Ohio State spring game: What to watch for
Ohio State’s 2012 spring football game
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET, Ohio Stadium
Televised live on Big Ten Network. Tickets available at the gate.
What to watch in Saturday’s game and going forward:
* The two guys everybody will be watching are new coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Braxton Miller. Meyer brought a new tempo and high standards to his first spring practice, and Ohio State fans can’t wait to see what he’ll do with Miller in the new spread offense. Fans won’t see much Saturday — quarterbacks won’t be “live” and won’t run much in the spring game — but the biggest storyline in a bowl-banned season will be Miller’s progression and comfort level as he and Meyer point towards 2013.
* High expectations? Higher than ever — and that’s immediately. Meyer’s arrival has not only created a buzz but he embraces the spotlight and expectations and expects his players to do the same. Look for Meyer to go 50 miles per hour during Saturday’s game wearing his white pullover. He’ll be involved with both teams, and here’s a hunch he plays to the crowd a little bit, too.
* Meyer emphasized competition during spring practice, and Saturday’s game will be played under game-like conditions. The coaching staff was split and held a player draft earlier this week to select two teams, Scarlet and Gray, for the spring game. Miller is on the Scarlet team coached by offensive coordinator Tom Herman while defensive lineman John Simon is the marquee guy for the Gray team, led by defensive coordinator and last year’s head coach, Luke Fickell.
* Defense dominated the early part of spring practice and defense figures to control the spring game as well. Meyer has said he wants to see an emphasis on throwing the ball and Ohio State is still very much a work in progress in that regard. Basically, the Buckeyes are better passing the ball than they were last summer and early in the fall, but not by much. There was tangible progress in every offensive area throughout the spring, though, and the offense you’ll see this fall figures to be both more polished and wide-open than the one you’ll see Saturday.
* Nobody on that defense has been more dominant than Simon, who became Meyer’s favorite player the first time they talked football in early January. The second-most impressive player has been the slimmed down Johnathan Hankins, who will play just inside Simon on the defensive line this fall, but on Saturday, will play on the Scarlet team.
* Because it’s Ohio, the forecast is for 50 degrees and rain. It’s been sunny and summer-like for almost all of spring practice, so of course it would turn for the worse now. Ohio State’s coaching staff has taken to Twitter to encourage fans to pack the stadium, and the university announced 54,000 tickets had been sold by Thursday night. Don’t be surprised if the crowd approaches 100,000.
* Meyer’s greatest areas of concern throughout the spring have been depth on the offensive line and consistency at wide receiver, and both of those can be tied to the success (or lack thereof) of the passing game. The star of the spring, Jordan Hall, will be on the Gray team Saturday and will line up in the slot, in the backfield and maybe at receiver as well. Tight end Jake Stoneburner, also on the Gray team, spent a lot of time working with the wide receivers this spring. Former tight end Reid Fragel has moved to offensive tackle and should benefit from a spring of trying to block Simon.
* Eventually, you’ll see a whole bunch of Stoneburner creating mismatches with linebackers out of the slot, double-reverses to slot players like Hall and Miller getting on the perimeter with the option to keep the ball or pitch it to just about anybody. You’ll get a glimpse of what Meyer and Herman want to do, but they’ll keep the really wild stuff in their back pockets until the fall.
* There’s plenty of returning talent in the secondary, and with a new head coach, Fickell and Mike Vrabel concentrating on the front seven and two new position coaches for the defensive backs, the spring brought a clean slate for players pushing for more playing time. Saturday brings that chance again as C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant are likely to be at least limited by leg injuries. Doran Grant on the Scarlet team and Adam Griffin on the Gray are two looking to seize the moment.
* In all, as many as 20 players could be held out or limited Saturday. That’s par for the course after a month of high-tempo practices, and with the real games more than four months away there’s little reason to risk anything. Still, Meyer wants his players to experience something as close to a game as possible and wants to see physical play involving his big running backs — Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith and Brionte Dunn — against an improving linebacking corps.
For now, Columbus will just be excited to have any type of football back. And the momentum Meyer has been able to create since December will only grow going forward.