For Ohio State’s starters, the spring game Saturday probably felt like a recreational game at the park.
The goal was to do some work in front of a crowd and escape without injury.
For backups, the spring game represented a chance to audition for a bigger role.
By those measures, the Scarlet team’s 38-31 victory over the Gray was a success. An announced crowd of 80,134 at Ohio Stadium — actual attendance was lower — watched the Buckeyes unveil what they expect to be an improved downfield passing game.
“We worked really hard this season on completing deep balls and being accurate on deep balls,” said quarterback Joe Burrow, who’s competing with Dwayne Haskins to be J.T. Barrett’s backup. “We weren’t very good last year in fall camp and during the year. That was a big emphasis this year, and I think we got a lot better at it this spring.”
The teams combined for seven touchdown passes, five longer than 20 yards. Burrow completed 14 of 22 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns for the Scarlet.
Haskins opened by alternating Scarlet snaps with Burrow before switching to the Gray and also impressed. He was 26 of 37 passing for 293 yards and three touchdowns overall.
Barrett played in only the first of the 10-minute quarters and completed 8 of 12 passes for 71 yards. The quarterbacks’ statistics, especially the ones compiled early, should be taken with an asterisk. With starters in, defenders weren’t permitted to tackle, even on running plays.
“It's either you don't play some guys (to prevent injuries) or you kind of restrict the tackling and keep guys up,” coach Urban Meyer said. “And I wanted them to experience the crowd and play and finish a good spring.”
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The competition between Burrow and Haskins to back up Barrett is one of the most intriguing of the season. Meyer wasn’t prepared to say which one will enter the summer with the edge.
“I want to watch the film and have conversations with our coaches,” he said. “We haven't had that yet. I know it is very close. But I’m not prepared to say who is 2, who is 3, etc.”
Burrow, a third-year sophomore, had a stock answer when asked about the competition.
“I’m just focused on getting better every day and doing what I can do,” he said.
Haskins, a redshirt freshman, displayed a smooth throwing motion and plenty of zip.
“I think it’s definitely close,” he said of the competition. “It’s up to the coaches to decide who they want as No. 2, but I think I’ve done everything I can possibly do in the spring to show what I can do.”
Seventeen players caught passes. Johnnie Dixon, whose career almost ended because of chronic knee issues, led the way with six receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
The receivers were a weak link last year and were among the positions that prevented the Buckeyes from attaining their goal of being nine units strong.
Asked about the team’s overall progress this spring, Meyer replied, “Very pleased. I would be disappointed if I said we're awful right now. A couple areas we've got to shore up, and I don't think we're nine strong, but I think we're seven strong right now. And that's pretty good in April to be that.”
He wouldn’t divulge which two position groups aren’t up to standard.
“That's between me and the two,” he said.