Saturday’s Ohio State Spring Game featured phantom tackles, zero-yard penalties and rules seemingly made up on the spot.
The score, which ended as a 17-14 victory for Gray over Scarlet, did not matter. Nor did the stats, which featured six turnovers from the two starting quarterbacks. However, in front of a record crowd of 99,391, players on the field, new and old, had a chance to shine.
One such player who used Saturday’s contest to make a name for himself was freshman linebacker Nick Conner. The early enrollee was active in the first half, totaling an interception, a pass breakup, three total tackles and a forced fumble. He finished with a game-high seven total tackles.
“He was good. We had high expectations for him, though,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said. “Hope he doesn’t redshirt and gets involved in the kicking game. He … had a good day today. He’s a tough guy and plays hard. Good qualities to have.”
Also featured prominently, but with less success, was sophomore running back Curtis Samuel.
The Brooklyn native pulled in just 11 catches in the 2014-15 season. On Saturday, however, he was targeted six times while lined up primarily as an H-back. He finished with just three catches for 30 yards, but looks poised to see more action this season.
Sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown, who also figures to see an increased role in the offense following the departures of Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, seemed to struggle as well. He tallied 44 yards on four receptions but was targeted a game-high 11 times by redshirt-junior quarterback Cardale Jones.
Despite the struggles of two of the primary targets on the afternoon, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner said he considers OSU’s receiving depth its strongest attribute.
“We spent a lot of time focusing on developing our passing game and getting the ball in those guys’ hands, the playmakers, so I saw a lot of development in the receiver position, with guys like Noah Brown making some development,” he said.
Warinner also singled out redshirt-senior Corey Smith and redshirt-freshmen Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin as receivers who made strides this spring. The latter two pulled down Scarlet’s two touchdowns Saturday.
Corey Smith finished with six catches for 174 yards and each of Gray’s two scores.
On the other side of the ball, sophomore safety Erick Smith shone as well, picking off redshirt-freshman quarterback Stephen Collier twice.
While players like Conner, Campbell and McLaurin have used the spring to try to introduce themselves to the fan base and coaching staff, others are battling for continued prominence in the fall.
Although neither quarterback got a chance to play in front of the Ohio Stadium crowd as they each recover from injuries, redshirt-senior Braxton Miller and redshirt-sophomore J.T. Barrett stood in the backfield next to Meyer throughout the game.
Barrett and Miller are expected to compete with Jones in the fall for the starting spot before OSU opens its season Sept. 7 against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.
Barrett, who is recovering from a fractured ankle suffered Nov. 29 against Michigan, was able to take part in a halftime quarterback competition that included Jones and former OSU Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.
Miller was unable to show off his passing talent next to his teammates as he recovers from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the entire 2014 season, but he was still permitted to take part in the halftime festivities — with his legs. He was one of three Buckeyes — along with redshirt-sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall and junior running back Ezekiel Elliott — to participate in the fastest student competition.
Elliott won the contest, jumping out to an early lead and edging out Miller.
While Meyer remained mum about who holds the edge in the quarterback competition, he did pencil in a starting cornerback opposite redshirt-sophomore cornerback Eli Apple: fellow redshirt-sophomore Gareon Conley.
Conley was not the only player whom Meyer chose as a starter after the game, as he also announced that redshirt-senior offensive lineman Chase Farris will be the starting right tackle when fall camp rolls around.
Correction: The photo caption initially said the Scarlet team won the Spring Game, when in fact, the Gray team won.