The 2023 Ohio State Spring Game is only a few days away, and it’s the closest thing we’ve got to a Buckeye football game for several months (even though it isn’t very much like a football game anymore). With the Spring Game having morphed into a glorified practice over the last decade, it’s lost some of its intrigue for me. However, that doesn’t mean I have lost interest.
I’ve merely shifted focus onto what my main concerns are heading into the upcoming season. The Spring Game can’t answer every question, but it may provide some clues.
Here are the things I’ll be keeping my eye on this Saturday.
There are a few reasons I’ll be keeping an eye on play calling. One of them is to see how Ohio State treats the playbook relative to which quarterback is on the field. Will the bread and butter the team lived by with C.J. Stroud at quarterback undergo any tweaks? Do they trust one quarterback’s legs over the other? What about their decision making either in the zone read game or the run-pass option plays?
Another is to see if any new wrinkles appear. Did the OSU coaching staff fall in love with any ideas gleaned from other teams in the offseason? If you’re not copying successful stuff from someone else’s playbook, you’re just not trying. This is especially true for plays that work well out of formations you’re already using.
Even if it doesn’t get used during the season or only is used sparingly, it forces teams to prepare for it. Heck, throw some wishbone and single wing plays in there. It’s just a practice, but it can cast doubt into opponents’ minds and force them to at least think about it.
Of course, if Brian Hartline is calling the plays, it will be a great opportunity to see how he performs. While it won’t be the same as calling plays in a real game, with game planning involved, it might provide some clues as to what Hartline sees as go-to plays in certain situations, such as goal line or short yardage.
Offensive Line Play
There are few combinations in college football as frightening as having a rebuilt offensive line and a new quarterback in the same year. This is the year we’ll find out a lot about Justin Frye as an offensive line coach. Gone are Luke Wypler and tackles Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones. There is talent in the offensive line room but how quickly can it come together?
The defense has a distinct advantage anyway in these things because some of the offensive players need only be touched to be considered down. That makes it more difficult for an offensive lineman, who must stay engaged to the point that the defender can’t reach out a long arm and touch the quarterback.
It will be interesting to see how the line holds up (or doesn’t) in pass protection and how it opens holes (or doesn’t) in the run game. It’s not necessarily a harbinger of doom if line play is poor in the Spring Game, but it means there’s a lot for Frye to do in the summer/fall camp ahead of the 2023 season.
Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka are as good as any receiving tandem in the country, and Julian Fleming and Xavier Johnson have made some big plays in their careers. But who’s up next if there’s a problem — or a series of problems?
Last season, Ohio State had plenty of coverage behind Jaxon Smith-Njigba when he went down with an injury, and I suspect that wouldn’t be a problem if it happened again (please don’t let it happen again). Brian Hartline’s wide receiver room is ridiculous. The question is more about the pecking order this year.
Jayden Ballard saw a lot of snaps among the younger guys and would seem to have a leg up on the competition. Last year’s freshman class, featuring the likes of Caleb Burton, Kyion Grayes, and Kaleb Brown, has an enormous amount of talent and this year’s newcomers might have even more. Highly prized recruit Carnell Tate has already been the subject the murmurs coming out of camp and I’ll admit I can’t wait to see him on the field. I also can’t wait to see Noah Rogers.
Passing has been a much bigger part of the Spring Game for several years than running the football. That’s unlikely to change on Saturday. So, I’ll be watching which guys are getting the snaps and which ones the quarterbacks are showing they trust.
That’s what I’ll be watching for at noon on Saturday. What’s got you intrigued? Let me know below in the comments section.