Skull Session: Chip Kelly Pays Homage to Woody Hayes, Ohio State’s QB Competition Remains Unsettled After Spring Game and the Buckeyes Have an Incredibly Deep RB Room

By Chase Brown on April 15, 2024 at 5:00 am
Chip Kelly

Welcome to the Skull Session.

Ohio State’s spring game was well-attended on Saturday.

Have a good Monday.

 PAY HOMAGE. When Team Scarlet took the field for the first time on Saturday, Will Howard, TreVeyon Henderson, Quinshon Judkins and Patrick Gurd lined up in the backfield as Jelani Thurman and Gee Scott Jr. split out wide. Before the ball was snapped, the six Buckeyes spun into a look familiar to a more experienced generation of Ohio State fans: the T-formation, a staple of the Woody Hayes era.

“If it was good enough for Woody, we’re going to do it,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Chip Kelly said after the game.

Known as one of the most innovative offensive minds in college football, Kelly revolutionized the sport when he utilized a high-speed spread offense at Oregon in the late 2000s (and, later, the Philadelphia Eagles, the San Francisco 49ers and UCLA). However, in his debut as Ohio State’s playcaller, the 60-year-old ball coach went old school.

Reminder: There’s no school like the old school.

“I think our players had a lot of fun practicing that and doing some different things,” Kelly said.

As Kelly continued discussing the formation and play, he paid homage to Hayes, whom he called a “looming figure around this whole program.” In 28 seasons as Ohio State’s head coach (1951-78), Hayes led the Buckeyes to a 205-61-10 record (16-11-1 against Michigan) and won 13 Big Ten titles and five national championships.

Kelly also stressed that the T-formation was no gimmick for the Buckeyes, explaining that his UCLA offense lined up in the formation 21 times last season. While not a frequent look for the Bruins, Kelly said it helped the team score a handful of touchdowns and “a lot of first downs.” Kelly feels confident Ohio State could replicate that success.

“We’ll work up to that,” he said.

Please do, Coach Kelly. 

Please do.

 SO MANY QUESTIONS. When asked about Ohio State’s quarterback competition after the spring game, Ryan Day offered a three-sentence response.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m going to make any declarations right now. But we’ll look at the film and see what it looks like and then decide where to go from there,” Day said. “I don’t have much to say about it right now.”

I didn’t expect Day to name a starter at that moment – not after the performances Ohio State’s quarterbacks had on Saturday, at least. However, I would have liked to hear more about where Day sees the competition coming out of the spring.

Will Howard started the scrimmage (NOTED) and went 9-of-13 passing for 77 yards. I thought Howard looked comfortable in the pocket, but he didn’t beat the allegations of being an inaccurate passer on intermediate-to-deep throws. Howard’s experience remains a plus – he started 27 games across four years at Kansas State, throwing for 5,786 yards and 48 touchdowns – but is that all that sets him apart in the competition?

Devin Brown went 5-of-7 for 66 yards and one touchdown on Saturday, adding three carries for 24 yards. He orchestrated the most impressive touchdown drive of the afternoon, completing all three of his passes for 50 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown to walk-on Brennen Schramm. Given his solid performance, is Day’s lack of commitment to Brown a product of his consistency or durability – or both?

As for the rest of Ohio State’s quarterbacks, Lincoln Kienholz went 10-of-17 for 71 yards and two interceptions, Julian Sayin went 10-of-17 for 85 yards and one interception and Air Noland went 5-of-7 for 47 yards and one interception.

Of the three, I was most excited to see Sayin, whom Day said was “in the mix” to become Ohio State’s QB1 the Wednesday before the spring game. The No. 1 quarterback and No. 6 overall prospect in the 2024 class, Sayin flashed at times, but he needs to gain some experience, size and strength before I become confident in the freshman leading the Buckeyes to the promised land in 2024. 

Even still, with Howard and Brown as the clear frontrunners, did Sayin’s performances in the spring game and all 15 spring practices earn him the QB3 spot? If it did, what becomes of Kienholz and Noland?

With five quarterbacks in the room, I have to think somebody will enter the transfer portal when it opens on Tuesday. Who will that quarterback – or quarterbacks – be?

So many questions but no answers.

Kind of like last year.

Mamma Mia. Here we go again.

 A PAIR AND SPARES. Ohio State’s running back depth chart features TreVeyon Henderson, Quinshon Judkins, James Peoples, Sam Williams-Dixon and TC Caffey. Here’s how each of those Buckeyes performed on Saturday:

  • Henderson: 4 carries, 18 yards; 2 catches, 9 yards
  • Judkins: 4 carries, 31 yards; 1 catch, 5 yards
  • Peoples: 10 carries, 36 yards, 1 TD; 3 catches, 23 yards
  • Williams-Dixon: 11 carries, 75 yards, 1 TD; 1 catch, 7 yards
  • Caffey: 5 carries, 16 yards, 1 TD; 2 catches, 26 yards

Henderson and Judkins looked great in the spring game, albeit in limited action. Yet, I found Peoples, Williams-Dixon and Caffey most impressive.

A four-star freshman from San Antonio, Texas, Peoples lived up to his reputation as a dual-threat back with next-level vision. A three-star from Pickerington, Ohio, Williams-Dixon showed off his shiftiness and speed. And a walk-on from Hubbard, Ohio, Caffey looked like a powerful, sturdy runner who is a challenge to bring down inside and outside the tackles.

All in all, I left the Shoe on Saturday believing Ohio State doesn’t have a pair and spare –as is the old adage – but a pair and spares with Peoples, Williams-Dixon and Caffey. In other words, even with Dallan Hayden looking for greener pastures, the Buckeyes should be good and well, as the running back cupboard is far from bare in Columbus.

 THE LIFE OF PI PAIRING. Ohio State golfer Neal Shipley had a day dreams are made of on Sunday.

First, he played alongside Tiger Woods in the final round of The Masters. Then, he went to Butler Cabin to be presented with the Silver Cup as the tournament’s low amateur.

From The Athletic’s Brendan Quinn:

Shipley seemingly spent this week in a dreamscape. He stayed in the crow’s nest on Monday night, watching Connecticut beat Purdue in the men’s national championship game. Then shot 71-76 on Thursday and Friday to stand as the only amateur to make the cut this week. Then, the perfect ending — being paired with Tiger Woods for Sunday’s final round.

“I think I’d have to win one of these to top this,” Shipley said.

Shipley ended his Saturday with some frustration, shooting 6-over-par on the back nine for a third-round 80. The Ohio State graduate student went to the Augusta practice area to work out some things when his caddie, Carter Pitcairn, a sophomore on the Wisconsin golf team, approached with an update.

“Guess who we’re paired with tomorrow,” said Pitcairn, Shipley’s childhood best friend.

“No way,” Shipley responded, needing no more information.

On Sunday, Shipley showed up for his 9:35 a.m. tee time with wide eyes.

“When I saw Tiger on the range, it was like, oh my gosh, this is actually happening,” Shipley said Sunday after a final-round 73.

Across the tournament's 72 holes, Shipley finished 12-over and tied with Adam Hadwin for 53rd place. He will play next in the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate this weekend at OSU Golf Club and Big Ten Championships next weekend at Scioto Country Club, where Jack Nicklaus learned the game. As U.S. Amateur runner-up, he also has a spot reserved in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst later this summer. 

Even with all the memories, Shipley said his greatest takeaway this week is “knowing my game can compete out here, and I don’t need to do anything special to make cuts.”

 SONG OF THE DAY. “Until I Found You” - Stephen Sanchez.

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