Watching any game from up in the press box provides a unique view, but it can require a second viewing on a television or computer to see what you missed the first go-round. Such is the case with Saturday’s Ohio State spring game. I left that game being impressed by the quarterbacks, the receivers, and freshman defensive end Jack Sawyer.
Turns out, after watching the game a second time on my computer, I was still impressed by the quarterbacks, the receivers, and freshman defensive end Jack Sawyer. But a bushel of other items caught my eye as well, so I thought I’d jot them down and see how much Ross Fulton disagrees with me.
Land of Confusion
Interestingly, even after a second watch, I still can’t tell you if it was Team Brutus or Team Buckeye that won.
One Tiny Suggestion
If the football rules committee wants to make the game more exciting, I’d recommend adopting and adapting what Ohio State did to start each half. There were no blockers and no tacklers on the kickoff, just a kicker and a returner. There was no returning of the kick on Saturday, but if we want to make kickoffs safer, having it come down to just a kicker and a returner going one-on-one, what could be safer than that? Of course, if any team actually chose to kick to a returner, that coach should be fired. Every kickoff would just go out of bounds. Maybe the rules committee knows what they’re doing. (Except for targeting, of course.)
The Rumors Appear To Be True
It was good to see the Bullet used in Ohio State’s base defense. Yes, I understand that there were only five healthy scholarship linebackers, but it sure seems that this is the way the Buckeye defense is going. And the fact that we’ve seen redshirt sophomores Craig Young and Ronnie Hickman both getting time at the position in different circumstances sure makes it look like there’s a base Bullet and a nickel Bullet, and you wouldn’t need two different kinds of Bullets if you were only going to play them in one kind of circumstance. It was interesting to see the various areas they lined up on Saturday. Sometimes it was deeper than the linebackers, but in front of the deep safety. Other times they were walked out. And still other times they were on the line of scrimmage. This is how Michigan used their Viper effectively over the years and we could finally start seeing something similar for the Buckeyes. Craig Young could be a known name nationally in about six months.
Redshirt sophomore Noah Potter moved to defensive tackle from defensive end this spring and he did some pretty good things on Saturday. He’s a tall defensive tackle at 6-foot-6, but he’s an overall big dude who is a lot to block. He got the better of sophomore right guard Paris Johnson on a running play on the first drive. He also had a batted ball later in the game. Potter is a talented athlete who showed that he’s not simply going through the motions of a position change.
Options Upon Options
Don’t forget about junior Jameson Williams and sophomore Julian Fleming just because other receivers shined on Saturday. There’s room for everyone, especially in 2022 when Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are gone. Nobody enjoys watching his teammates succeed more than Williams, and that’s always a characteristic a position room can use. With Fleming out of action on Saturday, he adopted that same kind of attitude. Fleming has all the potential you could want, he just needs reps. Last year was big for him, but getting healthy will be even bigger. This summer is going to be interesting for this entire group of receivers because these true freshmen are no joke.
Contain The Excitement
It was a hodgepodge of losing contain and keeping contain from the defensive ends and linebackers on Saturday. Not sure there’s much to make of the run defense based on thud tempo, but keeping contain is still much better than losing the ball and getting sucked inside.
The Year Of The Tight Ends
The spring game cemented redshirt sophomore Cade Stover’s status as a legitimate tight end for me. He had some nice pass blocking on Saturday, has shown a willingness as a run blocker, and then made a ridiculous one-handed stab on the sideline that didn’t count for a catch but counted for much more. Stover is a tremendous athlete who has exactly the kind of attitude that can handle position moves. It would have been nice to get a look at redshirt freshman Gee Scott as well, but no reason to push players who are dealing with various dings and nicks.
Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Ty Hamilton is strong. He was pushing people around here and there. There was one play where he pushed Paris Johnson back twice on a pass rush before Johnson finally gathered himself and stopped Hamilton cold. It was impressive to see Johnson get pushed like that, and then equally impressive to see him put an end to it. There is a spot for Hamilton in this defensive line rotation now that he’s much more equipped this year than he was last year as an undersized true freshman.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Watts had perfect coverage on his interception of an attempted back-shoulder throw to Garrett Wilson in the first quarter. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Miller shouldn’t have thrown it, but those back-shoulder throws are also a leap of faith that the coverage won’t be looking for it. Watts was definitely looking for it, however, and Wilson had no shot to stop it from happening. Watts also had some nice coverage later in the game staying with true freshman Jayden Ballard on a drag route over the middle. This is the kind of route that can create separation as the defender has to make his way through linebackers, but as soon as Ballard caught the ball Watts was there to drag him down with minimal gain. It is too bad that fellow redshirt freshman cornerback Lejond Cavazos didn’t play.
Sophomore safety Lathan Ransom was out there running routes a couple of times for the receivers he was covering. He’s got a heck of a task this year as one of the Buckeyes’ cover safeties, so it was good to see him not look out of place in defending some talented pass catchers.
Rookies Of The Year?
But before we proclaim the pass defense fixed, the slot receivers were running free way too often on Saturday. That’s where the bulk of freshman Emeka Egbuka’s 123 yards receiving came from. Let’s also credit Egbuka for some ridiculous hands. You can tell he has a great feel for the field as a whole. And I suppose if we’re going to talk about the freshman receivers, I also have to mention Marvin Harrison, Jr. because he is just a big, smooth target. He only averaged seven yards per catch, but it was the ease with which he did everything. There was no fighting the ball, nothing looked difficult for him.
Jack Sawyer’s Sack Race
It was good to see redshirt freshmen defensive ends Jacolbe Cowan and Darrion Henry-Young out there. Both were active on the day, but they are both no doubt feeling the pressure put on by true freshman Jack Sawyer. Sawyer was credited with three sacks, but he may have been shortchanged by two or three. He may ultimately have had more sacks in this game than he will in 2021 and that would be fine. But I don’t think anybody will be surprised when he exceeds whatever number you want to give him for Saturday. I won’t be surprised to see him start a game this year — just like Zach Harrison did as a true freshman, but any talk of Harrison or Tyreke Smith’s job being in danger is more than a bit premature.
I thought running back-turned-turned-receiver-turned-running-back-turned-receiver-turned-cornerback Demario McCall did a decent job of being in coverage on Saturday. He gave up a catch to Chris Olave down the field, but that’s not exactly a club of one. McCall was there but just didn’t have the experience, awareness, and technique yet to do anything about it. I don’t think he looks out of place if this is the course he wants to continue on in 2021.
More Miyan Please
Even in a controlled environment, redshirt freshman running Miyan Williams is fun to watch. He treats the first defender like Ebenezer Scrooge treats a panhandler, yelling “Get a job” as a linebacker misses him in the backfield.
I have thoughts on the quarterbacks, but it’s mainly that I think they can win with any of the three. The bigger question is which guy can they win it all with? Redshirt freshman CJ Stroud had the best command. Redshirt freshman Jack Miller didn’t get as much help from his receivers. Kyle McCord has no fear throwing the ball, which can be a double-edged sword at the wrong time.
Not So Special?
I don’t think it’s too early to be concerned about the kicking game, but I also know nobody involved in that room at the Woody is going to take it easy this summer. There is going to be some serious work put in which should make Saturday’s missed field goals and short punts seem like a distant and terrible, terrible memory.