COLUMBUS – Ryan Day saw a lot of things he liked in Ohio State’s spring football game but one stood out above all the rest.
Toughness. It is a quality Day says might have been missing in some crucial situations last season and it’s one of the reasons he brought tackling back to the spring game on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
“Last year we played some games tough and we were really physical. And then there were other times where you watched the film and wished it was better. You have to be tough week in and week out,” Day said.
“I just thought it was the right thing to tackle and play. If we’re tough and have good leadership, we have a chance to reach our goals,” the OSU head coach said.
If toughness was occasionally lacking last season, defense was something that was absent even more often. And there were signs that the ideas of new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles are bringing change in that area.
Both Day and Knowles admitted after the game they had showed very little of what the Buckeyes’ defense will look like when it opens against Notre Dame on Sept. 3 in Columbus.
“Today was very, very basic on both sides of the ball. What I liked was just the physicality, guys running around and tackling. That was something we wanted to get done in this game. It was more about fundamentals and playing with effort,” Day said.
Knowles said, “Obviously, we were really vanilla and didn’t do anything. But going into the game I felt great about how far we’ve come – what we’ve accomplished and how much we got installed and how the players took to it. It’s as good or better than I could have wished for. They picked it up at a high speed.”
The game was played as offense against defense rather than dividing the squad into two teams. The offense outscored the defense 34-26 in front of an announced crowd of 60,007.
The offense could score in all the traditional ways and the defense could get points for touchdowns, take aways, forcing the offense to go three and out and sacks.
C.J. Stroud, Kyle McCord and freshman Devin Brown divided the quarterback snaps almost equally.
Stroud was 14 of 22 for 120 yards and a touchdown. McCord completed 14 of 20 for 129 yards and a touchdown and Brown was 11 of 24 for 141 yards and a touchdown.
Miyan Williams rushed for 101 yards on 15 carries. Redshirt freshman Evan Pryor rushed for 62 yards and caught 4 passes for 44 yards and made a strong bid for more playing time. Tight end Gee Scott Jr. had four catches as did Emeka Egbuka.
Linebacker Tommy Eichenberg led OSU in tackles with eight. Defensive ends Noah Potter and J.T. Tuimoloau both had two sacks. Defensive linemen Jack Sawyer and Jaden McKenzie also had sacks and Cameron Kittle had an interception.
Pryor “has had a very good spring,” Day said. “He has a wiggle. He can change directions in short areas. He can catch the ball. If he continues to grow and he can hang on to the ball he’s going to have an impact on this offense this year.
“The defensive line is going to be a strength of ours. I think J.T., and Jack had very good off seasons. They’ve gotten stronger and faster and their technique has gotten better. If they continue to build this summer they’re going to to be a force in the fall,” he said.
Ohio State honored former quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who died April 9 when he was struck by a dump truck while walking on a Florida interstate highway, with a halftime video and by putting his initials on the stadium turf at the 7-yard line in the southeast corner of the playing field.
Stroud, who wears number 7, as Haskins did, wore a Haskins jersey on the first series of the game and threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jaxon Smith-Njigba while wearing it.
“I just wanted to honor maybe his last moment in The Shoe. I feel like that’s a big brother of mine,” Stroud said.
FLEMING HELD OUT: Many people thought often-injured wide receiver Julian Fleming might have a big spring game but he was on the sideline on Saturday apparently because of another injury. “We were just being smart with him. He was day to day and we decided we weren’t going to put him in the game,” Day said.
BETTER NEWS ON PROCTOR: Safety Josh Proctor, who missed OSU’s last 11 games last season after suffering a broken leg against Oregon, got significant playing time in non-tackling situations. Proctor was the Buckeyes’ most productive safety and a leader of the defensive backfield when he was injured. Knowles said he has seen signs lately that Proctor is making progress and learning the new defense. “I saw a surge from him. He started clicking and picking it up,” Knowles said.
SIX RECEIVERS: Day said he would like to have six game-ready receivers but he thinks OSU is not quite at that number now. “We’re still kind of working on getting it to six. The top four or five we feel good about,” he said.
MELTON INJURED: Linebacker Mitchell Melton suffered a leg injury during the game but Knowles said after the game he did not have any more information about the injury.