Ohio State's spring game was only sort of a football game, given creative officiating, playcalling that didn't even come close to Ohio State's game plan, mismatched rosters and more. Still, nearly 100,000 fans were able to enjoy some fun moments in a 17-14 Gray win, paced by Cardale Jones' deep ball heroics.
Jones hit Jalin Marshall for what looked like a 12-yard touchdown on the game's first drive, only to have the score overruled because Marshall was touched by a defender before he got the ball. Ohio State threw the ball four times inside the 10, but failed to covert, leading to a deadlocked score in the first quarter.
Sean Nuernberger nailed a 29 yard field goal to open the scoring, but then missed two 39-yarders immediately afterwards before hitting a third. Of course, having Urban Meyer standing right beyond may not have helped either.
As the first half wound down, Jones finally connected on a deep ball, hitting Corey Smith on a 58 yard bomb to put the Gray ahead 10-0. Stephen Collier was able to engineer a scoring drive, ending with a long touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin for a 35-yarder to make it a 10-7 game. After halftime, tens of thousands of fans left as the Buckeyes switched to a running clock. Collier was able to complete six passes in a row to lead the Scarlet team to a position to take the lead late in the third quarter, before taking a sack and fumbling a snap, which would have ended the drive under conventional rules.
Paris Campbell scored on a jet sweep with zero seconds remaining in the third quarter to give the Scarlet team a 14-10 lead, further thumbing their nose at the rules of conventional football as we know it. Cardale Jones threw his second interception shortly thereafter, but after a stalled Scarlet drive, Jones hit Corey Smith deep again on a 37-yard strike to take the lead, 17-14.
A long catch by Jeff Greene put the Scarlet team in position to take the lead with only 30 seconds left, but the Gray team ramped up the passrush and prevented Collier from hitting one last throw.
The Buckeyes threw the ball early and often, both to give their young receivers extra experience, and to likely reduce risk of injuries, leading to some weird box scores and playcalling, but it was exciting.
Here's what we learned:
1) We're talking about practice. I mean, it's fun to try and draw big, sweeping conclusions from something that looked like actual football, and hey, we'll try that too, but this wasn't even close to a real game. Ohio State threw on virtually every down, taking more out of the NCAA Football playbook (bombs every down) than anything resembling in-game situations. A touchdown was wiped off the board for basically no reason. Anything else that we say should be couched with the major caveat that even though 90,000 plus showed up, this was very much a practice, with the intent to teach, rather than to win.
2) Ohio State has three QBs. Right now, they don't have a fourth. Okay, so this is beyond a first-world fan problem. We know Ohio State has three awesome QBs, with Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett, and if he's healthy, Braxton Miller. Ohio State's fourth quarterback, sophomore Stephen Collier, however, was not nearly on their level. Granted, he was playing behind an inferior offensive line facing some real monsters on the other side of the ball, but even when he had time to throw, Collier threw behind his receivers, or showed questionable decision making. Collier was 7-19 for 81 yards, a touchdown, three picks and a lost fumble in the first half. He did throw a very impressive touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin to end the first half, and improved significantly as the game went along, but the gap between him and the other three quarterbacks is more than significant.
It's obviously super early, but given their recruiting pedigrees, it wouldn't be impossible for one of Ohio State's two freshman that will arrive on campus later, Torrance Gibson and Joey Burrow, to pass Collier on the depth chart.
3) Nick Conner and Erick Smith came to play. Ohio State might have a loaded defense next season, and there are plenty of players to be excited about who aren't even projected to start. Sophomore safety Erick Smith came to play, especially in the first half, grabbing two interceptions, and gaining more yards than any other yards receiving than anybody on the Scarlet team. Freshman linebacker Nick Conner, of nearby Dublin, was all over the field as well. Conner picked up an interception, and nearly grabbed another one while breaking up a screen pass, and totaled seven tackles. He also forced a fumble that was recovered by Sam Hubbard, another young player that has picked up plenty of positive press during the spring. Conner could find his way on the the field for special teams, and Smith may press for time as well. Having depth with defensive playmakers is never a bad thing.
4) Ohio State's deep ball game isn't perfect, but the bright spots are clear. We knew that Cardale Jones had a cannon of an arm (during the halftime skills competition, he threw a football 74 freaking yards), and Ohio State was eager to test it all game. Jones and his young wideouts missed on a few deep ball attempts, both from overthrows and timing concerns, but there were still a few hits. Jones found Corey Smith for three deep balls, including a 58-yard touchdown strike and a go-ahead 37-yard pass, and Terry McLaurin grabbed a deep touchdown throw from Collier as well. You could also see why Ohio State is so excited about Noah Brown, who had an excellent one-handed catch, and Curtis Samuel, who showed great speed and hauled in a few passes too. Even Jeff Greene, the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket, made himself known. Once everybody gets healthy and gets more reps in, Ohio State should have a lot of options to catch passes from whoever is throwing them.
Cardale Jones: 19-42, 304 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Stephen Collier: 15-33, 157 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs
Cardale Jones: 8 attempts, 11 yards
Bri'onte Dunn: 3 attempts, 9 yards
Warren Ball: 9 attempts, 33 yards
Stephen Collier: 7 attempts, 9 yards
Corey Smith: 6 catches, 174 yards, 2 TDs
Noah Brown: 4 catches, 44 yards
Curtis Samuel: 3 catches, 30 yards
Bri'one Dunn: 3 catches, 21 yards
Nick Vannett: 1 catch, 15 yards
Kato Mitchell: 1 catch, 11 yards
Jalin Marshall: 1 catch, 9 yards
Jeff Greene: 5 catches, 56 yards
Paris Campbell: 5 catches, 38 yards, 1 TD
Joe Ramsetter: 3 catches, 28 yards
Terry McClaurin: 1 catch, 35 yards
Warren Ball: 1 catch, zero yards.