A Spring Game record crowd of 75,301 basked in 70-degree warmth under a cloudless blue sky to watch the Gray squad run off 17 fourth-quarter points to upend their Scarlet brethren in the traditional windup to spring practice.
With all the speculation of a return to "Tresselball" this fall thanks to the departure of a ton of offensive firepower from last season, should there be any surprise that Saturday’s contest was a low-scoring affair with only one offensive touchdown all day? Things were rather balanced offensively with the two units rushing 54 times (give or take several scrambles) and throwing 45 times, but look for that to be the exception rather than the norm come September.
As usual, not everyone suited up, most notably tailback Chris Wells, who declared himself at about 90% but was held out for precautionary reasons. The offense would figure to revolve heavily around C-Dub this year, although with his absence from spring practice, Mo Wells was able to rack up a lot of reps. On the verge of transferring after the national championship game, Mo hung in there and would be a nice change of pace from Chris and help to keep Beanie fresh when that brutal November schedule rolls around. I hate to disagree with our fellow staffer Pat, but I think the law firm of Wells and Wells can be an effective one-two punch. Is there a dropoff between the two? Absolutely. But C-Dub’s time on the sideline might end up being a blessing in disguise if Mo has gained confidence from more totes this spring. He hasn’t hit any homeruns yet or had that one signature play, but given the opportunity I believe he can make things happen. I will certainly agree with Pat, however, that any injury to either Wells is serious, serious trouble.
I’ve never tended to get too worked up over the play of the offensive lines in these games, just for the fact that you can’t expect any kind of cohesion in such a short period of time. Add to that the absence this year of starting tackle Kirk Barton and backups Jon Skinner and Kyle Mitchum, and things get, no pun intended, even thinner up front. And while the Buckeyes have the proverbial plethora of athletes in the secondary, they were still without the services of Jamario O’Neal, Anderson Russell and Andre Amos. Russell was just starting to come into his own at safety when he was injured at Iowa, and his return will be a boon to the secondary. Amos, unfortunately, is projected to possibly be out until midseason after working his way onto the field early last year.
The honorary coaches at this year’s game had the painful common ground with the gridders of losing a national title to Florida, but seemed to enjoy their time under the headset. Roundballers David Lighty and Jamal Butler helped coach the Gray, while Mike Conley, Jr. and Daequan Cook served with the Scarlet. Greg Oden, who would’ve blocked the view of people in AA deck, was at a wedding and couldn’t attend. There was no truth to the rumor that the bride and groom tried to delay the nuptials until after the NBA draft to see what Greg would’ve given them for the “dollar dance”.
The Gray, with redshirt freshman Antonio Henton at quarterback, had first crack offensively and a ground-bound drive worked out to the 47. Henton got his first pass of the day off on a 3rd-and-short, and it settled right into the arms of linebacker Marcus Freeman, who easily coasted 49 yards for the score. Freeman, who was one of the precious few bright spots of the beatdown in Glendale, jumped the out route of Brandon Smith to snag Henton’s throw. When the preseason mags hit the shelves this summer and feature the top units, I’ll be demanding a refund if Freeman and the rest of the ‘backer corps aren’t the best in the nation.
Defensive tackle Dexter Larimore, who redshirted last season, got a paw up to block Ryan Pretorious’ point-after try, keeping the Scarlet advantage at 6-0.
Henton made his best throw of the day as the Gray went back on offense, dialing up Devon Lyons for a 19-yard strike down the middle to convert a 3rd-and-7. With Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie the likeliest candidates for the starting receiver berths, someone needs to emerge as that third option, a la Roy Hall of a year ago. At 6'4", Lyons provides a nice target and is looking to make his move after battling injuries the last two seasons.
The Gray could get nothing established, and the Scarlet quickly went three-and-out on their first possession. Henton found the going rough on the ensuing march as Juan Garnier dropped him for a loss of 10 and Vernon Gholston had a 3-yard TFL where Henton fumbled, with the Gray’s Ben Person recovering. Unlike Spring Game’s past, there were no black jerseys adorning any of the three quarterbacks, and the defenses were bringing it. No matter who is under center this fall, they will be aided tremendously by going against this defense in practice. Conversely, Jim Heacock and Luke Fickell have hopefully burned the passive gameplan from last January 8th and decided to come after opposing quarterbacks.
