Saturday’s brawl officially concluded the Ohio State Spring as the Buckeyes offered their first look at the 2022 roster to the Scarlet and Gray faithful who attended at Ohio Stadium.
The attack-versus-defense formula saw Ohio State appear directly and tackle the ground, outside the quarterbacks, and the Crimson (offensive) team finished the afternoon with a 34-26 lead over the Gray team (defense) before the festivities ended in the boot.
The tune was set on a first drive, as CJ Stroud and company marched on the field to score touchdowns in 10 plays with Jaxon Smith-Njigba as he left where he left off in the Rose Bowl with a 29-yard grab in the first quarter. But it’s also worth noting that Stroud wore the Buckeye quarterback Dwayne Haskins jersey, in honor of the player he helped clear the way for him to come to Ohio State in the first place.
Speaking about his decision to honor Haskins in this way after the game, Stroud said that Haskins “changed the culture” at the Columbus quarterback.
“I just wanted to respect – perhaps his last moments in the shoe,” Stroud said. “I feel like this is a big brother to me, and I just wanted to honor him. It wasn’t crazy to me, I just thought it would be important for him to come out the right way, so I’m glad his last boot in the boot was a relegation. So I’m excited about it.”
But even if Stroud got a little extra help from Haskins during his 14-for-22, 120-yard day, Buckeye’s defense made plenty of big plays as well in what could be considered a promising performance from Jim Knowles’ group.
Knowles has kept his real sheets close to the jacket in terms of looks he plans to eventually reveal once the season starts, but Buckeye’s new defensive coordinator said that even before the spring game he was already pleased with how the Buckeyes tweaked his system.
“Going into the game, I felt comfortable with how much we progressed, what we accomplished, how much installation we got, and how the players took that,” Knowles said. “It was as good or better than I would have liked.”
“The biggest revelation of the spring was that no matter what talent, these players we have, want to learn. They imbued everything I’ve done. They’re just in it. In football and in us and in changing the culture and the way we run meetings. They picked it up. I mean, they’ve They picked it up at high speed.”
One player in particular who received praise from Knowles and those whose eyes were fixed on Buckeye’s defense on Saturday was first-year safety Kye Stokes, who was the first real freshman to drop his black streak this spring. Stokes finished nine tackles, tied for second on the team, and two passes before it was all said and done. Stokes was all over the field, playing both covering passes and in runs, and seemed to be on the right track early in his Buckeye career, to say the least.
After seeing his performance in the melee, Knowles was no different.
“Without seeing the movie, I thought he made a great match, only because he showed up and flashed and seemed to rise to the occasion. What you worry about with a young man is the flashing lights, and it doesn’t seem like a problem for him. He’s really stepped up. I’m looking for good things for him.” I loved him all the time, but I’m touched today.”
Buckeye’s defensive line is sure to steal some headlines as well, as the front four finished off with six sacks by the end of the match. JT Tuimoloau had two of those on his own, and Jack Sawyer added another because they both fueled the idea that their second year in college football could yield a breakthrough campaign.
“I think JT and Jack have had very good seasons. They got stronger, they got faster, the technology was better — and you saw that today.” If they keep building this summer, they’ll be a force in the fall. I think they really moved on to coach Johnson and his system as well.”
When asked about the change in Buckeye’s defense since the end of the 2021 season, Tuimoloau simply said that there has been a shift in mentality that coincided with a change of system in the defensive coaching staff.
“I just think with the change and the whole thing, I think we just got together and a lot of the older guys got up and took a lot of the little boys under their wing. After that, we just kept coming in with a different energy and keep pushing each other,” Tuimoloau said. “Holding each other accountable was a big deal for us, too.”
The start of the 2022 roster is still a long way off, but both sides of the ball have given Ohio State fans something to cheer about when fall approaches in a few months.