Ohio State gray team running back Warren Ball (28) scores in spite of a hold by Ohio State scarlet team safety Michael Cinebe (24) during the Ohio State Buckeyes spring game at Ohio Stadium. The scarlet team won the game 17-7.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Urban Meyer threw a party inside Ohio Stadium Saturday afternoon and more than 60,000 people showed up.
Something resembling a football game broke out, too.
The Buckeyes will again be a preseason top 10 team as they try to recover from the first losing streak — and the first losses, period — of the Meyer Era, but all that can wait. The spring game went on Saturday with most of Ohio State’s best players mostly in spectator roles.
Mostly by Meyer’s choice.
The band showed up, there was a student race and plenty of young and unproven players go to play, too, but some of the most intense action came before the game actually started when Meyer brought guys in amongst their teammates for some mano-a-mano, circle drill action.
When freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan threw running back Ezekiel Elliott back into his teammates, it appeared that Elliott threw a punch. The skirmish was quickly broken up, but the energy carried over.
Meyer then even put the two available quarterbacks, Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, into the circle and let them go. Whether that’s a hint at what he thinks of them or his way of making every player stay ready, we don’t know.
Once Saturday’s spring game started, two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Braxton Miller, recovering from shoulder surgery, did as he’s done all spring and wore a headset. Miller stood behind the offenses near offensive coordinator Tom Herman — except during those few minutes when he did a live television interview during the action.
The game was Scarlet vs. Gray except when it came to punting and the teams were combined. And, there were a few guys switched jerseys and played on both teams since the entire starting defensive line was held out and top returning offensive lineman Taylor Decker was, too.
It’s spring football. It’s different.
"It was a beautiful day in Columbus," Meyer said, "and we had 60,000 people come sit through a spring game that sometimes I didn’t even want to be watching."
Strong statement, but it’s the nature of the spring game. Ohio State on Friday morning dropped the ticket price to $5 from a ridiculous $20 walkup price and that paid off. The official attendance was announced at 61,058.
There were highlights. The Scarlet got its only touchdown on the Gray’s first offensive play when Rashad Frazier came around the end, was barely touched by offensive tackle Kyle Dodson and took the ball right out of quarterback J.T. Barrett’s right hand. Frazier fell on it, too.
Gray would win, 17-7, as Warren Ball and Bri’onte Dunn scored rushing touchdowns. Those two are among a crowded group of runners competing for carries that won’t be sorted out until fall camp — and won’t find much success at all until an almost totally new offensive line comes together.
"We have a lot of work to do on the offensive line," Meyer said.
Barrett threw 33 passes and Jones threw 31, and Meyer said Jones "was disappointing today but still had a good spring for us." Receivers Michael Thomas and Corey Smith, both of whom redshirted last year, combined for 11 catches and Meyer said as many as six guys could end up winning starting receiving spots. Speedster Dontre Wilson was held out; fellow speedster Jalin Marshall missed all of the spring.
So it goes. The spring game wasn’t ugly by design as much as it was by necessity.
"This game is for young guys who haven’t seen the field very much," Meyer said. "To be quite honest I’m not sure how much some of them will ever play."
Redshirt freshmen defenders Darron Lee, Gareon Conley and Chris Worley continued their strong springs and were again singled out by Meyer for their progress. Most of the 2014 signing class was in attendance, too, and after the game Meyer said he told offensive linemen Jamarco Jones, Demetrius Knox and Brady Taylor to be ready.
"They’re not redshirting," he said. "They’re playing."
The Buckeyes will now go back to finishing the semester and going through individual workouts. Based on past years, Meyer will eventually release a post-spring depth chart. He’s counting on reinforcements, both from players intentionally or by circumstances limited this spring and from the freshman class. The best guys will play, and the goals will remain lofty.
The spring game was just an exhibition.
"I appreciate everyone being here," Meyer said. "In the big picture, it’s the right thing to do. I appreciate everyone being here."