When the Scarlet took over the ball, Larimore and Lawrence Wilson “met at the quarterback”, dropping Todd Boeckman for a loss of 9 and forcing him into a grounding penalty to boot, something that you’re glad to see now instead of later. Wilson, who was the first pick in the players’ draft, will combine with Gholston to make life miserable for opposing offensive tackles this year. Boeckman got his Scarlet mates off the hook with a beautiful 39-yard rainbow to Brian Robiskie, moving the chains to the Gray 23. Marcus Williams gained three before Boeckman had two passes broken up. Pretorious came on to boot a 37-yard field goal, increasing the Scarlet lead to 9-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, Ray Small luckily caught the ball off to his side at the two-yard line, but made an excellent 40-yard return. In some ways, Small reminds you of Teddy Ginn, Jr., not just for the Glenville connection but how his running just looks effortless. Small is the only field-stretcher in the receiving corps and the coaching brain trusts need to find ways to get him the ball in space.
The Gray managed one first down but had to punt, and A.J. Trapasso pinned the Scarlet back at their own nine as sophomore Rob Schoenhoft entered to take the snaps.
Three runs netted only six yards, but the Scarlet caught a break on Jon Thoma’s punt as the Gray were flagged for having 12 men on the field as well as a personal foul. The two 15-yard march-offs gave the Scarlet a first down at their own 45. Tailback Joe Gantz gained a first down on the ground, but on 4th-and-6 from the Gray 39, Schoenhoft had Albert Dukes open deep but couldn’t connect with him.
When the Gray faced 4th-and-3 on their next possession, Antonio Henton hooked up with Lyons for an apparent first down, but a motion penalty negated the play. The Gray rolled the dice on 4th-and-8, but Henton again made a poor throw that was picked off by Grant Schwartz. The TV replay clearly showed Schwartz (who probably knew what was coming) creeping up into the right flat, but Henton didn’t even see him as he tried to force a long out to the sideline for Ray Small. Even if Schwartz hadn’t nabbed it, Zach Willis would have. Schwartz returned the theft 40 yards to the Gray 16, giving the Scarlet a shot at points right before the half. But on the first snap, Larry Grant came barreling in and decked Schoenhoft with one of the hardest hits of the afternoon. Schoenhoft coughed up the football and Grant actually recovered at his 22, keeping the Gray deficit at 9-0 at halftime.
The Scarlet got the football to start the second half, and thanks to a solid return by Dan Potokar, they had excellent field position at their 36. Antonio Henton was now under center for the Scarlet, which looked to be a positive since Buckeye 50’s Gregg Watson noted that Henton had done a fine job throwing to scarlet jerseys in the first half. The Fort Valley, Georgia native ignited the march with a 13-yard dart to Albert Dukes, and with the help of a 15-yard facemask call on the Gray and a 15-yard run by Marcus Williams which ended with him blasting Aaron Gant’s helmet off, Henton moved the troops to a second down at the Gray 18. After misfiring on two shots into the endzone, Henton nailed Brian Robiskie on fourth down for what would’ve been a score, but Tyler Moeller, who moved from a crowded linebacking corps to safety, hit Robo early, knocking him out of bounds with no flag being thrown.
Rob Schoenhoft, now quarterbacking the Gray, scrambled for 15 yards to move the sticks on the ensuing drive, but a hold on the next snap looked as if it would short-circuit things. A.J. Trapasso, who had done absolutely everything during his high school days in Pickerington, Ohio, took off on a fake punt for 16 and a first down, punctuating things by bowling over Zach Willis at the end of the run. With the ball at the Scarlet 45, Schoenhoft fired for Devon Lyons, who hauled in the throw at the 20 and juked his way to the six. A pair of runs picked up two yards, then Schoenhoft and Lyons worked the fade route but it was out of bounds. Schoenhoft went with the fade once more on fourth-and-goal, but Lyons broke inside and the pass fell harmlessly to the ground.
