Ohio State’s spring football games usually are intriguing, even if they are just glorified scrimmages.
Saturday’s game figures to be more intriguing than most. Like last year, most eyes will be on the quarterbacks. In 2018, Dwayne Haskins Jr. fended off Joe Burrow and Tate Martell. This year, front-runner Justin Fields and Matthew Baldwin are dueling to become the starter, though new coach Ryan Day said spring-game performance is just a small factor in the decision.
That goes for competitions at other positions, too.
“This game will be a little bit of exposure to see how they do in this environment,” Day said Wednesday. “The body of work over 15 practices is really what we go back to. We see it every day and how they operate. It’s our job as coaches to create game environments to see how they react. The only thing that’s different is now you’re in front of a huge crowd in the Horseshoe.”Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
The crowd will be smaller than in recent years. Stadium renovations will limit capacity to 76,000.
At least at the start, fans will see starters play against starters. The Gray team, will have the prominent offensive players, including Fields and Baldwin. The Scarlet team will include the first-team defense. Chris Chugunov and walk-on Danny Vanatsky are the Scarlet quarterbacks.
Day indicated that some players might see action for both Scarlet and Gray. The game will be played in 10-minute quarters, with a running clock for the second half.
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Defenders will be limited to “thud” hits instead of full tackling to minimize the risk of injuries. That may temper how much can be truly judged on defense. But Day wants to see how the defense looks in a new scheme that has linemen shooting gaps instead of occupying blockers and a pass defense that uses more zone coverage.
“I’m excited to see how the secondary plays,” Day said. “I’ve got a good feel of how the defensive line is going to look with Chase Young and Coop (Jonathon Cooper), Tyreke Smith and those guys coming off the edge. The interior guys, I’m excited to see what those guys look like. They’ve had a really good camp. At linebacker, they’ve gotten their hands on a lot of balls. They’ve been more active, and that’s good.”
On offense, the new-look line will be the focus of much of the attention aside from the quarterbacks, even if some integral pieces are missing.
“Guys are having an opportunity to step up and get a bunch of reps they haven’t had before,” Day said. “I’m really impressed with (right tackle) Nick Petit-Frere. He’s really come along and done a nice job in the spring. (Center) Josh (Myers) is really getting a handle and getting more comfortable every practice being in charge of everybody up front, making the calls and the protection.”