It was abundantly obvious early on that Kenny Guiton and Braxton Miller were not quarterbacking the Scarlet and Gray teams. In a spring game that lacked any real offensive excitement, Team Gray defeated Team Scarlet 17-7. There were approximately 61,000 on hand at the Shoe yesterday to get their first glimpse of the 2014 Buckeyes. There was plenty to like, and even more to shrug at and remember it is just the spring game with the rosters being split.
Urban got the blood pumping early as the Buckeyes started out with a 1-on-1 circle drill, including Cardale Jones blasting J.T. Barrett into the circle and Ezekiel Elliot and Raekwon McMillan getting a little too aggressive in their face-off. Once the game kicked off, it was clear that the passing attack(s) and defense(s) were going to be the focus of the game. Jones and Barrett both threw the ball a significant number of times, with neither of them being overly impressive.
Scarlet opened the game on offense and made a couple of first downs on short pass plays and a couple of read-options to Elliot. The drive stalled and Cameron Johnston pinned the Gray inside their own five. The scoring would start on the next play as redshift Senior Rashad Frazier badly beat the left tackle, strip-sacked Barrett, and recovered the ball for a touchdown. Frazier was a problem for Gray for most of the day as he provided consistent pressure, contributing to three more sacks.
As the game progressed, it looked as if Barrett found more of a rhythm with his wide receivers, than Jones did with his. Johnny Dixon and Michael Thomas both showed flashes of being playmakers at the wide-out position. Thomas – the rising junior from Los Angeles, was especially impressive for the second consecutive spring game. He ran several crisp routes and caught half a dozen passes, including a very impressive one-handed grab along the sidelines. Equally intriguing was the play of the rising redshirt freshman cornerback playing opposite of Thomas for most of the game – Eli Apple. Apple and Thomas battled most of the afternoon and despite Thomas’ solid production, Apple more than held his own. Apple consistently had tight coverage on Thomas and nearly picked off a pass near the goal line. The play initially looked like a sure touchdown as Thomas appeared to have beaten Apple on an in-route, but Apple closed on the play with an incredible burst of speed and nearly picked it off.
For Scarlet, the offense struggled for nearly the entire game. They were stopped on 4th and goal from the 1 in the second half, and had another drive deep into Gray territory, but other than that, it was obvious that Cardale Jones is not Kenny Guiton’s equal. Cardale completed less than 50% of his passes and struggled with accuracy throughout the day. His receivers didn’t help him out as there were a few drops on the day, but overall, passes beyond 10 yards rarely found the mark for the Scarlet. Curtis Samuel and Corey Smith were the two standouts for Scarlet. Smith led all receivers on the day with 72 yards and Curtis Samuel made a couple of nice plays from the H-Back position and showed why he was the 8th ranked athlete in the 2014 recruiting class.
On offense, the most important question is really how the new offensive line is going to gel. It’s a difficult question to answer during a spring game. The expected starters get split amongst the two squads and not everyone plays due to injuries. With that said, the offensive line was dominated by the defensive line for most of the game. The younger guards and tackles had a difficult time handling the Buckeyes defensive line. Not a huge worry in my mind as the strength of the Ohio State’s defense heading into the offseason was the defensive line. The most important part of the game for the offensive line was the play of Taylor Decker. As the only returning starter, the rising Junior is expected to anchor the line. He played well throughout the day and almost always held the defensive ends across from him in check during pass protection.
Finally, I was very interested to see how the defensive backs looked in their first action with Chris Ash at the helm. It was just the spring game, and Jones/Barrett aren’t exactly Peyton Manning, but I really liked how the secondary played. The coverage was consistently tight and the safeties and linebackers aggressively swarmed to the ball when a catch was made. Despite over 60 combined pass attempts, the defenses gave up less than 300 yards combined passing. An encouraging sign that the defense is moving in the right direction. Again, it was just the spring game with simplified game plans, but there weren’t any instances of blown coverage – a huge positive in my opinion.
Overall, neither of the quarterbacks leapt out as being the obvious choice for second-string, but I did like the way Barrett threw the ball slightly better. He has a smoother throwing motion and seemed more comfortable than Cardale (barely) with the pass happy approach of the spring game. On the other hand, Cardale with his massive frame is ideal for taking the pounding that comes with running the read-option. The offensive lines were sub-par, but they were bad in the spring game last year and we all saw how much that mattered. On the skill position front Johnny Dixon, Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel, and Corey Smith all looked like they could make contributions alongside Devon Smith and Dontre Wilson this fall. Defensively, the secondaries looked strong and the linebackers dropped well in coverage for the most part, and the defensive line (predictably) was very disruptive throughout the game. The worst part about the game was the fact that we’re still more than 5 months away from that August 30th kick-off against Navy.