Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer might have to turn to youngsters at cornerback this season. BLADE PHOTO
COLUMBUS — As far as Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs is concerned, his group of mostly unproven players went through an invaluable experience during the spring game.
They spent most of the first half being burned for completions in front of a packed house at Ohio Stadium.
The Buckeyes’ passing game tested its defensive counterparts early — which did not go well for the cornerbacks — and continued into the second half, during which the cornerbacks found their bearings and slowed the offense.
Though it was only a practice to most observers, Coombs said the rough start to the spring game was a useful afternoon for his cornerbacks.
“What I shared with the players after the game is this: That is one of the most valuable experiences they can have to understand how awful it feels to give up a touchdown in Ohio Stadium,” Coombs told reporters Wednesday. “It is the worst feeling, and it should be. If it doesn’t make you sick to your stomach, you’re not going to be able to play here.”
The Buckeyes’ top three quarterbacks combined to complete 35 of 47 passes in the first half for 519 yards and a whopping seven touchdown passes. Five of the touchdown passes in the first half went for 22 yards or longer.
As the offense sought to improve its deep passing this spring, young cornerbacks were thrown immediately into high-pressure situations. Four cornerbacks enrolled early in OSU’s last recruiting class, and Coombs said the spring game was important for development’s sake.
“The fact that they were able to experience that without having it count in a real game — it doesn’t count, it doesn’t hurt the Buckeyes — was phenomenal,” Coombs said. “What our offense did in the course of 15 days, the pressure they put on those kids with deep-ball throws, is experience they can’t ever get back again. We can’t replicate that all fall.”
By the end, two of the new cornerbacks — Shaun Wade and Jeffery Okudah — broke up passes in the second half. Coombs said he was pleased to see that despite the cornerbacks having “every reason in the world to put their head down.”
“Instead, both [Wade] and Okudah fought like crazy at the end of the game,” Coombs said. “They both had [pass break-ups] in the red zone, which caused the team that they were on to have [a] victory. Those were huge, huge positives coming out of there on Saturday.”
GROWING LINEMEN: Defensive line coach Larry Johnson said that Ohio State could expand its rotation because of its talent at the position. The Buckeyes return every key piece from last season’s line, and they should see the return of Tracy Sprinkle from a knee injury.
“We might end up going to 10 guys playing because of the situation we’re in,” Johnson said.
DEEP SPACE: Ohio State asked its quarterbacks for quite a bit during the spring: Complete half of their deep passes. OSU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said the Buckeyes asked their quarterbacks to at least give the receiver a chance on the ball on 70 percent of deep passes.
“We were trying to shoot for 50 percent. I actually think 40 percent is pretty good if you’re throwing the ball 35, 40 yards down the field,” Wilson said. “There were some days where we were higher than [50 percent].”
STATUS QUO: Backup quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins both impressed in Ohio State’s spring game, combining for 555 yards, five touchdown passes, and no interceptions.
But quarterbacks coach Ryan Day said neither has surpassed incumbent starter J.T. Barrett, who has started for most of the past three seasons and holds the Ohio State record for touchdowns in a career. Asked if Barrett is the starting quarterback without question, Day told reporters “it goes without saying.”
“His experience is unlike anyone else in college football right now,” Day said. “As a coach, that helps you sleep at night.”