Colin’s Corner: Spring Game Creates Intriguing Subplots
The 2018 Spring Game is in the books, and the fans had a prime opportunity to develop concrete expectations for the upcoming season. Urban Meyer changed the format of the game in order to pair the top two quarterbacks with the first-team offense. Those two guys, redshirt junior Joe Burrow and redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins, were able to show what they will bring to the table in the starting role.
Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Tate Martell was all over the place. He completed just 5 of 16 total passes and threw a pick, but he was impressive with the ball tucked, reading defenses and taking off for chunks of yardage. He busted a 30-yard run, came close to breaking free several other times and finished with 69 net rushing yards and a 2-yard score. Meyer said Martell’s athleticism has “caught my eye.”
Many other positions saw names rise during the game, and there is much to take away from the glorified practice, which the Gray won, 37-14. Here are some of the key things we learned today:
• An increased role for Demario McCall
The redshirt sophomore started the 2016 season as a reserve tailback and had much success in mop-up duty. After an injury-plagued 2017, McCall returns to the field with a new position. He will slide into the H-Back spot along with Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill. With Hill out with an injury and Campbell receiving considerable rest this spring, McCall took the opportunity to shine in today’s game. He was active all afternoon and developed into a favorite target for the quarterbacks. In fact, he led each team in receiving – five catches for 100 yards and two long touchdowns for the winning Gray team along with five grabs for 65 yards for the Scarlet.
• Zero separation in the QB battle
While Meyer has mentioned that this battle is going on between all three of the QBs on the team, it is becoming apparent that the real battle is between Burrow and Haskins. Both guys had a touchdown pass that impressed the crowd, and the ball placement was spectacular from each player. The clock begins as Meyer must review the tape and begin the process of narrowing down to one starter, but the length of that clock is unknown outside of the locker room. It would benefit Meyer to wait until fall camp, but one must wonder how long these guys are willing to wait for the decision. Burrow graduates in two weeks and would be immediately eligible if he were to transfer, so it is imperative that Meyer gets this decision correct. By the way, Burrow had another fantastic statistical performance in the Spring Game, completing 15 of 22 passes for 238 yards and two TDs including a 50-yard beauty to McCall in the fourth quarter.
• Wade and Williamson stand out
Sophomore Marcus Williamson and redshirt freshman Shaun Wade made the case to put their names in the battle for a corner position. Sophomore Jeff Okudah has missed most of spring due to an injury, but all three look to battle for the nickelback position with Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield locked into the starting corner spots. Both Williamson and Wade were heavily attacked in this game, and each looked impressive in coverage against the offensive starters. Both seem to be involved in a rotation this season, but it will be interesting so see if either can rise into a more prominent role. Wade had the game’s only interception and has received lots of praise throughout the spring.
• Master Teague may be the next great Buckeye RB
We heard it throughout his recruitment, but Teague looks really impressive running between the tackles. The freshman from Murfreesboro, Tenn., shows strength similar to Mike Weber and speed like J.K. Dobbins. Teague could push for carries this year and seriously jeopardize Antonio Williams’ playing time, but he just looks physically ready to make an impact. Coaches have raved about the early enrollee throughout the spring, and it will be important to follow his development through training camp. Having a three-man punch with Dobbins, Weber and Teague would be crucial to wearing down opposing defenses. Meyer has mentioned his disdain for redshirting players, so it could be safe to assume that Teague will find his way onto the field in some capacity. The frosh played exclusively for the Scarlet squad and led all rushers with 73 yards even with defenders able to patty-cake him “down” with the no-tackle format.
The summer and fall camps will be interesting in the sense of how position battles will end up, but also from the standpoint of position depth and rotations. Many young players are in situations with early playing time opportunities, and it remains to be seen which ones step up. As for the QB position, the winner of that battle is capable of leading the team to their high expectations. It will be a struggle to come to a decision, but Meyer’s track record makes it easy to trust in his process.