As much a sign of the coming of spring as the Robin, the Ohio State University Football Spring Game brings hope and wonder to the hearts of Buckeye Nation. Each spring the Buckeye faithful don their Scarlet and Gray and descend on the Horseshoe, Ohio Stadium, to view the annual spring intra-squad scrimmage contest for the Buckeye football team.
On Saturday April 24th, 2010, a devout 65,223 fans, students, and alums filed into the stadium to watch what many would consider a glorified practice. The spring game is far more important than that, however. The National Collegiate Athletic Association strictly governs how much time each program can devote to practice of varying types, and football spring practice is no exception. The current regulations deem that “the spring practice time period will include 15 postseason practices and the spring game” and that “only 12 of the 15 [practices] may involve contact,” and furthermore that “of the 12 contact sessions … no more than 3 … may be devoted to 11 on 11 scrimmages.” The Spring game is not just any other practice, but one of a few select moments before the summer two-a-day practices get underway that full-speed, full-contact play can be performed.
By its nature as a relatively rare opportunity for young players to assert their candidacy for a position, the Spring Game can see virtual unknowns leap into the spotlight and make a name for themselves. Today’s contest between the Scarlet and the Gray squads proved no exception. The clouds over the stadium were thick and dark, but that did not prevent many rays of talented sunshine to come through.
By the nature of the scrimmage rosters, a true measure of offensive capabilities is difficult to muster. To even a casual observer, some of the traditional strategies employed by “The Vest” seemed to fall by the wayside. While the I-formation did appear often, many of the rushing attempts featured counters and other outside options. Passing was relatively limited to short-range, high-percentage attempts to the outsides, but there were some mid-range to deep threats to all points. Fifteen different receivers made receptions in total between the two squads.
Offensive scoring was limited to the first and fourth quarters only and of the four touchdowns recorded by both squads, three were scored on passes of 12, 29 and 45 yards. Fourth year man, Bo Delande ran 4 yards for the lone rushing score of the contest.
Quarterback play was solid for the most part, with time being split among Terrell Pryor and Joe Bauserman for the Scarlet and Kenny Guiton and Justin Siems for the Gray. Terrell Pryor, 2009 Rose Bowl MVP, played well given concerns about his off-season knee surgery. He moved with that impressive grace that defines his style, and while not entirely up to full-speed, he performed well. TP completed 8 of his 12 passing attempts, including a retaliatory scoring strike of 12 yards to Senior Wide Receiver, Dane Sanzenbacher.
Although Joe Bauserman didn’t play poorly, he lofted more passes into the first row of the lower bowl than to his receivers. He completed just 6 of 15 passing attempts but most crucially, he was picked off twice by the Gray squad defensive backfield. One interception came on a late drive in the end zone. One must wonder if his inconsistency and inability to drive the Scarlet team down the field will result in him slipping down in the depth chart.
A stand-out performance by Kenny Guiton, a 6’2″ 215-pound red-shirt Freshman delivered the win for the Gray squad. Guiton threw 11 completions out of 21 attempts for 167 yards and for two touchdowns, both to fifth-year Senior Wide Receiver Taurian Washington. The two paired up for 8 completed receptions for 83 yards Guiton opened the day’s scoring with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Washington, but most impressively, led a come-from-behind victory by completing a 45-yard pass to the corner of the end-zone with only 55 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Buckeye defense played like, well, the Buckeye defense. Despite losing key players to graduation and the NFL draft, the defense played with the speed and intensity that has defined the Ohio State program for so many years. Early scoring drives by both squads, including a rapid press by the Scarlet squad under Terrell Pryor, seemed to indicate that the defenses were still mired in off-season rust, but before long, the true colors of the defense shined through.
The combined defensive efforts of both squads played shut-out, bend-don’t-break football and kept the scoreboard operator idle during the second and third quarters. The line surged while the speedy, ball-hawking linebackers prowled just behind the line, quickly devouring any rushing attempt and providing many scrambling opportunities for the harried quarterbacks.
