Ohio State is set to hold its annual spring football game Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
Other than an excuse to get out the tailgating gear in April, the main attraction figures to be the chance to see the quarterbacks and numerous young players in action.
Giving newcomers such as quarterback Justin Fields and early enrolling defensive end as Zach Harrison their first taste of suiting up for a big crowd at Ohio Stadium is first-year coach Ryan Day’s main motivation for having a spring game rather than just another day of scrimmaging.
“It’s always good for the young guys to get out there and have the experience of walking through the tunnel, going through pregame, being in the locker room, all the different things that come up with it,” Day said. “So for the older guys, maybe not as important, that’s why we’ll get them out of the game pretty quickly, but let the younger guys go and feel what it’s like.”
Fields and redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin, who are vying for the opportunity to replace starter Dwayne Haskins, figure to get most of the attention as neither has thrown a pass in Ohio Stadium in front of a live audience before.
“What does their leadership look like?” Day said when asked what he will be looking for from the quarterbacks. "How do they manage the game? How does it look like, managing the plays, managing the drive, understanding situations (such as) down and distance, field position, things like that.”
Energy level and demeanor will also be evaluated, but in the end it comes down to one aspect above all.
“We want to see the ability to work a team down the field and score touchdowns,” Day said.
A plethora of talented wideouts taking on a secondary that is going through a coaching transition also figures to be of interest while a handful of young linebackers are eager to prove they belong.
“I think when you look at on defense, a lot of guys have experience, they’ve played a lot of football, but they’re in new schemes,” Day said. “You kind of how see they put that on the field, what that looks like in a game situation. On offense, we have guys who have some experience, but not a lot of game starts.”
Then there is the aforementioned Harrison, who looked great the last time media were allowed to watch practice and is part of a large group of underclassmen pass rushers who will be counted on for depth this fall.
They’ll be working against a small group of offensive linemen that includes highly touted prospect Nicholas Petit-Frere, a redshirt freshman who has by all accounts made great strides this spring.
Here are four more things to know about the game:
1. The game starts at noon.
Big Ten Network will carry the game live, and it can be heard on Ohio State’s radio affiliates.
For those wishing to attend, tickets are available online or can be purchased by phone or in person at the ticket office at the Schottenstein Center.
An Ohio State spokesman said more than 66,000 of an available 76,000 tickets had been distributed as of late Thursday.
Parking is free everywhere but the west stadium lot, which will require a pass.
2. Don’t expect tackling (and don’t be late).
Day wants to see his guys in action at the big stadium, but he also wants to make sure they get out of the day injury-free.
Therefore the game will be played at “thud tempo,” which means players will be in full pads and hit each other but not take ball-carriers to the ground.
Quarterbacks will be in black (noncontact) jerseys.
The game will have 10-minute quarters with a running clock in the second half.
3. The best players will be matched up against each other, at least as long as they are in the game.
Day wants the game to be “good on good,” which means the first team offense will be on one side with the first team defense on the other.
Some players will switch sides so the coaches can get looks at them in multiple situations.
Also many veterans who have dealt with injuries will not play, including starting safety Jordan Fuller and left tackle Thayer Munford, both out all spring following offseason surgeries.
“Just kind of want to see how some of the guys go out there and play,” Day said.
4. Eddie George will be an honorary captain.
“The team is thrilled to have Eddie George back in Ohio Stadium with them,” Day said of the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner in a news release. “This coaching staff is thrilled as well. He is a tremendous representative of this school and this program and we are certainly honored that he’ll be able to take part in this spring game weekend.”
George set the single-season school rushing record with 1,927 yards in 1995 and broke the single-game rushing record with 314 yards in a game against Illinois that season.
He went on to play nine years in the NFL and was indicated into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011.