Ohio State wide receiver Corey Smith, right, tries to escape the tackle of linebacker Raekwon McMillan. A sun-soaked crowd of 61,058 was in attendance. ASSOCIATED PRESS
COLUMBUS — As Ohio State fans began a fire-drill procession to the exits early in the second half of Saturday’s spring game, coach Urban Meyer wished for a moment he was one of them.
"I want to thank our student body and our fans," he said. "To sit through a spring game, sometimes I don't want to be watching."
The Buckeyes’ annual Scarlet and Gray game was as much for the sun-soaked crowd of 61,058 at Ohio Stadium as it was for any meaningful evaluation.
With injured star Braxton Miller among the more than half-dozen starters sitting, the Buckeyes’ air-it-out intentions detoured as back-up quarterbacks Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett struggled behind piecemeal offensive lines. Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball each ran for touchdowns instead to lead the Gray past the Scarlet 17-7.
"I'm not trying to evaluate an offense. Who cares?" Meyer said. "There are guys out there that will never play or they're not ready to play now. I wanted to see who was going to compete and make plays, not who is going to fit into the team concept. We all know what we saw out there, and it's not the Ohio State Buckeyes. It's a bunch of people all over the place."
On the first play from scrimmage, defensive end Rashad Frazier rattled the ball loose from Barrett’s grip and recovered the fumble in the end zone to push the Gray team ahead 7-0.
The rest of the day went much the same.
With the Buckeyes missing their top two linemen on a front replacing four starters — Meyer rested left tackle Taylor Decker and guard Pat Elflein — and a newly aggressive defense exclusively in press coverage, Jones retained his place as Miller’s back-up by default. Jones completed 14 of 31 passes for 126 yards while Barrett was 17-of-33 for 151 yards.
Sophomore receiver Michael Thomas, a past spring star looking to crack the fall rotation, had six catches for 64 yards.
"It’s hard to rate the game because so many guys didn’t play," said Jones, a sophomore entering his fourth year out of high school. "The work we have done for the entire spring is more important."
Meyer, meanwhile, said he is concerned enough with the offensive line that he told three committed recruits in attendance Saturday to brace themselves.
"We’ve got to really go from here," said Meyer, adding that Decker and Elflein are the only sure starters. "I saw Jamarco Jones, Demetrius Knox, Brady Taylor here today. Those are three bodies that are going to be coming in in June, and I looked them right in the eye and said, ‘You're not red shirting; you're playing.’ That's hard for an offensive lineman. But that's a position where we have got to get back to where we were. Maybe not where we were, but close."
The defense is another story. Meyer was pleased with a rebuilt defense despite several ongoing position battles. Meyer narrowed down the competitions to Curtis Grant and five-star freshman Raekwon McMillan at middle linebacker, redshirt freshmen Darron Lee and Chris Worley at strongside linebacker, and sophomores Vonn Bell and Cam Burrows at the safety spot opposite newly declared starter Tyvis Powell. He called the scrap at cornerback opposite senior Doran Grant "wide open."
The Buckeyes return all four starting defensive linemen while junior Josh Perry will start at weakside linebacker.
"I hope the reaction was that they looked quicker, they look faster, they trigger on the ball much better than they have in the past," Meyer said. "If that's your perception, that's mine as well."
Powell said it’s the result of a scaled-down game plan.
"It's more condensed," he said. "The playbook isn't that wide right now. We only have, like, six calls. But today we were very basic. We only had two calls."
And unlike last year, when the Buckeyes allowed an average of 539 yards in their last three games, the offenses on Saturday had no answer for either of them.