To Urban Meyer, the 2014 Ohio State Spring Game wasn’t about statistics, which intrasquad team won or lost, or which side played better as a unit.
“It’s more of an individual — I’m not trying to evaluate an offense because who cares?” Meyer said after the Gray team defeated Scarlet, 17-7, Saturday at Ohio Stadium. “There are guys out there that will either never play or they’re not ready to play now.”
With players like starting senior quarterback Braxton Miller, senior tight end Jeff Heuerman, a skill guy like sophomore H-Back Dontre Wilson and even starting offensive lineman junior Taylor Decker not seeing a single snap during the game, it was clear Meyer was more interested in how much he was going to get out of some inexperienced players.
“I’m not evaluating — like (OSU spokesman) Jerry (Emig) hands me stats and I’m not sure what to do with these. I don’t care,” Meyer said.
Individually, the final stats for those players who actually saw time Saturday weren’t exactly impressive. The two quarterbacks who started and played the majority of the game — redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones, who Meyer named backup to Miller after the game, and redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett — combined to throw for just 277 yards and no passing touchdowns. No ball carrier had more than 55 yards on the ground, but redshirt-sophomore running backs Warren Ball and Bri’onte Dunn both managed to find the end zone for the Gray team.
“I was just talking with Cardale out there and you are so used to 14 practices playing with the same guys and that chemistry started through spring and there were a lot of new faces,” Decker said after the game about playing with players who might not see time this fall. “You start to develop a lot of chemistry and there were guys flipping sides, playing both ways so that makes it a little difficult when you are not used to playing with somebody, but that’s not excuse. You still have to go out there and execute and do your job at the highest level.”
After having a solid Spring Game a year ago, redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas performed well again and led Gray with six receptions and 64 yards, while redshirt-junior receiver Corey Smith snagged five passes from Jones for 72 yards. Senior wide receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer hardly saw the field at all — Spencer is still rehabbing from an injury suffered in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl, and Smith played sparingly — but Meyer still wasn’t pleased with what he saw from the unit specifically.
“Not enough,” Meyer said of the wide receivers’ efforts Saturday. “Without a doubt with what we expect, we’re not where we need to be. We’re better than we were two years ago … (a) notch (better) than we were last year. We got a ways to go.”
Another question mark for the Buckeyes was what the pecking order will be at running back next season after losing Carlos Hyde, who in the 2013 season became the first running back under Meyer to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau.
The expected favorite before spring practice was sophomore Ezekiel Elliott, who often came in to let Hyde rest last year. Other candidates include Dunn and Ball as well redshirt-senior Rod Smith. Smith sat out the last half of spring practice — including the Spring Game — as Meyer said “he’s focusing on academics.”
“We have some depth there right now,” Meyer said. “But still it’s pretty much … I’m not ready to name a starter yet.”
Dunn said after the game no matter who is at the top of the list, his mindset doesn’t change.
“Every day I’m just going to work hard. I’m going to work hard,” Dunn said. “Everybody in my unit, in the running back unit, is like my brother. Whoever gets the (top) spot is going to deserve that spot.”
So with no clear-cut starter at running back or wide receiver, and backup quarterbacks who struggled in a defensive-minded affair as playmakers were split up between both teams, what exactly was the 2014 Spring Game about?
“What I do care is who is physically going to make the plays. This is more of, it’s almost like an individual game today and that’s what I wanted to watch,” Meyer said. “Who’s going to compete, who’s going to make plays, not who’s going to fit into the team concept because we all know what we saw out there. That’s not team, that’s not the Ohio State Buckeyes. That’s a bunch of people all over the place.”
After reconvening later this summer for training camp, the Buckeyes are set to take on Navy in the first game of their 2014 campaign Aug. 30 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Kickoff is scheduled for noon.