The last time the Ohio State football team touched the field at Ohio Stadium, they were joined by thousands of fans who jumped from their seats in celebration of former H-back Curtis Samuel’s walk-off touchdown in double overtime against the Michigan Wolverines.
Little did players or fans alike know that — thanks to a 31-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Clemson Tigers on Dec. 31 — it would be the last Buckeye touchdown they would see in more than four months.
However, at the 2017 spring game, it took just under four minutes for redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett to find redshirt sophomore tight end A.J. Alexander in the back of the endzone — the first sign of many in the afternoon that offseason changes might be paying dividends for the Scarlet and Gray offense.
Co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who joined the team in the offseason, said the improvements seen in Saturday’s game were a direct result of spring practice.
“We kind of did a lot of things we’ve been practicing,” he said. “We didn’t necessarily try to hide things. We didn’t try to throw everything out there. I thought we’d had a solid spring, lot of areas need improving, I just wanted — because we’re playing enough young guys — that when we came into the arena, they didn’t make all the good things I’ve seen in practice bigger than it looks.”
Wilson, formerly the head coach at Indiana, was described by Barrett as a “competitor” who is “always in attack mode” and has helped the Buckeye offense find its past rhythm.
“I think the thing about the Ohio State offense is we’re always on the attack and at times, I think we got away from that,” Barrett said. “But now, (Wilson’s) main focus is to make sure that we’re always on attack and that we’re beating the guy across from us.”
While in the spring game the “guy across” was a familiar face, both Team Scarlet and Team Gray had success beating their defensive counterparts. Scarlet posted 460 offensive yards while Gray totaled 385. The majority of yardage for both teams came from the passing game, which was a sore spot at times for the 2016 team.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Johnnie Dixon, who was a highlight for Team Scarlet with 108 yards and two touchdowns, described the passing game as “wonderful” and noted that the receiving group is full of playmakers.
“(The offense) feels a lot better,” Dixon said. “We’re doing different things, and we’re attacking situations different. Everything we’re doing is working.”
Barrett said this is the best spring he’s had for accuracy, but was quick to add there is still work to be done to become “competitively excellent.” Those areas, he said, include pass protection, downfield passing and finishing plays.
“We’ve got to come out pushing and striving to make sure that when it comes to game time, everybody is on the same page and we get those three things accomplished,” Barrett said. “I think we’re on the right path for that, but to say we’re competitively excellent on the game plan? Not yet, but we have time to that we’re not playing the ball.”