After a few days of speculation, not to mention a handful of other schools’ cancellations, the Ohio State football team held their annual, inter-squad scrimmage on Saturday.
As he often does, head coach Urban Meyer played fast and loose with the rules, rosters, and clock of the spring game. While many fans would have liked to have gotten some insight into the quarterback competition, Meyer seemed to flip back-and-forth between options early and often, even multiple times during drives.
That spring game mindset made it a little difficult to get a grip on where things stand. The other issues that got in the way of figuring out what the offenses had, was the fact that it was practically two-hand touch for all skill players, meaning that the top-line running backs of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber were rarely used; although, when they were it was exciting.
Even though Meyer has said throughout the spring that the defense was ahead of the offense, the quarterbacks and skill positions for the offense were clearly the highlight of the game. Technically the Gray team won 37-14, but with skill position players swapping teams like Pokemon cards, that’s neither here nor there in terms of what’s important to take away from the game.
Tate Martell started the game for the Scarlet team going three-and-out. The teams seemed be trying to get as many plays in as possible before any weather got in the way. Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins were the quarterbacks for the Gray team, and after a timeout, Haskins led the offense with a pass to Parris Campbell. On the next play, Haskins spun out of trouble, but due to the QB no-contact rules, his run was quickly blown dead. However, given real game situations, he likely would have had a substantial pickup.
After Haskins again connected with Campbell, Burrow took over. His first pass was disrupted by a defender, and his second was a screen to the oft-forgotten Demario McCall. Burrow tried to connect deep with McCall, but it went incomplete, resulting in another punt.
Back behind center, Martell broke free from the pocket, despite the black jersey, and true freshman Master Teague had what could have been a big run blown dead due to contact at the line of scrimmage. While the Scarlet’s second team offense didn’t do much damage early on in terms of yardage, the explosiveness shown by some of their young talent was exciting.
Back on offense, the Gray’s Burrow found Campbell on a crossing-route that, given real circumstances, could have led to a touchdown. Burrow followed up with two more completions— including one to tight end Luke Fearrell— before Haskins took over again, and promptly found Campbell again.
Despite Meyer saying that Chase Young had a somewhat underwhelming spring, he got into the backfield touching Haskins down.
Later in the drive, Sean Nuernberger hit a field goal to get the Gray team on the board, and as is his wont, Meyer had the kicker attempt three more. Nuernberger made all four kicks, including the final one from approximately 52 yards.
After a facemask call, Martell rolled to his right and fired the ball to McCall for a strong completion. Then a scramble and a zone-read keeper, Martell went untouched and took the Scarlet inside the seven-yard line.
However, after a few passes failed to find the endzone, the ball was officially turned over for the start of the second quarter. That being said, Martell ran the ball six times in the first 10 minutes, and averaged 6.7 yards per carry. That total, while impressive, is even more so because of the black-shirt limitations.
Tatey Football— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) April 14, 2018
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One of the most inspiring and exciting aspects of Saturday’s game is that Ohio State legend Ryan Shazier served as an honorary coach. Though it was limited, the Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker was able to stand and walk a little bit, but spent most of the game in a golf cart; still a great sight for all Buckeye fans. Two-time Super Bowl champion Malcolm Jenkins served as the game’s other honorary coach.
After Haskins and the Gray team punted the ball away, Burrow took over the Scarlet’s second-team offense, and hooked up Ellijah Gardiner and McCall multiple times. McCall would be busy, especially in the first half, as he carried and caught the ball for both offenses.
He was clearly an offensive priority for the game, and might finally figure into the play-calling this fall.
He started a little sloppy with the Gray team, but as the first half progresses, his accuracy improved tremendously. In fact, his accuracy was so good, that he even completed a pass to himself, after it bounced off the helmet of a lineman.
The Scarlet team moved the ball down the field, and Teague had a nice spin move that— even though the two-hand touch rules stopped two runs that would probably have been touchdowns, Teague had a number of nice runs and eventually got into the endzone, capping off an impressive drive for Burrow. After the TD, the QB was 9-for-12 for 104 yards, and Team Scarlet was now up, 7-3.
