On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio State’s three quarterbacks combined to go just 31-of-56, including four interceptions.
On a normal day, it would be fair to see that as a negative for the team. But fortunately for OSU coach Urban Meyer, the defense that was stifling his quarterbacks happened to also be his own.
While the final score of OSU’s annual intrasquad spring game is largely irrelevant, there are still various measures of value that the coaches and players take away from the scrimmage.
A lot of those gains came from the defense of both the Scarlet and Gray teams. And since that side of the ball lost eight starters from last year’s Fiesta-Bowl-winning team, Meyer and his staff have to be pleased.
“I will probably watch the film and get sick to my stomach, but, no, what I saw today was the future is bright at Ohio State,” Meyer said.
With Scarlet starting quarterback J.T. Barrett wearing a black no-contact jersey, the Gray defensive line was reverting to its elementary school recess days, playing two-hand touch. Still, it was an impressive performance, as the defense picked up five sacks.
Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Davon Hamilton had three sacks, while fellow redshirt freshman defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones added another. The fifth did not come from a lineman, but from sophomore cornerback Denzel Ward.
Not to be outdone, the Scarlet team picked up four sacks of its own, led by two from redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jashon Cornell. Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Dylan Thompson tacked on another, while the fourth was credited to the team.
“I liked our defensive line,” Meyer said. “(Redshirt sophomore) Mike Hill, Dre’Mont Jones were all over the field today. Jashon Cornell played well.”
On a throwing-heavy day, the line also did its part preventing big gains on the ground. Combined, the sides rushed for 129 yards.
“I think they’re talented, very eager, we have an excellent D-line coach, and the good thing, they’re allowed to spend time with our players now in the summer,” Meyer said.
A highlight in the game came from Scarlet linebacker Jerome Baker, who made an acrobatic, one-handed interception. But despite the gravity-defying athleticism, the sophomore was quick to give the credit to the line in front of him.
“Our D-line did their job, and I came up with the pick,” he said.
Sixty-six percent of the Buckeyes’ starting linebackers from a season ago have bid farewell to the program, opening gaping holes on the depth chart for young players to fill.
It just so happened that one of those players looking to fill that spot, Baker, made one of the game’s most electrifying plays, as far as spring games go.
Baker’s one-handed snag might have caught OSU fans unfamiliar with the Cleveland native off-guard, but it didn’t shock some of his teammates.
“I wasn’t too surprised,” said junior Dante Booker, a fellow linebacker. “I’ve seen him do it before in practice. He’s just an athlete.”
Redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley is another player who will see his workload increase drastically this fall. The 6-foot-2 Worley nearly started two seasons ago, but Meyer opted to start then-redshirt freshman Darron Lee. The rest, of course, is history.
Yet Worley was quiet on Saturday, tallying just one tackle. Booker, on the other hand, had an impressive day. He was active throughout the scrimmage, registering seven tackles, four of which were solo.
Right now, the linebackers on the roster have the necessary tools, but they’re inexperienced. Barring injury, McMillan will be a mainstay. Other than that, there are players that need to prove themselves.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys in the mix,” Booker said. “We have them in the rotation so I feel like they got experience playing in the stadium. We’ll continue working in the summer.”
Besides the aforementioned Baker interception, the defenses combined to come up with three more: two by redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker and another by redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
With OSU’s two starters at cornerback from last season away from the field on Saturday — redshirt junior Gareon Conley is recovering from an injury and Eli Apple entered the NFL draft — Lattimore said he saw the scrimmage as a chance for the young corners to make a name for themselves.
“We’re replacing some pretty good players,” Lattimore said. “But we still can play. We still can be right there with them, I feel like. But we still have a long way to go, you know, they had experience. But I feel like we’re just as good as players they were.”
In addition to his two interceptions, Hooker led all players with 10 tackles. With over 100,000 fans in attendance, a national spring game record, Lattimore said coming up big in a game like that means a lot regardless of if the stats are soon washed from the record books.
“It’s great, no matter if it’s practice,” he said. “You’ve got to go at it the same way, whether it’s practice or a game. It’s just exciting to have teammates go crazy when you make a play. I love that.”
The completion of the spring game also marks the end of spring practice. With a summer of work ahead of them, the Buckeyes are excited about the progress they have made with their lineup of 16 new starters, but they acknowledged that a lot of work still has to be done.
“We’re young. We’ve just constantly got to get better. Every position has to get better,” Baker said. “We’re young, inexperienced, but we’re very talented.”
The regular season for OSU is set to begin on Sept. 3 with a matchup against Bowling Green at Ohio Stadium.