Jeremiah Smith JJ Smith Ohio State Buckeyes Wide Receiver Ohio State Spring Game

A To Z Thoughts On The 2024 Ohio State Spring Game

You know how the red button on the wall that says “Do Not Press” is the most enticing button to press?

It’s kind of the same thing about making judgments based on watching the Ohio State spring game.

“Why would they put the button on the wall if we weren’t supposed to press it?!?”

The spring game is one practice out of 15 in the spring — and when the head coach is spending a good portion of his time talking to the broadcasters, that kind of gives you some level of its importance relative to the other 14 practices.

But it’s also the one that everybody gets to watch.

What we may forget at times, however, is that there is also the summer to come. The player-organized sessions. The workouts. And then eventually fall camp. There is so much more to be determined.

Making sweeping judgments based on this one viewing window is foolish. But there’s nothing wrong with bite-sized thoughts. It’s the equivalent of touching the red button on the wall rather than pressing it. The sign never said we couldn’t touch the button.

So with that caveat being established, let’s touch the button in alphabetical fashion regarding what stood out and maybe what didn’t in Saturday’s Ohio State Spring Game.

Air Noland was better than I have seen him in the media’s other viewing windows this spring. We saw the team for about 30-40 minutes in both practices in week one, then again two weeks ago for an entire practice, then this Friday for the entire practice as well. This was as comfortable as I’ve seen Noland.

BIA was in full effect in this game. The Ohio State secondary (“Best In America”) had the Buckeye quarterbacks tucking and running all day long. They had the OSU receivers covered from coast to coast. This is a prideful unit that has heard and seen the gushing about the Ohio State offense. The first and second units were both impressive all day long.

Best In America

CJ Hicks looked like he had a good day. He wasn’t doing much actual tackling, which is kind of important for a linebacker. But with his relative inexperience, being in the right place to make the tackle is a key piece of the puzzle. Hicks was with the ones all day long, which is a good sign of his ongoing progress.

Devin Brown didn’t stretch the field as much as he has when we’ve seen him indoors. I don’t think it was a tentativity issue but rather a desire not to have the ball carried in an improper direction by the wind.

Emeka Egbuka had two one-handed catches on Saturday. It may have been viewed as a reminder that people shouldn’t have forgotten about him, but he’ll always be more focused on the team’s goals than his own. So forget about him if you want, he’ll keep making more.

First things first — does this mean Carnell Tate is Ohio State’s No. 1 kick returner? Tate was the first kick returner out there to start the game. Emeka Egbuka was the second. I think it’s fair to mention that both Brandon Inniss and Lorenzo Styles, Jr. have been out. Styles would love to have the job. Inniss could factor in as well. This was the first time we have seen any kind of kicking off in spring practice.

Gee Scott, Jr. had a solid start on the afternoon. He sealed Jack Sawyer away from the play on the first snap of the game in the Robust T, caught a pass on the third play, and then pancaked Caleb Downs on the fourth play of the day.

How about Ryan Day’s crafty usage of the quarterbacks to start the game? Will Howard goes out there first and immediately makes the stadium think that he must be in the lead. Then on the second drive, Day completely ruins that theory by going with Lincoln Kienholz second. Devin Brown, meanwhile, goes third — perhaps for the first time all spring long. Every time the media has been at a practice, it has been Brown going first.

IGB was locking people down on Saturday. Davison Igbinosun was thrown at a couple of times on basically the same play in the end zone on Saturday. Both plays resulted in incompletions as Igbinosun had the clamps on Carnell Tate twice.

Jeremiah Smith didn’t get to go off like we were all expecting, but I would put that more on the quarterbacks than on Smith. You have to at least give him a chance to catch the ball. The wind was blowing on Saturday, but it’s not like things are going to be calm in November. Mostly I’m just disappointed that Smith didn’t make a spectacular play so that I could tweet out this AI-generated image.

Passing the torch

Keeping the Jeremiah Smith discussion going — I think it’s pretty meaningful that Will Howard targeted him in the end zone twice from the 14-yard line. The first throw simply wasn’t tall enough. The second — in an effort to correct that mistake — was too tall. The third one probably would have been just right.

Lincoln Kienholz showed off his ability to run on Saturday but also showed that he’s still got work to do with the rest of the game. The fact that Will Howard and Devin Brown didn’t play in the second half and Kienholz did gives you the delineation at the QB position right now. Kienholz finished 10-of-17 passing for 71 yards with two interceptions. The second interception was a nice throw but tight end Will Kacmarek slipped on his out cut and didn’t get to where he was supposed to be.

