It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon for roughly 20,000 Buckeye fans to see their team play inside “The Shoe” for the first time since 2019. There was a high level of anxiousness and curiosity to see the progress made since getting out played and out coached by Alabama three months prior. Overall, it was a good showing that head coach Ryan Day and the rest of the team can hang their hats on.
Spring practice officially came to a close with the conclusion of the game. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest takeaways:
First and Foremost
No injuries happened during the game which is the most important underlying factor. Day’s implementation of no live tackling seemed to pay off, even if the fans wanted to see some pads pop.
There was a slight scare after Garrett Wilson was down on the field after hauling in a 55-yard strike from Kyle McCord. It appeared that he simply got the wind knocked out of him and walked off the field shortly after. This means that outside of the players who were already sitting out, the Buckeyes are heading into next season at full strength.
C.J. Stroud in Driver’s Seat for Starting Quarterback Job, McCord Close Behind
Stroud looked to be in full command of the offense, even though it was a very vanilla but pass heavy scheme. He roped his first TD to freshman wideout and early enrollee Marvin Harrison Jr. on a slant flat combo. He read the defense and drilled the throw in between the linebacker and trailing corner.
Stroud’s second TD was to returning senior Chris Olave. A designed strong side rollout that Day loves to call, and Stroud put the ball right on Olave near the pylon as he broke off his route. The pair also linked up on a deep shot down the left sideline in the first half, when Olave made a circus catch over newly assigned corner Demario McCall.
These headliner throws along with so many more that Stroud made Saturday are what made Justin Fields so effective. Stroud’s legs are another dimension that he adds which helps his case to be QB1. After what everyone saw on Saturday, the reality is that in only a few short months on campus, McCord is a close second.
He too added a pair of TDs through the air. The first of which was a beautifully thrown ball over the shoulder on a slot fade route by Jaxon Smith-Njigba. The second came on a bootleg down in the red zone where McCord hit tight end Joe Royer on a drag route, setting Royer up to walk into the end zone.
McCord showed plenty of pocket poise and command to steer the Buckeyes’ offense. There were occasional miscommunications with him and the receivers, but that’s to be expected from someone who hasn’t developed chemistry with anyone outside of his high school teammate Harrison Jr.
Speaking of Harrison Jr., let’s move on to the wideouts.
Ohio State Hands Down Possesses the Best Wide Receiver Room
Even though it was only a spring game, it’s obvious that “Zone 6” is undoubtedly the gold standard for receiver rooms in college football. Every single receiver had a highlight grab on Saturday and that is no exaggeration.
The superstar returning duo of Wilson and Olave set the tone with their aforementioned ridiculous acrobatic snags downfield, and a toe dragging TD. Jameson Williams worked the sideline effectively for a nice grab and Smith-Njigba hauled his TD in with one hand.
The newcomers of Emeka Egbuka and Harrison Jr. will push for playing time early. Egbuka made a terrific grab he had to lay out against the grain for. Harrison Jr. is a freak of nature that looks nothing like his Hall of Fame father, coming in at 6’3” and 210 lbs. He possesses that meticulous nature that his father had with route proficiency and catching the ball in traffic.
Current prediction for the wideout depth chart after today, since receiver’s coach Brian Hartline likes to use units instead of isolated subs:
Starters: X-Olave, Z-Harrison Jr, Slot-Wilson*
Backups: X-Julian Fleming (DNP Saturday), Z-Williams, Slot-Smith-Njigba
*Wilson can work outside as well which could allow Egbuka on the field for slot packages. He’s too talented to not get fed the ball.*
Defense Looked Improved
Last year was a horrendous showing for the Ohio State pass defense, most notably the secondary. Shaun Wade never lived up to that first round standard and saw his draft stock take a monumental plunge. Losing Cam Brown early in the season also played a huge factor in the cornerback depth. The unsuspected most important loss was the commander of the defense in safety Jordan Fuller.
The secondary seemed to be on the same page most of the time Saturday as cornerback Ryan Watts was able to get an interception. Other players like safety Lathan Ransom and new “Bullet” position player Craig Young were able to bat passes down. Even fresh faces like Cameron Martinez and McCall had great position but just got beat by perfect throws.
This is a slight breath of fresh air for the Buckeye faithful after watching the secondary be carved up drive after drive against Indiana and Alabama. Defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs knows what it takes to get the “Silver Bullets” back on track. He already molded multiple first round and all-pro defensive backs himself in his previous Columbus stint.
Freshman Phenoms Are More Than Ready
It seemed like every time there was a play blown dead to a quarterback sack, it was by the way of defensive end Jack Sawyer. Though he didn’t always have the first team as his opposition, he proved that he is ready to compete for time in the Fall. He’s got the build of a college senior when in actuality, he should be graduating high school in the coming weeks.
Larry Johnson has churned out NFL talent left and right, and many first round draft picks since his time in Columbus. This list includes Chase Young and both Bosa brothers. Sawyer was rated higher than all of these players coming out of high school and can easily become the next Buckeye to etch his name into that legacy.
On the offensive side of the ball, besides Harrison Jr., it was TreVeyon Henderson who had all the buzz. With the “two hand touch” rules on Saturday, it was hard to see what he could really do in space. However at practice he has been housing the ball and forcing many missed tackles. There’s even rumors he could become the starter at some point this season.
Either way, there’s a reason both of these guys lost their “black stripe” and officially became Buckeyes in the spring. That means when the Fall rolls around they won’t be looking for their place on the team, but instead their role in the game plan.
Something that the common fan won’t bat an eye at but is keeping Day awake is the fact that freshman kicker Jake Seibert missed both kicks on Saturday. Day knows that in order to win a title, all three phases of the game must be under control. The special teams unit needs some work and Seibert needs to get some more game situation kicks in Fall camp.
Both the linebacker and offensive line units have starters to replace, but thanks (and no thanks) to COVID protocols last season, these units have plenty of experience coming back. The linebackers surely didn’t look like a group replacing all four starters. Also, the offensive line didn’t seem like a group replacing two interior All-Americans, either.
Bottom line is that whoever gets the starting quarterback job, they simply have to just take care of the football. The skill position players on this roster have enough talent to get Ohio State back into the College Football Playoffs. If they can get past the first two weeks of Minnesota and Oregon unscathed, then the following weeks set up for backups to get some reps and fix mistakes.
Interestingly enough, year three was the title season under Urban Meyer where he had to deal with a ton of preseason questions about a freshman quarterback led offense. Day is repeating that very same history currently heading into year three, and possibly with a better roster. No, the current Bucks don’t have Ezekiel Elliot to run them to a title, but they have plenty of studs in the running back room to lean on.