COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – With several of his best players either injured or held out of Ohio State’s spring game, coach Urban Meyer had to look at the progress of individuals instead of the big picture.
“I’m not trying to evaluate an offense. Who cares?” Meyer said after the Gray squad slipped by the Scarlet 17-7 on Saturday before a crowd of 61,058 at sunny Ohio Stadium. “There’s guys out there who will never play or are not ready to play now. I wanted to see who’s going to compete, who’s going to make plays, not who’s going to fit into the team concept. Because we all know what we saw out there. And that’s not the Ohio State Buckeyes. That’s a bunch of people all over the place.”
Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball ran for touchdowns to lead the Gray squad on a day in which most of the most notable Buckeyes stayed on the sidelines.
Quarterback Braxton Miller, Ohio State’s All-Big Ten quarterback, sat out spring workouts after surgery on his (right) throwing shoulder. Wide receiver Evan Spencer (ankle) and safety Vonn Bell (knee) also missed the game, along with tight end Jeff Heuerman, wide-out Jalin Marshall, H-back Dontre Wilson and starting offensive tackle Taylor Decker.
“You have the first-team offense playing together the whole spring and they’re jelling together. When you mix it up like we did today, it’s hard to get used to,” said tight end Nick Vannett. “Offensively you need to have that mesh to move the ball down field and make plays. And as you saw, we had a tough day.”
Down by three points, Scarlet had a prime chance to take the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter but wide receiver Corey Smith, on an end around, fumbled through the end zone for a touchback.
Ball then scored on a 4-yard run with 4:30 left to close the scoring.
He led all rushers with 55 yards on eight carries, Dunn had 35 on six and Ezekiel Elliott, expected to have the inside track at the tailback position when camp resumes in August, had 16 yards on only three attempts.
Gray quarterback J.T. Barrett, a redshirt freshman, completed 17 of 33 passes for 155 yards without a touchdown. Scarlet quarterback Cardale Jones was 14 of 31 for 126 yards.
“It was pretty cool,” said Jones, a redshirt junior, of his first real chance to play an extended period. “I’ve been waiting for a long time and I’ve still got work to do to enhance my abilities.”
The Buckeyes lose four starters on defense and six on offense from a 12-2 team that won a school-record 24 games in a row before losing the Big Ten championship game to Michigan State 34-24 and the Orange Bowl to Clemson 40-35.
The crowd dwindled after halftime on a day with temperatures in the mid-70s.
Miller stood on the field behind the offenses watching the play close up, a mobile camera on his hat.
Gray led 10-7 at the half, with Barrett — who got off to a rocky start — leading the charge to all 10 points.
On the Gray’s first snap, Barrett was hit by lineman Rashad Frazier, knocking the ball loose in the end zone. Frazier then tracked the ball down and fell on it for a quick 7-0 Scarlet lead.
Whether it was the fault of spotty offense or having turned the corner after an abysmal finish a year ago, the defense played well.
Safety Tyvis Powell credited a simplified game plan.
“It’s more condensed. The playbook isn’t that wide right now. We only have, like, six calls. But today we were very basic, we only had two calls,” he said.
Powell was asked how many calls there were by the defense a year ago when the unit was getting savaged for 38.3 points and 539 yards in the last three games last season.
“Too many,” he said.
While Scarlet’s offense faltered — it was forced to punt on its first three possessions of the half and ran out of down on the fourth — the Gray squad drove from its own 48 to a 36-yard field goal by freshman Sean Nuernberger.
Barrett led the Gray on an 80-yard drive early in the second quarter, capped by Dunn’s 2-yard run.