Mitchell Melton’s first step and ability to bend around the opposing offensive tackle can be very disruptive. He’s been viewed as the No. 5 defensive end but he has some unique abilities that could factor in this season. Melton ran by Tegra Tshabola in the first quarter, then gave starting left tackle Josh Simmons some trouble as well.

North, south, east, and west. The Buckeyes can run in every single direction. They went up the middle, ran the receivers, ran the quarterbacks. All of these things are going to help the passing game and make life easier for quarterbacks who aren’t as accurate as past OSU greats.

Overall, I thought Caden Curry provided both speed and power. He got into the backfield quickly at times, pushing redshirt sophomore tackle George Fitzpatrick into the backfield on one of his rushes. The Buckeyes may have five defensive ends who would be starting at most places, and that doesn’t include true freshman Eddrick Houston, who was at the top of most teams’ wish list last year.

Perhaps nobody has exceeded expectations this spring more than true freshman Jaylen McClain. Safeties coach Matt Guerrieri said this spring that McClain has been one of the leaders in terms of pursuit and chasing the football. He found it on Saturday when he jumped under a route and picked off a long throw to the sideline.

Quinshon Judkins showed off the kind of burst we maybe haven’t seen since his freshman season. Last year was a rough one for him but he sure looked fast and fresh in this one.

Running back is a position with some very talented players, but following the departure of Dallan Hayden, you saw the Buckeyes having to turn to walk-on quarterback Mason Maggs as a running back late in the game. That’s not likely to be the case this season, but it does show you that this unit is not as deep overall as you’d normally see in the spring. Chip Kelly and new running backs coach Carlos Locklyn have been impressed with walk-on TC Caffey, who is the No. 4 or 5 running back right now. True freshmen James Peoples and Sam Williams-Dixon both had their moments on Saturday. Williams-Dixon led the team with 75 yards rushing.

Seeing Carson Hinzman get the start at right guard was interesting. That was kind of the expectation for many before spring began, but it wasn’t until recently that he started getting reps there. Hinzman also got plenty of reps at center on Saturday, but this may have been a glimpse into the future at OSU’s opening-day offensive line.

The tandem of TreVeyon Henderson and Quinshon Judkins will probably have a nickname at some point, but they shouldn’t be referred to as “Thunder and Lightning” because that implies they aren’t both capable of each of those things.

The storm is coming in 3…2…1…

Using Jaylen Ballard at the line of scrimmage was an interesting deployment of his speed. Head coach Ryan Day said that Ballard has stepped up over these last two weeks, which he needed to. Ballard has mainly been a deep route guy, but using him on drag routes at the line of scrimmage to get his speed going east and west was effective at keeping the offense on schedule.

Viewing this entire thing with a grain of salt — which is a painful process that you should never try — I thought Will Howard looked pretty good. But it’s been similar to what I have seen throughout spring. No big “wow” plays, but just consistent chain moving. The winner of the quarterback battle will be the guy who moves the ball the best and doesn’t turn it over. With this kind of talent on offense, players can turn regular plays into “wow” plays. Howard just needs to give them a chance, which he struggled to do in the red zone at times on Saturday.

When you have a defensive tackle like Jason Moore who can rush between a guard and a tackle and maybe get a bit too far upfield and then cut back into the pocket to still be able to chase down a mobile quarterback, it gives you some idea of the potential of the talented redshirt freshman. Moore also teamed with Eddrick Houston on Houston’s sack as Moore shoved the left tackle four yards back, freeing up Houston to get to the quarterback.

Xavier Johnson’s role is going to be talked about in columns like this until there is another player with a name that starts with “X.” Or until the xylophone player in the marching band does something crazy. But it was too bad that Brandon Inniss got injured this spring because it’s easy to imagine him getting the ball in the running game like Emeka Egbuka and Jeremiah Smith did on Saturday.

You don’t have to watch Eddrick Houston for long to see him do something impressive. He’s big, athletic, fast, and still just learning. There is a lot to like. Playing time is going to be hard to come by late in the season, but an early-season audition could be pretty fun to watch this September.

Zilch. That’s basically what the Ohio State’s outside receivers were able to get away with on the day. The Buckeyes have a luxury in the secondary. And they’re gonna flaunt it.

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