Ohio State fans are as rabid as they come. Each spring, they prove their worth to the college football world by showing up in droves to a split squad exhibition where many star players sit out or appear for a quarter.
It was the same fervent attitude in 2014. On Saturday, despite Braxton Miller’s offseason shoulder surgery and a two-game losing streaks, 61,058 fans showed up for the annual Scarlet and Gray game.
“I want to thank our student body and our fans,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “60,000-plus people on a beautiful day in Columbus to sit through a spring game that sometimes I didn’t want to be watching. But we appreciate everyone being here.”
There were two areas of play that offered the most intrigue – offensive line and freshmen. The line’s play could leave many worried over the summer as they await the season opener at Navy. Starters Taylor Decker and Pat Elflein did not play leaving the spotlight unoccupied. None of the potential starters did much to distinguish themselves, prompting a simple response from Meyer.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.
The young guy who garnered the most attention throughout the spring has been Raekwon McMillan. He came to Ohio State as a top-rated linebacker similar to Curtis Grant’s position three years ago. Meyer has not shied away from talking up McMillan.
“He’s in the rotation. He’s going to play,” Meyer said after McMillan’s five-tackle performance. “I would put him in the same category, although a year younger than Worley and Darren Lee. Those guys have earned it. They’re playing. Whether he’s going to start, he and Curtis are in a battle. Curtis had his best spring. He’s earned that right. He’s not a freshman anymore. He’s gotta go play.”
The spring game also gives little-used players a chance to showcase themselves. Nik Sarac, Craig Fada and Michael Ciebene were just a few who soaked up the experience.
“It’s a chance to see some young guys who really haven’t played, and to be quite honest, I’m not sure how much they will,” Meyer said. “A lot of guys in this program work very hard, and being able to let those guys play and catch a pass in Ohio Stadium, or whatever – in the big picture, it’s the right thing to do, and I’m glad we do that. It’s a great thrill for a lot of people.”
So what can be taken out of a lackluster game that didn’t feature half the starters? Well, according go Meyer, it’s an individual evaluation.
“I’m not trying to evaluate an offense,” he said. “Who cares? There are guys out there who will never play or they’re not ready to play now. [Sports information director] Jerry [Emig] handed me these stats. I’m not sure what to do with these. I don’t care.
“What I do care about is who’s physically going to make the plays. It was almost like an individual game today. That’s what I wanted to watch. I wanted to see who’s going to compete, who’s going to make plays and who’s going to fit the team concept because we all know what we saw out there. That’s not a team. That’s not the Ohio State Buckeyes.”
Cardale Jones will be Ohio State’s backup quarterback. But he didn’t do it with an impressive outing in the spring game. Jones and J.T. Barrett were both mediocre. That shouldn’t be the lasting image of Jones, though.
“Cardale was disappointing,” Meyer said. “I thought he had some misses today, but I’m not going to let that ruin his spring. He had a good spring for us.”
Jones on being the backup: “I have always been told the backup quarterback is the most important position on the team. As far as a gap between Braxton and myself, or Braxton and J.T [Barrett], that is for the coaches to decide. I have to keep getting better off the field and improving my game.”
Like Meyer, Jones cautioned not to elevate what occurred during the spring game too highly.
“It is hard to rate the game because so many guys didn’t play,” he said. “The work we have done for the entire spring is more important than today.”
Meyer on the revamped Ohio State defense: “I would say we’re faster and more athletic at a lot of positions.”
The leading rusher was Warren Ball, who recorded 55 yards and a touchdown. He wasn’t the leading candidate to have a breakout day, and you’ll hear little complaining that he did. Ezekiel Elliott will be the starting running back, but a combined effort could be needed to replace Carlos Hyde’s lost production.
“It is very competitive. Nothing is concrete and everyone’s role is up in the air,” Ball said. “We are all working hard to find playing time on the field.”
Ball on the Ohio State offense: “We can be the best [in the nation]. We have a lot of weapons, and the sky is the limit. We have playmakers at every position on the field.”
Tommy Schutt on Larry Johnson and the defensive line: “When Coach Johnson first came in it was a difficult transition, but we’ve all bought in to what he is trying to teach us, and we are playing well right now. I think the unit is going to be very successful.”