The Ohio State Spring Game is just under two months away, with the annual traditional meeting between the Scarlet and the Gray coming up on Saturday, April 15. For many years, the Spring Game was just that — a scrimmage set up in a live game format.
Things changed under Urban Meyer, and have continued in that vein ever since. What we see now every spring is little more than a glorified practice with key players either held out entirely or limited to a series or two, players changing sides in the middle of the game, and two-hand touch generally considered sufficient to deem certain players as “down.”
Things got really weird 10 years ago, as the Spring Game didn’t even take place in Ohio Stadium. The game moved to Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. The move was necessary due to renovations to the Horseshoe at that time. Still, it was a bit disconcerting seeing an orange and black ‘B’ at midfield and the word ‘BENGALS’ in the tiger-striped end zones while the Buckeyes played each other.
The oddness on the field including some generous two-hand touch rules that helped the Gray squad sack Braxton Miller five times, with several of those touches nowhere near enough to have actually brought him down and preventing a big play. It also included guys like Kenny Guiton and Chris Fields switching sides mid-game, leaving fans to wonder if they were doomed to the losing team’s chores no matter who won.
Some of these practices still hold true today, along with things like running clock and the head coach randomly deciding to run plays over again, grant extra timeouts on a whim, or making placekickers take multiple consecutive kicks from increasingly longer distances. In that 2013 game under Meyer, the quarters were just 10 minutes long.
Andrew Norwell and Ron Tanner served as the Scarlet captains, with Guiton and CJ Barnett captaining the Gray. The Scarlet team officially bested the Gray that day, 31-14.
Miller fired the game’s only first quarter touchdown to Devin Smith to open the scoring. Miller completed only half his passes in the quarter (4-for-8), but those completions covered 80 yards and included a scoring strike. Guiton opened 3-for-3 on the Gray side, but only for 48 yards. Kenny G went on to finish the first half 9-for-13 for 116 yards and a touchdown in the first half before switching over to the Scarlet side in relief of Miller.
Fields scored on a pass from Guiton for the Gray team to tie the game at 7-7, but Miller lifted Scarlet back into the lead when he hit Philly Brown for a go-ahead touchdown.
After the half, Miller added a touchdown scramble to his two passing scores and a Drew Basil gave Scarlet a commanding 24-7 lead after three quarters. Cardale Jones gave Gray some hope when he found Michael Thomas to cut the lead to 10 points.
But Scarlet stretched it back out when the turncoat Fields scored on a reverse to put the final points on the board.
No one bats an eye these days at such things in a Spring Game. Old guys like me remember when players were chosen carefully to make the sides even to avoid swapping sides, had to tackle each other for them to be down, normal football timing rules were used, and the game was less subject to the whims of the coaching staff. That’s not to say the changes we’ve seen over the years are wrong, but it does make the Spring Game a little less watchable.
Today, every Spring Game has its own share of weirdness, but one decade ago, these novelties were still in their infancy.