Dienhart: It was a good spring for Ohio State

As far as dress rehearsals go, this one was a success … I guess. The final score said Gray 17, Scarlet 7. Not sure what it really means. But, it doesn’t really matter now, does it?

These spring games are equal parts glorified practices/pep rallies/excuses to tailgate. But, who cares? It’s a celebration of football. And, that’s OK in my book.

Let’s give today’s sun-splashed Buckeye spring game a sideways thumb’s up. Meh. The highlight was a halftime footrace between some members of the student body and some of the fastest Buckeyes. This was made-for-TV fun who by—as you would guess—an OSU player.

Before the first fan entered the Horseshoe today, all of real work already had been done beginning with spring practice No. 1 and ending with spring practice No. 14 on April 11. Today wasn’t about serious football.

Are there still areas to be worked on? Yep. Are there areas that look ready for trip to Michigan State on Nov. 8? Yep. Remember, this is a program that won its first 24 games under Urban Meyer before losing its last two of the 2013 season. This is a well-oiled machine that is just a few cranks of a wrench from being back in peak form.

But, at this very moment, Ohio State is as ready as it ever will be for an offseason of preparation. The end of today’s spring game was the beginning of the countdown toward the Aug. 30 opener vs. Navy in Baltimore for an Ohio State team that likely will be the favorite in the Big Ten East—if not the entire Big Ten.

As Year Three of the Meyer era continues to dawn, questions nag. In fact, two have been most pressing this spring.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Will the defense play better, especially a pass defense that ranked No. 11 in the Big Ten by allowing 268.0 yards per game along with 31 touchdown strikes?

Is the offensive line taking shape for a unit that lost four starters in Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall? The only starter back is Taylor Decker, who is moving from right to left tackle.

When defensive coordinator Everett Withers left the staff to take the head coaching position at James Madison, Meyer went out and tabbed Chris Ash from Arkansas to serve as co-defensive coordinator. Ash was defensive coordinator at Wisconsin for Bret Bielema from 2011-12 and held that same post at Arkansas under Bielema last season. Even better, Ash is a defensive backs coach by trade. And, if there is one area on an Ohio State defense that gave up an average of more than 38 points and 539 yards over its final three games that needs some tender loving care, it’s the secondary.

Time and again, the unit got ripped for big pass plays in 2013, causing much angst up and down High Street. The biggest beef of on-lookers: The coverage was too soft. Well, that doesn’t figure to be a complaint in 2014, as Ash has had his charges in press-man coverage throughout the spring. Corners like Eli Apple, Gareon Conley and Armani Reeves look primed.

The overhauled offensive line was tested vs. a defensive line that is the unquestioned strength of the team. Players like Tommy Schutt, Adolphus Washington, Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett will form the core of what figures to be the top defensive line in the Big Ten. The fans had barely settled into their seat when Rashad Frazier made a sack that caused a fumble which he promptly recovered for a touchdown. And so it went for much of the afternoon, as the defense led the charge.

The final stats don’t tell us much. Heck, even Meyer wondered why he was handed a copy of them, not knowing what to make of them or what purpose the served. Instead, Meyer focused on individuals—while other key individuals sat out or played limited roles.

“It’s more of an individual — I’m not trying to evaluate an offense because who cares?” said Meyer. “There are guys out there that will either never play or they’re not ready to play now. I’m not evaluating — like Jerry hands me stats and I’m not sure what to do with these. I don’t care. What I do care is who is physically going to make the plays that you can — this is more like a — it’s almost like an individual game today. That’s what I wanted to watch.

“I wanted to see who was going to compete and make plays, not who is going to fit into the team concept, because we all know what we saw out there, it’s not that the Ohio State Buckeyes; it’s a bunch of people all over the place. Does that make sense? I was just watching guys and I have some opinions after today’s game.”

But, know these things:

  • Meyer is concerned about the offensive line.
  • He thinks the defensive line may be the best in the nation.
  • He loves young linebackers like Raekwon McMillian, Chris Worley and Darron Lee.
  • Today was a day for the backup quarterbacks, as Braxton Miller didn’t suit up after undergoing minor surgery on his right shoulder that has limited him all spring. Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett assumed command of the teams. Jones is the No. 2 quarterback.
  • The running back spot is wide open with guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball in the mix. Rod Smith sat out due to academics. And a guy everyone in Columbus raves about if true freshman Curtis Samuel, who flashed today.
  • No clear-cut starters at receiver, but any number of guys are capable of starting: Devin Smith, Michael Thomas, Johnnie Dixon, Jalin Marshall, Evan Spencer and Dontre Wilson, who sat out after getting dinged in practice.
  • Meyer loves his tight ends in Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman, who is out with injury.

Add it all up, and this was a good spring for Meyer. His words, not mine. And, I agree, even though today’s game was a bit uneven at times. But, it still was fun for the 61,058 who came to worship the Buckeyes one last time before the real work begins in the offseason.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Show Comments (3 Comments)
3 Post Your Comment
Chaz on 4/12/2014 @ 6:17pm EDT Said:

Urban is starting to get his recruits worked into the starting line-up. They have bolstered the linebacking corps greatly. If Ash can get the DBs to perform better, this could be another good year. Luke Fickel had better be looking over his shoulder after last year. Sparty will be the team to beat in the Big 10 this year.

Jonathan on 4/12/2014 @ 7:05pm EDT Said:

I think there would’ve been more fans had the athletic department dropped the ticket prices to $5 last weekend rather than one day prior to the game.

I don’t know who’s bright idea it was to charge $20 day of game, but it wasn’t a good idea.

B1Gfan MI on 4/13/2014 @ 10:21am EDT Said:

Selling a Spring “Practice” session for $ ? Another sign that things have gone way over the top in Columbus . I bet there was a really good High School athletic event in town more worth the value !

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