This isn’t the first time that Burrow has looked good in a spring game. In 2017, despite J.T. Barrett being the obvious starter, Burrow looked very impressive in the Scarlet and Gray game, and had he not gotten injured at the tail-end of fall camp, he likely would have been the backup last season.
In his first actual carry, Weber went 63 yards before being touched down. The running back made an impressive cut at the line of scrimmage and then raced away from the defense for what would have been a touchdown given regular season rules. However, Martell, now running the Gray offense, scampered to paydirt on the next play. Gray was back on top 10-7.
On the Scarlet squad’s next possession, the carousel of quarterbacks continued, as Haskins took over the offense, and for the first time on the day, we started seeing actual tackling. Teague and McCall got the first few touches and moved the ball across midfield.
Haskins matched Burrow with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Harris to put the Scarlet up 14-10. While he didn’t have the accuracy that Burrow had on the afternoon, Haskins’ pass to Harris was as impressive as any throw from any quarterback on the game.
Back with the first-team offense, Martell showed some fancy footwork, but was replaced by Burrow on 4th and 2. The new QB kept it on the option and picked the first down, and going with a little tempo, found Binjimen Victor for a 25-yard pickup with under two minutes remaining in the first half.
After a pass-interference in the endzone, Antonio Williams got the carry and fought hard to get down to the three-yard line. A few plays later, Williams again got nasty and crossed the goal line, putting the Gray up 17-14 with just 16 seconds remaining in the half.
The next Scarlet series was supposed to end the first half, but with rain still on its way, they skipped the intermission, and just continued into what would eventually become the third quarter— now with a running clock.
On the drive, Martell replaced Haskins, and had two rushes that otherwise would have been big gains. After a timeout, Haskins returned, and found Victor on a nice over-the-shoulder catch for a 40-yard completion inside the redzone. Then, a few plays later, Victor held onto a contested back-shoulder throw to put the Gray up 24-14.
Haskins wrapped up his second spring game in Columbus going 9-19 for 120 yards, but that doesn’t tell the story of how impressive his arm was on Saturday. While his accuracy could certainly be improved, he routinely made throws that very few QBs can.
Haskins, back in control of the Scarlet offense, gave the ball to Teague on an inside counter, and he picked up 17 yards and a first down. On the next snap, Teague picked up another first down, and while he likely won’t be able to overtake Dobbins, Weber, and Williams in the backfield, he certainly made a good impression in the spring game, which should bode well for his future in the program.
The true-freshman finished his first Buckeye action with 73 yards on 14 carries and a TD.
With the running clock in full-effect, Burrow completed a 53-yard bullet to McCall who continued to rack up stats from the H-back position. With the Gray now up 31-14, McCall had eight receptions and 121 yards through the air.
Martell took back over for the Scarlet team, and while his arm and accuracy were nowhere near the league of Haskins and Burrow, he showed a tremendous amount of explosion and creativity on Saturday. Given all of the opportunities he got in the spring game— and praise Meyer’s given him— it seems likely that he will have a package or two designed for him this fall.
However, Martell did have the first turnover of the game, when Shaun Wade made a diving interception with 4:19 remaining. The redshirt-freshman finished going 5-16 passing for 28 yards, but accounted for 69 nice yards on 11 carries.
On a final, untimed, play, Burrow found McCall for 42 yards and another touchdown to give the Gray the 37-14 victory.
Demario McCall walk-off TD is the perfect way to end this Spring Game pic.twitter.com/PSglt8T7o1— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) April 14, 2018
There is no doubt that both quarterbacks looked good on Saturday, but in terms of the full package, Haskins seemed to take the day. Burrow’s last-second TD bomb aside, Haskins made some incredibly impressive throws throughout the game, and his accuracy picked up as the afternoon went on.
Burrow finished the game 15-22 for 238 yards, and in any other year, I think would have stolen the show. However, coming out of the game, I— for one— think that Meyer has no choice but to have Haskins as the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes this fall.
While Meyer would certainly prefer for Burrow to remain a Buckeye, one has to begin to consider if the writing is on the wall, and whether or not the quarterback— who graduates next month— decides to use his graduate-transfer option and find a place where he can be the starter for the next two seasons.
After seeing all three play in the spring game, who do you think should be Ohio State’s starting QB?
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