COLUMBUS -- Temperatures dipped into the 40s, and a steady rain swept across Columbus for much of the day.
Yet the crowd of 81,122 that came to see Urban Meyer and Ohio State in Saturday's exhibition was unsurpassed nationally this spring. OSU swiped the attendance title from defending national champion Alabama, which drew 78,526 in more pleasant weather last weekend.
How's that for a welcome?
"I really appreciate it," Meyer said.
Meyer, an Ashtabula native and former OSU graduate assistant, said the entire day felt like a homecoming -- from his first dash onto the field to the marching band's second-half performance of the Buckeyes' unofficial anthem.
" 'Hang on Sloopy' was kind of a touching moment, having grown up watching that," he said.
Meyer also continued the tradition of joining the band for a post-game rendition of "Carmen Ohio," though he was unsure of protocol.
"I asked [graduate assistant] Kirk Barton, 'Now where do I go and what do I do?' " Meyer said.
Barton's response: "You park it right there and look at the scoreboard."
Meyer did just that, singing the alma mater with his arms wrapped around two reserves.
"I'm a big fan of tradition, and this is a school where you don't have to create a whole lot of tradition," Meyer said of continuing the tribute to the band, which former OSU coach Jim Tressel started in 2001. "We're honored to be able to keep a tradition."
GLADIATOR SPORT: They call it the "Circle Drill," and the winner is he who physically dominates thou opponent.
Gathered at midfield before the game, Meyer officiated a series of crowd-stirring mano-a-mano battles, including standout defensive lineman John Simon against left tackle Jack Mewhort. The pair lunged out of their crouch and collided violently, but neither budged more than a couple of steps. Meyer gave the edge to Mewhort.
"Oh man, it was crazy," said Mewhort, a St. John's graduate. "When [Meyer] called John Simon, the next name I knew coming was me. So it was really cool. It was a great way to start the day, and I think the fans loved it."
Even the quarterbacks saw action, with backup Kenny Guiton making quick work of starter Braxton Miller.
"I just wanted some good energy in there," Meyer said. "Our quarterbacks, like anybody else, they've got to put their nose on people. You have to be very careful and very smart, and sometimes I'm accused of neither. But it was fun for the fans, and I know that our players came out of their shoes when we did that."
As for any hard feelings, Miller laughed at the suggestion.
"We're good friends," he said. "Just competing. No problems."
ON THE MEND: Among the surprise scratches from Saturday's game were running back Jordan Hall and defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins.
Hall, who Meyer called the team's top playmaker, was held out with a sprained foot, while Hankins underwent a minor knee procedure on Friday. Meyer said Hankins will be fine for offseason conditioning.
Defensive lineman Kenny Hayes, a Whitmer graduate, was absent with an unspecified "medical issue," according to an OSU spokesman.
EXTRA POINTS: Michael Thomas has impressed Meyer from the day he arrived on campus in January, and Saturday was no different. The early enrollee, who is the nephew of former NFL star receiver Keyshawn Johnson, finished with a game-high 12 catches for 121 yards. "He's our most dedicated receiver as a true freshman," Meyer said. "I'm not surprised he had that kind of a day." ... Reserve defensive back Adam Griffin, the son of two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, led the Gray team with nine tackles and an interception.
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