It is a new day at Ohio State.
New head coach Urban Meyer told everybody he planned to work on the passing game during Saturday’s Scarlet and Gray Game, and he wasn’t joking.
What he didn’t say was the Buckeyes would be unveiling an up-tempo spread offense that left the Buckeyes working to run a new play every 25 to 30 seconds. As it turned out, it was largely entertaining even if there weren’t many points scored.
The Scarlet rallied for a 20-14 win over the Gray before an announced crowd of 81,112 on a raw 45 degree day at Ohio Stadium. (At least the rains subsided before the scrimmage began.)
“We had over 80,000 people on a beatutiful fall day here in Columbus, Ohio,” Meyer joked. “To have 80,000 fans, I really appreciate that. It was not a very pretty game for a scrimmage. However, we had to get some things accomplished, including some evaluation on some skill players.
“I want to thank our players. They came out and competed. Not many teams nowadays can have spring games because they are so beat up. To have a scrimmage in front of a big stadium, that’s not right. For our guys to tough it out and go after 14 practices, that was a good day.”
Scarlet quarterback Braxton Miller was 24 of 31 passing for 258 yards with an interception.
“It was fun getting the ball in the playmakers’ hands,” Miller said. “I felt pretty good. We didn’t show too much today. The things we showed today were compact. We just worked on the things we need to work on.”
His top targets were freshman Michael Thomas (12 catches, 131 yards), Chris Fields (five catches, 72 yards) and Nick Vannett (four catches, 38 yards). Tailback Rod Smith had 46 yards on eight carries with a touchdown, while Carlos Hyde also had a TD run.
Miller said he has developed a special bond with Thomas, an early enrolling freshman who spent last fall at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.
“We work all the time in the weight room,” Miller said. “I go and pick him up. We go and catch some balls. He was on the Jugs machine before I left. He’s growing up and trying to become a good receiver. Last year, we played in the Under Armour game down in Florida and we connected down there. He just wanted to come and play with us.
“He goes up and gets the ball. Plus he gets some YAC, yards after the catch.”
Quarterback Kenny Guiton completed 16 of 24 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown with a critical late interception. He also rushed for a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter.
“I think I have come a long way,” Guiton said. “It is a new offense and we’re all out there learning. I think we’re doing a good job with it. It was fun to go out there and compete. And it was great to have such fan support in the bad weather.”
Corey “Philly” Brown had seven catches for 90 yards for the Gray.
“(Thomas) and Philly are probably our top two guys (at receiver),” Meyer said. “Devin is probably our third. Jake Stoneburner would probably be right in there as well.”
Unprompted, Meyer shared the team’s top playmakers – excluding the quarterback position -- in his opinion.
“Right now, the top playmakers in order would be Jordan Hall, Jake Stoneburner, Carlos (Hyde) and then Philly Brown, Michael Thomas and Devin Smith,” said Meyer, who watched the entire 91-play scrimmage on the field from behind the offense. “And then we have (Jeff) Heuerman right there and (Nick) Vannett as well.”
There were no kickoffs as each series at the start of a half or after a score started on the offense’s 35-yard line. There were four 10-minute quarters. The second half was played with a running clock.
“We did some things offensively that … that is not who we are,” Meyer admitted. “However, I wanted to get something done. We are going to be a very balanced offense. That was very imbalanced.
“That was for a reason – we are taking one of the worst passing teams in America from a year ago and we have to find out if we can do that. If you can’t be balanced, you won’t win.”
The Scarlet team had the ball to start the scrimmage and went 65 yards in eight plays to a touchdown. Miller came out firing, completing all four of his pass attempts for 51 of those yards. He hit Thomas for 11 yards, Tyrone Williams for 6, Chris Fields for 25 and Williams again for 9. Carlos Hyde did the rest, going up the middle for the 1-yard touchdown behind a block from Jack Mewhort. The Scarlet led 7-0 with 7:43 left in the first half.
Guiton then led the Gray on a prolonged drive from the 35 down to the Scarlet 19. That included 12-yard runs by Guiton and Dunn. But Guiton’s third-down pass to Brown was broken up by safety Christian Bryant. Kyle Clinton attempted a 36-yard field goal – with Meyer standing right next to the holder – but it was wide right.
The Scarlet team then drove from its own 20 down to the Gray 24. Miller hit Fields for 21 yards on a crossing route. But the drive was stymied when Miller was sacked by Adam Bellamy. Drew Basil came in and hit a 41-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 9:47 left in the second quarter.
Meyer then had Basil attempt a series of field goals that did not factor into the scoring. He was good from 41, Bellamy blocked an attempt from 45, good from 45 and 53 and short on a pair of 58-yard attempts.
The next Gray series was marred by sacks by Michael Bennett and Ryan Shazier for the Scarlet. But the Scarlet gave the ball right back as Miller overthrew Vannett and was intercepted by Gray’s Adam Griffin. Later in the half, Miller had an apparent 49-yard completion to Fields – reminiscent of his heave to Devin Smith to beat Wisconsin –negated by an offensive pass interference penalty.
