For me, the Ohio State spring game was a much-anticipated event. I admit it: I’m football starved. How bad? I even watched some USFL action. The Buckeyes’ glorified scrimmage could never have met my hopes and expectations, but it did provide some real highlights, along with some let downs.
The first bonus I got was when I turned on the Big Ten Network about 20 minutes early and caught the last quarter or so of the Rose Bowl – yes, this past Rose Bowl. I’ll tell you, it’s easier sledding to sit back and watch the game when you know that the Bucks are going to pull it out in the end. C.J. Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, TreVeyon Henderson combining to score at will against the Utes was a happy repeat performance.
Next, I got the info about how the game would be played. Offense against defense; that’s fine with me. Tackling on some series of downs; yea! A weird scoring system that reminds us that Ryan Day is an offensive coach.
Certainly, the highlight was the tribute to Dwayne Haskins. The “DH,” Stroud wearing Haskins’ jersey, the video. Well-deserved for one of the Buckeye greats.
As for the game itself, I’m going to divide this piece into “excitements” and “disappointments” for both offense and defense. The announcers (usually good, by the way) seemed to get a little bored with play on the field and resorted to chatter. I know that I should have had a roster by my side. I didn’t, though, and I didn’t get much help from the press box guys to inform me about who was doing what. So, here goes.
Running game. Even with tackling permitted, Miyan Williams and Evan Pryor broke some nice runs. In the post-game presser, Day spoke of Pryor’s burst and “wiggle” and his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. He looked as though he has improved a lot since the fall. As for Williams, I’ve always like him, and he gained 101 yards on 15 carries.
Stroud and Kyle McCord. Both Stroud and No. 2 quarterback Kyle McCord looked solid in guiding the vanilla offense on display last Saturday. Both looked ready to go for the 2022 season.
New receivers. I wanted to get a good and early look at the two true freshmen who were playing in the spring game – Caleb Burton and Kyion Grayes. Both played, but I was especially impressed with Burton’s play. He caught a little sideline pass near the end of the game, but I think that we saw the future on a couple of long pass plays, where Burton got wide open for what would have been TDs with accurate passes. But QB Devin Brown overthrew one of them and underthrew the other.
Tight ends. With Jeremy Ruckert gone, this position was a big question mark. I thought that we’d be seeing a lot of Mitch Rossi. Not in this game. Instead, we saw lots of Gee Scott and Joe Royer, and they looked really good. Will 2022 be the year of the OSU tight ends?
Stars saw little action. After watching the replay of the Rose Bowl, I wanted to see the Buckeye offensive starters dominate the action. Stroud played five series, but Henderson and Smith-Njigba played less. Julian Fleming, whom I thought had a lot on the line, was held out for an injury.
Lack of depth on offensive line. The offense dominated play in the first half, but the defense took over in the second. The difference wasn’t so much the absence of big-name players; rather, it was the decline in quality between the first and second-string offensive lines. It’s got to be an area of concern. I hope that by the time the Irish roll in, the O-line goes a bit deeper.
Jayden Ballard and Emeka Egbuka. These guys are battling for a starting position, and I hoped that there would be a breakout by one of them (or by Fleming). There wasn’t. Both receivers dropped balls and didn’t fight successfully to come down with others. I know that the receiver room is deep, but I’m still wondering who will join JSN and Marvin Harrison, Jr. in the starting lineup.
Devin Brown. I hoped that Brown would play the way McCord, last year’s early-enrollee true freshman, did in the 2021 spring game. Brown didn’t. He completed 11 passes for a game-high 141 yards and a touchdown, but his throws seemed a little off the mark. The announcers several times mentioned his athleticism, but it really wasn’t on display Saturday. I realize that the line was having trouble keeping rushers out in the second half, but Brown looked jittery in the pocket and couldn’t elude the sacks.
Young DBs. Going into this game, I figured that Denzel Burke and Cam Brown had the two corner positions nailed down. And there were several returning safeties. But I was worried about depth because, if we’re honest, the Buckeye pass defense often struggled last season. Enter Kye Stokes and Jordan Hancock. Both played brilliantly, I thought, and really eased my mind about backfield depth. I also liked the self-assuredness of transfer safety Tanner McCalister. Although he got called for a pass interference once while covering Egbuka, he did a good job in coverage.
Defensive line play. Especially in the second half, the D-line dominated the line of scrimmage. Paris Johnson (who had both holding and false start penalties called on him) couldn’t handle Jack Sawyer’s speed, as Sawyer looked particularly good. In fact, the pass rush, which was a deficiency last year, look significantly improved in the spring game.
Linebackers. Perhaps “disappointment” is too strong to describe the linebacker play. Again, I was hoping for some flash by a new guy – C.J. Hicks or Reid Carrico. We didn’t get that, but both Tommy Eichenberg and Teradja Mitchell looked good while they were in the game. I think that we’re all looking for big improvements for the linebackers this season.
In his press conference, Ryan Day boasted of the experience of the defense – simply, how much football many of the defensive players (especially on the line) had played for Ohio State. He said that he was “excited” about the combination of that experience with the new scheme installed for the defense. It gave the team “a chance to meet our goals.”
On offense, Day spoke about the “versatility” of the tight ends. To be successful at that position, you need to possess a rare combination of speed, size, and agility in order to execute the blocking and receiving responsibilities. Day also praised the competitiveness of C.J. Stroud.
All in all, I was pretty pleased with the defense and, as always, eager to see that potent offense back on the field. Can’t wait for fall.