Ohio State sets national spring game attendance record … Passing game still needs work, but Ohio State shows promise … Weber, Gibson, defensive tackles all have strong performances
Columbus – ESPN.com writer Ryan McGee was lauding Michigan earlier this week for a massive turnout for its spring game — a hefty 60,000 on a balmy day in Ann Arbor.
He noted that the crowd was easily the best in college football so far and opined that it would be hard to top, even though a few national powers had yet to play.
Not to throw shade on a fellow scribe, but has he not been paying attention to what routinely takes place at Ohio State this month?
They broke the all-time national spring game record of 99,391, set last year at Ohio Stadium, which was a jump from the 81,112 for the Buckeye spring-fest in 2012.
Yes, Harbaugh fever hasn’t shown signs of ebbing, but the enthusiasm during the Urban Meyer era hasn’t began to wane, either.
What did the masses see? For starters, a passing attack that still needs much more buffing and polishing before it’s unleashed this fall.
Junior quarterback J.T. Barrett, facing the first-team defense in a starters-vs.-starters first half, finished 13-of-22 for 102 yards with no TDs and two interceptions.
The completions were all in the intermediate to short range, and one of those two unsightly picks was returned for six points by safety Malik Hooker.
Barrett, who played two quarters for the Scarlet, couldn’t lead his team to a TD, and the Gray prevailed, 28-17.
Meyer wants the Buckeyes to morph into more of a passing team this season. But the protection was shaky, which meant Barrett was under duress and the downfield aerial attack was nonexistent.
But there wasn’t much else to cause Meyer consternation. The “Year of Development” — the label he’s put on 2016 — is well under way and showing positive signs.
No Bosa, no worries: The Buckeyes lost three of four starters on the defensive line, including Joey Bosa, who for two years was the J.J. Watt of college football. But they managed to generate pressure in the spring game with both their first- and second-team rushers.
Maybe that’s a sign of a leaky offensive line, which also is looking for three new starters, but the Buckeyes appear capable of making opposing QBs feel claustrophobic.
Jashon Cornell, a redshirt freshman from Minnesota, had two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. And Dre’Mont Jones, a redshirt freshman from Cleveland, was a constant presence in the backfield and reached Barrett for a sack (although the Buckeyes played two-handed touch with their star).
Back-up Davon Hamilton, a redshirt freshman from Pickerington, had three sacks.
What was encouraging is that all three lined up inside and still got home. The Buckeyes generally have been whiffing at defensive tackle on the recruiting trail, but they may have several players who can be run-stuffers and push the pocket.
Get him on the field: Torrance Gibson, a redshirt freshman who is perhaps the Buckeyes’ best athlete (if you need proof, Google his high school highlight tape), had a break-out performance with a nifty 18-yard TD catch and another two-yard score off a shovel pass.
He was recruited as a QB before voluntarily shifting to receiver. Tall wide-outs are a hot commodity, and the 6-4, 210-pound Floridian is a weapon. He finished with six catches for 50 yards.
The Buckeyes’ top four receivers were held out, and Gibson didn’t even make the first string for the scrimmage. But he likely vaulted up the depth chart with that showing.
Running for daylight: Probably the biggest personnel challenge facing the Buckeyes is replacing Ezekiel Elliott and his two-straight 1,800-yard rushing seasons, not to mention his contributions as a bone-rattling blocker.
Senior Brionte Dunn sat out with an injury (a missed opportunity). Antonio Williams, who has gotten rave reviews as an early-enrollee freshman, looks like an effective inside runner. But both will be hard-pressed to edge out Mike Weber for the starting nod.
The Buckeyes won a feverish recruiting battle with Michigan for the 5-10, 210-pound redshirt freshman from Detroit, and he looks to be a star in the making. He had eight carries for 38 yards and two TDs, including an eight-yard lightning strike up the middle.
He keeps his pads low and eludes tackles and also is a threat in the passing game. Another Elliott? Maybe not. But the Buckeyes will have enough of a ground game to complement what they want to do through the air.
Tight end sighting: He wasn’t necessarily the primary receiver, but tight end Marcus Baugh was a busy man. The 6-5, 255-pound Californian is a big target with soft hands, and he finished with seven catches for 64 yards.
Jeff Heuerman or Nick Vannett, the starters from the last two years, probably turned several shades of green with envy if they were watching. The position has been little more than a glorified offensive lineman under Meyer (and predecessor Jim Tressel). But that looks to be changing.
Play of the day: That would have to be a one-handed interception by sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker, who reached high to pluck a Joe Burrow pass out of the air, then did a somersault on the way down.
The Buckeyes have will have to replace 16 starters — and 44 of the 85 scholarship players this fall will be either true freshmen or redshirt freshmen — but Meyer and his staff have been hauling in one premier recruiting class after another, which means plenty of talent is waiting in the wings.