COLUMBUS — The Ohio State offense has one thing very much in common with a technically advanced race car.
It must be driven at speed to find out truly whether it is competitive and reliable on both the straightaways and the curves.
The same goes for the driver — or in the case of the Buckeyes offense, the quarterback.
Which brings us to the upcoming spring practices for Ohio State, if indeed by the end of February or the beginning of March things finally can start to recede toward normal in a pandemic world which cost the Buckeyes all but the first week of camp last year. That it stunted the development of a new-look defensive secondary was without question as the abbreviated 2020 season developed.
But with Justin Fields at quarterback working behind a veteran offensive line and with plenty of weapons around him, the Buckeyes generally avoided crashes by outgunning the opposition. That is, until the 52-24 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff title game when it was the Crimson Tide which roared away.
This spring, it’s the Ohio State offense which needs a full slate of 15 practices. That’s because with Fields gone, the competition between second-year players C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller plus another highly-touted signee with incoming freshman Kyle McCord is about to ensue.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day has promised an open-mind approach to what he’s about to see. Indeed, like a race car engineer, he indicated recently that he wants to see as much full-speed running as possible to determine who best can drive the machine.
“We’re going to have to find ways this spring, between C.J., Jack and Kyle, to give them as many game-like situations to figure out exactly what we’ve got,” Day said. “We can’t go into that first game without knowing, or at least having an idea.”
Well, sort of an idea, because even in a talent-rich program such as Ohio State, full-speed practices still aren’t the same as real-game reps against teams that not only have schemed against you, but also are not friendly.
“I guess we’ll never know until we’re in a game,” Day said. “But we’ve got to try to simulate the games the best we can in practice.”
He and his staff, in fact, are trying to make up for lost time, the loss of practice- and real-game reps which never can be recovered for Miller and Stroud. Due to the brevity of last season, those two experienced little more than a toe-dip into major college football with their brief appearances, what with the coaches intent on using the games to develop further the whole offense.
“These guys had very, very limited reps,” Day said. “You would have more [information] if you had a normal spring, preseason and then a season.”
McCord, on the other hand, was tearing it up during his senior season. He capped it by leading St. Joseph Prep of Philadelphia to a third straight Class 6A Pennsylvania state championship – he threw 10 touchdown passes combined in the semifinal and final.
So if given the opportunity of a fairly regular spring, Day intends to make the most of what could be a colossal battle for starting quarterback. He plans to turn up the revs to see how his three quarterbacks handle the speed, that is, in and around the NCAA rules which restrict some of the spring practices from being about real football.
“We’ve got to try to simulate the games the best we can in practice, which may be a unique way of doing the spring,” Day said. “We’re going to look at all [options] because we need to be further along because that’s going to be a huge part of what happens in the fall.”
Indeed, let the simulated games begin.