COLUMBUS, Ohio — On the game’s first play, J.T. Barrett looked left and quickly found Parris Campbell, who raced forward six yards after the catch before he was met by linebacker Dante Booker. Whistles blew. The play was over — but Booker had not tackled Campbell to the ground. Rather, he tapped him with two hands, schoolyard-football style.
Ah yes, Ohio State football was back on Saturday. Kind of. It took just one snap to remind everyone that this was, after all, just the spring scrimmage. In a game with a two-hand touch first quarter, no kickoffs and a player switching teams in the middle of it, the Joe Burrow-led Scarlet team topped Barrett-led Gray, 44-31, in front of a nearly full crowd at Ohio Stadium.
"Got a lot of work done, but the best thing was that we were injury free today," said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
With Saturday's game marking the end of spring practice, Meyer said that overall he was "very pleased."
"I'd be disappointed if I said we were awful right now," Meyer said. "Couple areas that we've got to shore up, and I don't think we're nine strong. I think we're seven strong right now and that's pretty good in April."
Meyer declined to name which two units he did not think were strong, but it's safe to say the quarterback are not one of them. In the most high-scoring spring game in Meyer's tenure, Burrow showcased his deep-ball accuracy, going 14 of 22 for 262 and three touchdowns, all of which were at least 35 yards. Each touchdown was caught by a different receiver, beginning first with junior former walk-on Ke’Von Huguely (35 yards) and then to Johnnie Dixon (44 yards) and DeMario McCall (40 yards).
Dixon, who has battled injuries throughout his career but has finally been healthy this spring, looked sharp on Saturday. He caught six for 108 yards and two scores. His other touchdown reception was an 18-yarder on a pretty pass from sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
"He's been playing well all spring," Burrow said of Dixon. "He really showed out this spring and today for sure."
Typifying the make-your-own-rules nature of the spring game, Haskins threw the touchdown to Dixon while representing the Scarlet team. But after the first quarter when Barrett’s day concluded, Haskins switched to quarterbacking Gray, which was the roster he was listed on to begin with. Barrett finished 8 of 12 for 71 yards and a touchdown. Meyer said he was not ready to say whether Burrow or Haskins is leading the backup competition.
Barrett, who caught a pass from running back Mike Weber, did have one interception, but it came after redshirt junior defensive end Sam Hubbard knocked redshirt sophomore offensive guard Matthew Burrell into Barrett. Barrett's throw, as a result, lost quite a bit of steam and settled into the arms of redshirt sophomore cornerback Damon Arnette. Arnette returned it 19 yards.
After reportedly having an impressive spring, Campbelloffered some confirmation during the first quarter. Even though he did not play when there was live tackling, he looked confident and sharp in his routes, catching five passes for 46 yards, including the six-yarder on the game's first play, which reminded everyone that fall was not here yet.
Meyer said the decision to play two-handed touch in the first quarter was something he has done before.
"It's either you don't play some guys or you kind of restrict the tackling and keep guys up," he said. "And I wanted them to experience the crowd and play and finish off a good spring.
"Then we let the guys who haven't played much just scrimmage," Meyer added.
Scarlet led Gray at halftime by four, 28-24. After a 42-yard field goal from Sean Nuernberger made it 31-24, Gray tied it back up on a one-yard touchdown from J.K. Dobbins. In his public debut for the Buckeyes, Dobbins had just three carries for 16 yards.
Dobbins has been vying with McCall for the job of backing up Weber. McCall, perhaps unsurprisingly given how well he played during garbage time last season, looked sharp on Saturday. He ran for 83 yards on six carries while also catching two passes for 48 yards, including the 40-yarder from Burrow.
Justin Hilliard, a redshirt sophomore linebacker, played well for the Gray team. He finished with seven tackles. Redshirt freshman defensive end Jonathon Cooper was disruptive, as well. He finished with five tackles, including two sacks.
Meyer said Hilliard, after being riddled with injuries since arriving on campus, had a "very good spring," which was punctuated with his performance Saturday.
"We certainly need him to be in the rotation at linebacker," Meyer said.
True freshman Shaun Wade led Scarlet with six tackles, all solo. Wade didn't have a perfect day in coverage, though, as he was beat by Terry McLaurin on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Haskins. Meyer said Wade and many of the other young corners, such as Jeffrey Okudah, Marcus Williamson and Kendall Sheffield, rebounded nicely after struggling early on.
"I've got to go back and watch the video, but I think they finished the game pretty good," Meyer said.
Freshman quarterback Tate Martell had a five-yard touchdown run to make it 38-31 with 4:48 left in the game. The final score of the game in feel-good fashion from Jacob Jarvis, one of the program's biggest fans. Jarvis took a handoff from a helmet-less Barrett, and darted up the field, wearing his scarlet No. 5 jersey.
The idea to finish the game in this fashion, Meyer said, came from Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes, two of the team's most veteran presences. They approached Meyer on Friday and asked the possibility. Meyer said at first he wasn't sure how exactly they would orchestrate it.
"Shows you what kind of character we have in the upperclassmen," Meyer said.
As Jarvis wheelchair crossed the goal line, Jarvis spiked the ball into the end zone in celebration while players swarmed him and fans in the stands roared. A game that began with two-handed touch ended in an impactful way.