The Gray got another chance thanks to their defense, as defensive end Alex Barrow batted a Henton pass in the air and made the interception at the Scarlet 23, Henton’s third INT of the afternoon. Schoenhoft had to keep on the first play as no one was there to take the handoff, and he managed to get back to the line of scrimmage. A pass for Lyons in the endzone was too strong, then in a repeat of the previous drive, Lyons ran an inside slant as Schoenhoft threw incomplete to the outside. Aaron Pettrey was called on for the field goal and responded with a 40-yarder, narrowing the Scarlet lead to 9-3. And the Gray would have to hustle to make up the deficit, as the fourth quarter was shortened to 10 minutes from the usual 12 that the first three periods had been. The Gray “D” came up big, forcing a three-and-out and getting the ball back at midfield.
Devon Lyons got things jumpstarted with a 14-yard reception, then behind the running and catching of Maurice Wells, the Gray moved to the Scarlet 6. Schoenhoft lofted one into the endzone for tight end Brandon Smith, who literally took the ball away from Nick Patterson for the touchdown. Pettrey’s PAT was good and the Gray now had a one-point lead at 10-9 with 5:24 left.
Todd Boeckman and Co. took over at their own 20 and set sail. Kyle Ruhl’s 16-yard reception earned a first down, and an 11-yard romp by Joe Gantz put the ball in Gray territory. Boeckman came up a yard short on 3rd-and-5, and the Scarlet called time with 1:46 to go to plot their 4th-and-1 strategy.
Out of a double-tight end alignment, Boeckman aired it out for J.D. Larson who made the grab for 28 huge yards to the Gray 11. The Scarlet were in tall cotton now, and after a couple of runs and a Gray timeout, they had a 2nd-and-13 from the Gray 14. Unbelievably, Boeckman dropped to throw, and Larry Grant came from the backside to blast him, forcing a fumble. The ball rolled out of the pile to Grant, who scooped it up and motored 85 yards for the clinching score, providing the final margin of 17-9.
Now again, it’s just the spring game, but what kind of blockhead play call was that? Had that scenario played out during the regular season, someone would have been hanging by his headset cord. Honorary coach Mike Conley, Jr. passed the buck just as deftly as he had the basketball for Thad Matta-
“I didn’t call a pass. I said, ‘Run it and take the time off the clock and then kick the field goal.’ I don’t know what happened after that. Somehow, the play got changed.”
Nothing would have been decided anyway regarding the quarterback situation based on this one game, but no one really blew the others away-
Boeckman- 6 of 14, 103 yards, 2 sacks
Schoenhoft- 7 of 15, 83 yards, 1 TD, 1 sack
Henton- 8 of 16, 45 yards, 3 INT’s, 3 sacks
Look for Boeckman to get the opening nod against Youngstown State, but also look for all 3 to play in the non-conference. Let’s hope for good health from the tailback spot and for the tight ends not to be ignored. The Bucks have a deep group of receivers but lack the Ginn-type burner we’ve come to enjoy the last three years, at least right now. The defensive tackles will be a huge loss to overcome, but Gholston and Wilson are about as good as it gets as bookend DE’s. The country’s best linebacking troop will be the heart and soul of the defense and Jim Tressel’s kicking game is in great shape. The schedule is back-loaded, so the team has time to grow and gel before the stretch run.
RANDOM THOUGHTS- The Buckeyes asked and were granted permission to wear Virginia Tech’s logo on their helmets for the Spring Game to remember the 32 lives lost on April 16. Va. Tech coach Frank Beamer was "honored" by the gesture. The grass was torn out of the ‘Shoe on the Monday after the game, readying the field for the new artificial surface the Bucks will play on this fall. Ever since the playing field was lowered 15 feet during the Stadium renovations, there had been problems with the grass. The strips of grass will be donated to parks around the Columbus area. Ohio Stadium previously had an artificial surface in place from 1971 through 1989…OSU’s record Spring Game crowd of 75,301 came in a distant second this year to Alabama, who drew over 92,000 for their first "game" under Nick Saban. Of course, admission to the Crimson Tide’s "A-Game was free. Ohio State’s Spring Game tickets went for 5 dollars, although this year the red club seats on the west side of the Stadium were sold for 10 apiece. During last season’s Spring Game, the club seats, which could only be used by the wine-and-cheese crowd who had them during the regular season, sat half empty.