The identity of Ohio State’s spring football game has been open to question for a long time.
Is it a game, a practice or something else? A preview of next season? A peek at the stars of the future? A chance to soak in the sun in the venerable, old Horseshoe? A total waste of time?
Coach Urban Meyer added to the dialogue after today’s game, and his frank analysis was more than welcome:
“Thanks to our student body and our fans,” he said, “60,000-plus people on a beautiful day in Columbus (sat) through a spring game that at times I don’t want to be watching.”
A huge crowd at the spring game isn’t news. There is an insatiable passion for Ohio State football, and many fans can’t afford to attend games during the regular season — a ticket to see the Florida A&M game last season cost $76, and that better fit the definition of exhibition game than this one does.
So a lot of fans like to load their families in the cars and head to campus for an afternoon of, well, something.
It doesn’t cost much, or at least it didn’t until the school tried to charge $12 in advance and $20 on the day of the game this year. Ohio State finally backed off and charged $5 when it became clear that price-gouging was a significant deterrent to the huge spring crowds the school had become known for. Affordability is one of the reasons this hard-to-identify game is as popular as it is.
“We appreciate everyone being here,” Meyer said. “It’s a chance to see some young guys who really haven’t played, and to be quite honest, I’m not sure how much they will. A lot of guys in this program work very hard, and being able to let those guys play and catch a pass in Ohio Stadium, or whatever …
“In the big picture, it’s the right thing to do, and I’m glad we do that. It’s a great thrill for a lot of people.”
The game followed that script. A punt by both teams’ punter, Cameron Johnston, was downed at the 2-yard line. On the Gray’s first offensive possession, quarterback J.T. Barrett was hit in the end zone by defensive lineman Rashad Frazier and fumbled, and Frazier pounced on the ball for a touchdown.
It was the only score of the day for the Scarlet team, which wasn’t given a chance to kick the extra point, an oversight that was corrected an hour later when the “6” on the scoreboard mysteriously turned into a “7.”
Frazier’s moment is what matters. He’s a fifth-year senior who started out at Purdue and hasn’t had a chance to play, and he might not have yesterday if Meyer didn’t sit all four defensive line starters because “that’s not really what spring ball is for, just keep beating on people.”
Frazier didn’t meet with reporters after the game because he had to “get treatment,” but he appears to fit Meyer’s description: a hard-working guy who deserves to do something in front of 60,000 people, even if it can’t happen in a “game” against Florida A&M.
Eleven starters didn’t play, some because of injuries (quarterback Braxton Miller, tight end Jeff Heuerman and H-back Dontre Wilson) or a well-deserved rest (the defensive line and offensive tackle Taylor Decker). Meyer admitted that makes any kind of team evaluation worthless.
“It’s more individual,” he said. “I’m not trying to evaluate an offense. Who cares? There are guys out there who will never play or they’re not ready to play now. Jerry (Emig of the sports information office) handed me these stats. I’m not sure what to do with these. I don’t care.
“But I do care who’s physically going to make the plays. It was almost like an individual game today. That’s what I wanted to watch. I wanted to see who’s going to compete, who’s going to make plays and who’s going to fit the team concept because we all know what we saw out there. That’s not a team. That’s not the Ohio State Buckeyes.”
But, hey, it was a nice day for sunbathing, right?
Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.