The backs played a brilliant game, keeping receptions to a relative minimum, especially over the middle. The defensive backfield combined for three interceptions on the day. The Scarlet squad benefitted by Chris Maxwell’s pick against the errant pass of red-shirt Freshman Justin Siems, but the Gray squad did them one better. Following a Scarlet squad drive late in the fourth quarter that threatened deep in Gray territoy, Gray squad defensive back Junior Nate Oliver preyed on a Joe Bauserman toss and picked it off in the end zone, returning the ball out to the 11 yard line.
Today’s special teams play wasn’t terribly special, but all things considered, it could have been worse. Two punters combined for 13 punts, with the Gray squad’s Derek Erwin averaging 42 yards per kick. The best news is that of the 13 punt attempts, there were only 4 returns for a total of 51 yards. Distance on the kicks was short, but the hang times were sufficient to force many fair catch signals. Overall, tackling against returns could have fared better, but this is likely a casualty of young and inexperienced players seeing their first playing time.
Field goal attempts were as solid as one can expect, and the stats don’t tell the complete tale. A box score analysis would indicate that the Buckeye kickers went 1-for-3 on field goal attempts, but what it fails to tell you is that the two misses were at 56 and 60 yards and were both made in the closing desperate seconds of the half. The one field goal that was true flew 47-yards through the north uprights, and had enough leg for perhaps better than 50 yards.
Players of note
Many players performed admirably, but some were clearly rusty or nervous, where others seemed as if they stepped off the Rose Bowl stage and onto the spring game landscape without missing a beat.
1) #44, Zach Boren, Fullback, 6′, 252 pound Sophomore, Pickerington Ohio.
Zach Boren was one of the young Gray squad stars of the game. The 252-pound younger of the Boren brothers displayed soft hands and spry feet, catching four passes (five, counting one negated by penalty) in the flat for 44 yards. He showed great situational awareness and surprising agility for such an Ohio State fullback, at one point leaping over the tackle attempt of a hapless defensive back. Ohio State has not typically used the fullback for more than a blocking back for a traditional power running scheme, so it is interesting to note such offensive output from the position. It doesn’t hurt his stock at all that Zach Boren is also a polite and personable young man and it is very easy to route for him.
2) #1 Dan “Boom” Herron, Running back, 5’10” 202 pound Junior, Warren Ohio.
Boom rushed for 32 yards on four attempts, and while never really breaking out for huge yardage, he ran very well against a speedy aggressive defense. His initial efforts quieted the concerns of many of the doubters up in C-deck, most of whom wondered if his injured ankles would hold up for an entire season.
3) #29 Taylor Rice, Defensive Back, 5’10” 177 pound red-shirt Sophomore, Dublin Ohio.
Taylor Rice stepped up in a big way on the Gray squad defense. Although the smallest member of the entire Gray roster, including the kickers, Rice showed tremendous effort and heart. He made three tackles on his own and was in on three others. His greatest value to the defense was by providing a Gray squad interception near the goal line of a Joe Bauserman pass to halt a potential last-ditch Scarlet scoring effort.
The Ohio State Buckeye faithful have much to look forward to following the 2009 Rose Bowl Championship win. The roster is packed with youthful talent while retaining key elements of veteran leadership. Although there are some discipline problems (four personal foul calls in a scrimmage), Head Coach Jim Tressel is more than up to the task of instilling his brand of no-nonsense professionalism in the players. 2010 promises to be another exciting and successful season of Ohio State University football.
Spring Game Roster: http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/sports/stories/2010/04/22/0422-spring-game-rosters.html?sid=101
Spring Game Box Score: http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/sports/stories/2010/04/25/spring-box-4-25-art-gqh8aint-1.html?sid=101
NCAA Bylaw Article 17 Playing and Practice Seasons: http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/8f2dbe804e0b5311bb5cfb1ad6fc8b25/20hr_rule_doc.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=8f2dbe804e0b5311bb5cfb1ad6fc8b25