Reaction to the Ohio State Spring Game
For Meyer, this might have been his toughest spring game yet as the leader of the Buckeye football program. With significant losses on both sides of the ball, the coaching staff came into Saturday with just as many questions as they had answers.
Overall, it was pretty ugly. Both offenses staggered most of the day and were never able to gain any kind of consistent rhythm. An average fan probably would have had a tough time sitting through a game like that.
But, hardcore fans know that spring games are more about evaluating individual performances than they are an overall team performance, and there is plenty to take away from the Scarlet and Gray game in that regard.
Although some questions still linger, there is plenty of excitement to go around in Columbus.
Here is my reaction to what I saw transpire on Saturday:
1. Braxton Miller CAN'T Get Hurt Again
We are all well aware of the big void left by Kenny Guiton's graduation at the backup quarterback spot. The question all spring has been: "is there anybody on the roster to fill it?"
After Saturday, I would say the short answer is "not even close."
Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones, the clubhouse leader for the backup spot, was only 14-of-31 for 106 yards. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett wasn't much better, completing 15-of-33 for 151 yards.
I thought Barrett looked slightly better than Jones as far as the eye test goes, but he didn't do nearly enough to earn himself the backup job. I still fully expect Jones to be the No. 2 quarterback come opening day against Navy.
That certainly doesn't mean that myself, Buckeye Nation, or the coaching staff should feel good about the situation at backup quarterback. Neither Jones or Barrett have shown anything to make anybody think they are capable of effectively leading the Ohio State offense should Miller go down at any point in the season.
That means the health of Miller is more important than ever. I look for him to be throwing more and running less than we've seen the past three seasons to keep the amount of hits as minimal as possible.
2. Chris Ash is the Real Deal
This is my only explanation to how a secondary that was dreadful last season can lose 75 percent of its starters and look 100 times better just three months later.
Yes, it was an intersquad scrimmage that Miller and Dontre Wilson were sidelined for. But you could tell from the first snap that the secondary has been completely revamped with Ash's arrival from Arkansas as the new co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach.
Part of the reason the day was so rough for the two quarterbacks was due to great corner play from Armani Reeves, Gareon Conley and Eli Apple. Ash has preached aggressive, in-your-face press coverage all spring to his corners, and it paid dividends immediately.
Safeties Tyvis Powell and Cam Burrows owned the middle of the field and held to their assignments very well, keeping the big plays through the air virtually non-existent.
This impressive performance took place with projected starters Doran Grant and Vonn Bell sidelined with injury. Once they return in the fall, the secondary performance should improve that much more.
You never want to read too much into a spring game performance, but it's hard not to get excited about the job Ash has done with revamping the secondary in only a few months.
3. Don't Fall in Love With Michael Thomas Just Yet
He's been the star of spring each of the past two seasons in Columbus, and this year was no different.
The redshirt sophomore caught six balls for 64 yards, making a couple of ridiculous grabs during the spring game on Saturday. He's been the subject of a lot of excitement over the past 36 hours among Buckeye fans.
Not to be a buzzkill, but allow me to play the role of the great Lee Corso for just a minute.
This has been the third straight spring that Thomas has looked like a stud. Each of the last two seasons, he regressed so much by summer and fall that he couldn't even get on the field (three catches in 2012, then redshirted in 2013).
The talent is most certainly there. If he can finally consistently carry over the same kind of performance into training camp this summer, there's no doubt that he will see the field plenty in 2014.
That being said, we've seen this story twice before from Thomas. Until we see him making these same plays in August and September, Buckeye Nation would be wise to be cautiously optimistic about the prospects of Thomas jumping ahead of veterans like Evan Spencer on the depth chart.
4. Urban Meyer and Tom Herman Have A LOT of Toys to Play With This Year
We kind of already knew this coming into the spring, but even I was surprised at how much speed and athleticism was on the field this Saturday, given the fact that guys like Wilson and Spencer were sidelined with injury.
Early enrollees Johnnie Dixon and Curtis Samuel stood out to me more than anybody.
Dixon is still a little raw as a route runner, and although his quarterback didn't let him put on the show he probably would have liked, he showed that he's an elite athlete with great playmaking ability. He's a threat to take it to the house every time he's on the field, and he'll get plenty of playing time this fall.
Samuel arrived in Columbus as a Dontre Wilson-type H-back, but he now may have cracked the depth chart at running back as well.
His speed and lateral quickness were one of the few bright spots of the offense on Saturday, and coach Meyer has had nothing but praise for him all spring long. His play the past few weeks will force Meyer and Herman to find a role for him to play in the offense this fall, whether it be at running back, receiver, or both.
These two freshmen, plus Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, and (hopefully) Michael Thomas, along with tight end Jeff Heuerman and H-backs Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall give Miller a plethora of options to throw to.
Add in speedster Ezekiel Elliott and bruiser Bri'onte Dunn at running back, and this could be the most explosive offense in the country in 2014, despite their poor showing as a collective unit on Saturday.
5. The Offensive Line is Still a Work in Progress
Taylor Decker and Pat Eilflen -- the only two offensive lineman who have been penned as starters -- both sat out Saturday, and their absence (along with the four departed starters from last season) was very evident.
Neither the Scarlet or Gray unit performed well at all along the offensive line, and it contributed in part to the poor days of Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. Although neither quarterback was able to do much when they had a clean pocket, both offensive lines allowed far too much pressure to get to Jones and Barrett.
We had certainly hoped to have more clarity coming out of the weekend on who would be making up the right side of the offensive line, but without any single standout performer from the spring game, it appears as though the position battles at center, right guard, and right tackle will continue through the summer.
Luckily, the season is still over four months away, and the coaching staff has time to sure up the o-line. But with the backup quarterback situation looking shaky at best, having a strong line to keep Miller healthy becomes all the more essential.
When practice restarts again in the summer, finding out who the other three starting linemen are and developing them in a hurry will need to be the number one priority on the offensive side of the ball.
All in all, there's plenty of positive to take away from Saturday. It wasn't pretty, but then again, who really cares? It's April. There's more than enough time to get the rust out between the spring game and opening day.
When Miller takes the field again, the offense will be as potent as ever. As long as he's healthy, I have little-to-no concern about that side of the ball.
The defense, which as we all know was the problem last year, looked much better than it did at the end of last season.
Even without a few key starters, Ohio State was much more disciplined and sound than most of what we saw in 2013. If it keeps improving at the rate it is now, a lot of good things will be happening with this team come August.
Hopefully the next four months fly by.