CINCINNATI — Fans tailgating by the river. Wind gusts upwards of 20 mph slapping the scarlet-draped crowd. An Ohio State win.
Nearly five months after the Buckeyes football team completed a perfect 2012 season, their spring game felt like just another fall Saturday at the Horseshoe.
Except, wait, where were they again, and who was that guy throwing the ball? And who were those new guys chasing him off the edge who had, by coach Urban Meyer’s count, “38 sacks or something.”
Ohio State unveiled a new-look quarterback and a rebuilt defensive line to promising early reviews Saturday before a crowd of 37,643 at Paul Brown Stadium.
Braxton Miller, far more potent with his legs than his right arm the past two seasons, appeared newly comfortable throwing — even as sophomore defensive ends Noah Spence and Cincinnati native Adolphus Washington did everything to make him anything but in combining for seven sacks.
Miller, whose offseason included a week in California honing his mechanics with quarterback guru George Whitfield, Jr., hit Evan Spencer in stride with a 49-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage, and continued to show the potential of what he hopes is a far more competent passing offense.
The Big Ten’s reigning offensive player of the year completed 16 of 25 passes for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns while running for another score in his Scarlet team’s 31-14 victory over the Gray. His touchdown passes included an on-the-run 20-yard lob to Devin Smith and a 3-yard toss to Corey Brown’s back shoulder in the corner of the end zone.
Afterward, Meyer declared, “I would be disappointed if we aren’t the best offense in the Big Ten.”
“Obviously it was a pass-heavy game, an area we were not very good at last year,” he said of a passing offense that ranked 101st nationally last season. “I thought at times Braxton Miller and a couple of the wideouts — Philly Brown, in particular — did very well. That was a continuation of what’s happened all spring.”
It is dangerous to glean too much from an intrasquad scrimmage. Five starters sat as a precaution, Miller wore a no-contact black jersey, the game was played with safety-minded rules circa 2050 — no kickoffs and fair catches on all punts — and Meyer played loose with the rules. At one point, he stopped the game to have kicker Drew Basil boot seven straight field goal attempts.
The Buckeyes using the game as an open tryout for their vacant right tackle job also skewed the afternoon. OSU started its two leading candidates — sophomores Taylor Decker and Corey Farris — at the two tackle spots, resulting in a turnstile on the edge.
“The one glaring weakness is that fifth spoke of the offensive line,” Meyer said. “We have a legitimate concern who that player is. I feel good about four of five starters, and unless we get that fixed, there goes the best offense in the Big Ten.”
He added: “That’s going to cause me some nights wondering what we’re going to do.”
Still, the game began to clarify the Buckeyes’ other two pressing offseason questions: Would the passing game evolve? And could they capably replace six of seven starters on the front seven?
The returns came in early and strong, with Miller lacing the deep ball down the middle on the first play and Spence tearing past Decker to touch Miller down on the second one. Spence finished with three sacks and Washington four.
“I just went out there and played football,” Washington said. “I did what my coaches told me to do, and it just happened that I got four sacks.”
Miller, meanwhile, said he felt far more confident with his throwing mechanics. Asked in which area he most improved, he replied, “Just placing the ball where it needs to be.”
Smith led Scarlet with five catches for 75 yards, while Brown added five catches for 25 yards. Sophomore Michael Thomas, who had 12 catches in last year’s spring game, had seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown for the Gray side. Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton completed 9 of 14 passes for 116 yards.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.