence in terms of pass-rush kept the quarterbacks for the Buckeyes on their toes for most of the game.
Both the Scarlet and the Gray had four sacks apiece, and the offensive line appeared to struggle retaining the pocket at times. The occasional lack of protection can be directly credited to a majority of the line being replaced by underclassmen.
Even with certain areas clearly needing attention before the Scarlet and Gray are set to take the field against Bowling Green on Sept. 3, the Buckeyes have shown the team has potential heading into regular season play.
“What I didn’t like?” Meyer asked about the events of the afternoon. “I liked it all.”