- Austin Ward, College Football
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The end of spring practice did nothing to slow down Urban Meyer’s battle against complacency.
Given some missing faces, occasionally sloppy play and general lack of scoring in a 17-14 exhibition at Ohio Stadium on Saturday, the Ohio State coach might have left camp with a greater sense of urgency to fight it off on the heels of a national title.
“We did not improve as a team,” Meyer said Saturday. “That was not a good team out there. We did not improve as a team. Last year, we were so young, I felt like we got better as a team because we weren’t very good, but I saw them getting better as a team.
“As a team, that’s much worse than what you saw in January, obviously. But we did get individually better.”
Meyer did point out a few of those improvements, and getting stars such as wide receiver Michael Thomas and running back Ezekiel Elliott healthy again would surely help. That was perhaps the most obvious lesson from the final workout of April, but there were a couple more that developed heading into the offseason.
Let the race begin: For at least one afternoon, Meyer was able to find a way to get all three of his decorated quarterbacks on the field at once. Standing just behind Cardale Jones as he took snaps, Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett each took mental reps while wearing headsets during the final workout of spring and setting the stage for what should be an epic training-camp battle as the Buckeyes try to pick just one to lead the high-scoring offense when the season opens in September. Jones again showed off his impressive arm strength and delivered a pair of deep strikes to Corey Smith for touchdowns, picking up where he left off during his unbeaten run through the postseason on the way to the national title.
Staying involved: While Barrett couldn’t participate in the scrimmage, he certainly kept himself plenty busy. He aligned himself directly behind Jones on virtually every snap and was clearly working his way through his progression of reads, even pointing out open receivers before Jones would unleash a pass. The redshirt sophomore was clearly engaged throughout open workouts in camp, getting in the face of teammates who missed assignments and taking advantage of any opportunities to throw during noncontact periods of practice to set the stage for his full return from a fractured ankle in August. Miller got a little exercise as well, running a dead heat with Elliott in a 40-yard dash against students at halftime.
Hot hand: After a month of hype in private workouts, Noah Brown exploded on a big stage with all eyes on him. In need of at least one relatively inexperienced target to emerge as a playmaker at wideout with Devin Smith and Evan Spencer gone, Brown showed why the coaching staff has been so high on his potential with a dazzling one-handed grab of a ball thrown hard and behind him over the middle. He finished with four catches in the exhibition, but along with Corey Smith, the Buckeyes appear to have found a couple new weapons to add to a unit that already includes Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson.
Still celebrating: The Buckeyes don’t ever have any trouble drawing a crowd at The Horseshoe, even in the spring, but the turnout on the heels of the national championship was truly record-setting. Ohio State had 99,391 fans show up for an exhibition that only included a couple series of work for most of the starters, but gorgeous weather, the chance to take some photos with the national championship trophy and the promise of an entertaining competition at halftime featuring the quarterbacks and Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith combined to pack the house and set a national attendance record for spring games.
Secondary stars: The emphasis on recruiting talent in the secondary is clearly starting to pay off with an abundance of depth at both safety and cornerback, and the defensive backs more than held their own on an afternoon that featured no shortage of passes thrown their way. Sophomore safety Erick Smith, in particular, made the most of his chances in the back end, picking off a pair of passes and stamping himself as a future star -- even though cracking the starting lineup will be a challenge for anybody with Tyvis Powell, Vonn Bell, Eli Apple and Gareon Conley all returning for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State set a national record for attendance in a spring game, but Urban Meyer sees a lot for the defending champs to work on.