The Gray took over on its own 49 after a short Scarlet punt. Aided by a personal foul on Joel Hale, the Gray had a first down at the Scarlet 28. On first down there, Guiton threw down the middle perfectly to Smith on a crossing route. He hauled it in at the 10 and deftly split a pair of defenders on his way to the 28-yard touchdown that cut the Scarlet lead to 10-7 with 37 seconds left in the half.
Miller and the Scarlet moved quickly into field goal range as he hit four straight passes – 10 yards to Thomas, 11 and 15 yards to Vannett and 14 more to Thomas – to get out of bounds at the 15 and stop the clock with six seconds left. Basil’s 32-yard field goal capped the half and put the Scarlet up 13-7 at the break.
The Gray had the ball to start the second half and drove from its own 35 to the Scarlet 15. Guiton was 7 of 8 on this series for 62 yards. But on fourth-and-2 at the 15, Dunn tried to go left but was slammed for no gain and the Scarlet regained possession.
But a 14-yard Scarlet punt by Ben Buchanan gave the Gray the ball back on the Scarlet 22. Guiton hit passes of 5 yards to Taylor Rice and 9 yards to Brown for a first down at the 8. Dunn rumbled for 4 yards on first-and-goal. Guiton faked a give and kept it for the 4-yard touchdown that put the Gray up 14-13 with eight seconds left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Miller had a pass go off Thomas’ hands and to freshman Tyvis Powell for an interception. But it was negated by a personal foul on defensive lineman Chris Carter. Miller hit Thomas for a 22-yard gain down to the 7, where Rod Smith did the rest. He powered in up the middle for the 7-yard score and a 20-14 Scarlet lead with 5:29 left in the game.
“We had to keep working on each drive and keep getting better on each play,” Miller said.
The Gray roared right back with Guiton hitting Brown for gains of 21 and 23 yards. But on first down at the 16, he threw toward Smith in heavy coverage. Safety Christian Bryant picked it off to avert the possible go-ahead touchdown with 2:55 left.
“We had a good drive going,” Guiton said. “It was just a late read by me.”
Miller then drove the offense all the way down to the 3-yard line before time ran out. On that drive, Miller hit Thomas for 20 yards and Vannett for 14 more. The Scarlet also benefitted from a pass interference call for a first down at the 7. But on third-and-goal from the 5, Miller rolled right, couldn’t find anybody and got around the corner. He tried to dive for the pylon but was ruled out of bounds at the 3.
Meyer could have ordered one more play, but he waved everybody to the middle to end the scrimmage.
“I was trying to get the ball outside to the tight end,” Miller said. “He was covered so I took off and tried to make the best of it. I was running too fast so I don’t know if I stepped out of bounds.”
* The day actually began with Meyer calling the team to the center of the field for their usual pre-practice Circle Drill. This is where an offensive and defensive player typically do battle as their teammates cheer them on. The fans roared their approval as several of the team’s stars participated, including DE John Simon.
Miller and Guiton went head to head as well.
“It was fun. It was competitive. It got the crowd into it. We’re good friends. We were just competing. We were just laughing at each other like, ‘Are we really in the circle drill together? That’s crazy.’ ”
Miller lost that battle to Guiton, noting, “He got a good start.”
* A number of key players did not play in the game. That included Simon (“He didn’t need to play,” Meyer said), RB Jordan Hall (sprained foot), OL Corey Linsley (only played one quarter), OL Jack Mewhort (only played one quarter), LB Curtis Grant (shoulder) and DL Johnathan Hankins (knee injury).
Meyer revealed that Hankins underwent arthroscopic surgery on Friday.
“He got scoped yesterday, but he will be fine,” Meyer said.
Others who missed the game after missing time this spring included DB C.J. Barnett, DB Zach Domicone, DE Nathan Williams and DB Jamie Wood.
* As the losing side, the Gray team will likely participate in a community service project next Friday, Meyer said earlier in the week.
* Top defensive players included:
Scarlet: LB Ryan Shazier (seven tackles, one sack, two TFLs), CB Doran Grant (six tackles), DE Michael Bennett (one sack).
Gray: CB Adam Griffin (nine tackles, one interception), DB Orhian Johnson (seven tackles), LB Etienne Sabino (six tackles, one sack), DE Steve Miller and DT Adam Bellamy (two sacks each).
Keep in mind on the sacks, the quarterbacks were not "live" so if a tackler touched them most plays were ruled down.
* Meyer retained a tradition from the Jim Tressel era: The team congregated in front of the band and sang Carmen Ohio after the game.
* Click here for Dave Biddle's What We Learned column.
Click here for Dave Biddle’s spring game blog as the game unfolded.
Click here for our report on LB Alex Anzalone’s commitment to Ohio State.
And click here for our report on the basketball verbal commitment by shooting guard Amedeo Della Valle.