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Ohio State displays revamped offense in 2017 spring game in a 44-31 Scarlet win

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Wide receivers and backup quarterbacks impress in the Scarlet and Gray game.

NCAA Football: Ohio State Spring Game Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State fans got their first official look at the 2017 Buckeye football team on Saturday in the annual Scarlet and Gray game. While admittedly the results of a spring game rarely indicate regular season success, there was plenty to buoy the Buckeyes’ optimism for the upcoming fall slate. With yet another year of substantial turnover in the player and coaching ranks, the OSU coaching staff used the spring game to see where the team stood, especially in terms of the passing game.

Though the spring scrimmage was played in front of a sellout crowd, Ohio Stadium’s capacity was considerably smaller on Saturday than for normal games, spring or fall. With renovations taking place in C-deck, just over 82,000 tickets were sold for this year’s spring game, which saw former Nike Chairman Phil Knight and College Football Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz serve as Guest Coaches for the Gray and Scarlet teams respectively.

To the surprise of nearly everyone, the game’s opening quarter was played with little to no hitting, as the offensive players were marked down by contact. While the early limitations handicapped the defense, it made for an exciting offensive display, as fans got a healthy dose of what new Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson’s fast-paced scheme could look like.

On the first drive for the Gray team, starting quarterback J.T. Barrett led the team down the field for a touchdown. Tight-end A.J. Alexander capped the first drive with the short reception. His second catch of the series.

Joe Burrow, the odds-on favorite to back up Barrett in the fall, opened the Scarlet team’s first drive, but after a couple of plays was replaced by Dwayne Haskins. The two alternated snaps throughout the drive.

Haskins got the Scarlet team on the board with a beautifully thrown ball to Johnnie Dixon for an 18-yard touchdown.

On the Gray team’s second drive, after handing off to running back Mike Weber, Barrett swung out and Weber completed a 17-yard pass for the first razzle-dazzle of the day.

After a field goal put the Gray team on top 10-7, Scarlet answered on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to former walk-on running back-turned-wide receiver Ke’Von Huguely. In all fairness, had the defense been allowed to hit the quarterbacks, the play likely would have ended in a sack or worse.

On the next drive, in the middle of throwing a deep ball, a Gray lineman was blocked into Barrett, causing his deep-ball to float and be picked off by Damon Arnette. On the first play following the quarter break, Dixon caught a 44-yard touchdown pass, this time from Burrow, putting the Scarlet team up 21-10.

The second quarter saw a number of differences on the field, first Haskins replaced Barrett as the quarterback for the Gray team, and defenders were allowed to tackle. The teams traded scores the remainder of the quarter to go into halftime with the Scarlet team leading 28-24.

In one quarter of action, Barrett finished 8-12 for 71 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. After the first half, Burrow was an impressive 12 for 16 for 240 yards and three TDs, while Haskins was 9-13 for 153 yards and two scores. While the quarterbacks played against different defenders, it ended up being a fairly positive day for each of Ohio State’s top-three QBs. Both Burrow and Haskins continued into the second half.

With a slightly more run-focused third quarter, the Gray team pulled even at 31 with the Scarlet squad before the end of the quarter. DeMario McCall led both teams on the ground with 83 yards on six carries; he also finished with two catches for 48 yards. Weber saw limited action, picking up 13 yards on five early carries.

With just five minutes remaining in the game, true-freshman quarterback Tate Martell ran into the endzone to put the Scarlet team up 38-31. Martell finished the game for the Scarlet team, going 1-2 for 11 yards throwing and picking up 24 yards on the ground on two carries.

With the Scarlet team’s victory already assured, the Meyer called in Buckeye superfan Jacob Jarvis to finish the game as the team’s tailback. After taking the handoff from Barrett, Jarvis weaved his wheelchair through the Gray defense to cap the afternoon’s scoring at 44-31 in favor of the Scarlet squad.

The losing Gray team had to walk from the ‘Shoe to the Woody Hayes Center, and will be pulling landscaping duty in Buckeye Grove later this spring.

Ohio State will kick off the 2017 season on Thursday, August 31st in Bloomington, IN.

3 things we learned:

1. J.T. Barrett is the starter, but the backup battle is gonna be fun. First off, for everyone feverishly typing tweets and message board posts about how J.T. Barrett needs to be benched in favor of Joe Burrow, push away from the keyboard, go outside, take a walk, and come back when you’ve calmed down.

Barrett is, was, and will be Ohio State’s starting quarterback until he graduates, unless an injury or other unforeseen issue dictates otherwise.

However, the impressive spring game showings by Burrow and Haskins, should give Buckeye fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future, should Barrett go down this season, and for when he is gone in 2018. It also will lead to one of the most interesting storylines for this fall’s camp.

Burrow had a great outing, especially in the first half, showing a tremendous touch on balls both short and long. Haskins was a little more hit-or-miss, alternating between teams Scarlet and Gray, but they both proved that should Ohio State need a backup to step in and play, whomever ends up winning the battle will be up for the challenge.

2. The deep passing game looked... dare we say it? Promising. With the embarrassing shutout against Clemson in January’s Fiesta Bowl still fresh in everyone’s minds, one of the big questions coming into the spring game was whether or not Ohio State’s passing game would look any different with Wilson now at the helm.

While again tempering the excitement from a scrimmage with rotating rosters and flexible rules, OSU’s wide receivers looked impressive. Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill, Eric Glover-Williams, and others looked strong both in terms of their hands and route-running. Both Dixon and McLaurin caught a pair of touchdowns, and in limited action, Parris Campbell looked promising moving from WR to H-back.

3. We might finally see Ohio State use its tight-ends this year. Starting tight-end Marcus Baugh was held out of the spring game due to injury, which gave sophomore A.J. Alexander and freshman Luke Farrell the opportunity to get extra reps.

The pair combined for five catches for 50 yards, and Alexander scored a first quarter touchdown, but what was most striking about the use of the tight-ends in the game is that they were allowed to get more depth on routes than they have been in recent seasons.

With Wilson coaching the TEs in addition to his responsibilities as O-cor, this should be an exciting development for the legions of fans that have voiced displeasure about the position’s lack of productivity under Meyer in recent years.