It’s uncharted territory for the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2023. They haven’t dispatched their hated rival since November of 2019 and have looked completely outmatched in their two bouts since. There has been a whole lot of talk and hype about this year’s squad despite having to replace three first-rounders on offense.
Last year, the offense was among the elite and the defense looked good against teams like Rutgers. Year two for Jim Knowles is going to have to be a vast improvement with all of the talent returning and waning patience from Buckeye fans yearning for the days of the Silver Bullets.
With major positional battles looming, what can fans expect from this year’s Ohio State Spring Game? Let’s take a look at a few questions facing the Buckeyes as they lace ’em up on what looks to be an absolutely beautiful spring day in Columbus, Ohio.
Four Questions for the 2023 Ohio State Spring Game
Can Kyle McCord Separate Himself?
All off-season, the quarterback battle was Kyle McCord vs Devin Brown. Each came into Columbus as a highly-rated recruit and each has their own strengths and weaknesses. The Spring Game was going to be the next in a long line of battles between the two.
Unfortunately for Brown and his unorthodox decision to wear 33 as a quarterback, he will miss the Spring Game after undergoing finger surgery. In what feels like Deja Vu from 2018, McCord looks to fully take advantage of Brown’s absence.
The game will likely be another two-hand-touch/light THUD game instead of a regular game in an attempt to minimize injuries. This will allow McCord to calmly stand in the pocket and deliver.
Last year, McCord only played in mop-up duty, logging just 190 yards and a touchdown off of 16/20 passing. In 2021, he stepped up in C.J. Stroud’s absence against Akron and got the start. Against the Zips, McCord took a second to get settled but finished with 319 yards and a pair of touchdowns while completing 13 of 18. Given, it was the 2-10 Akron team who struggled in the MAC but McCord looked like a college football starting quarterback in his limited action.
He already has chemistry with future top-10 pick, Marvin Harrison, Jr. as the two come from the same high school. It would be surprising to see Harrison play any significant snaps in this Spring Game because his place is cemented in the Ohio State lineup, so McCord gets to play with all of the new toys in the offense.
With a strong outing, the starting job will likely be all but locked up for McCord. If he struggles, the door may remain open for Brown. Either way, only McCord is playing on Saturday and this is his opportunity to show the coaches that he is the next in a long line of great Buckeye quarterbacks.
READ MORE: Who will rock the Block O jersey?
Who is the Starting Offensive Line?
With the departure of Paris Johnson, Jr, Dawand Jones, and Luke Wypler, the Ohio State offensive line must replace a whole lot of production and talent. The trio accounted for 2,417 collective snaps, leaving a large hole for the next wave of “slobs”.
Guards Donovan Jackson and Matthew Jones return, providing plenty of experience and stability but replacing three of five spots will be difficult for anyone. Luckily for the Buckeyes, they have recruited the unit well.
At the beginning of the spring practice, the offensive line was (from left to right), Josh Fryar, Jackson, Carson Hinzman, Jones, and Zen Michalski. The second-teamers were George Fitzpatrick, Ben Christman, Vic Cutler (transfer from UL-Monroe), Enokk Vimahi, and Tegra Tshabola.
Don’t discount the importance of early enrollees, too. The Buckeyes signed four offensive linemen in the 2023 class and all four enrolled early. As good as guys like Luke Montgomery are, it would be surprising to see any of them break through as a true freshman.
Pass protection is important and will be a massive part of the success or failure of McCord at quarterback but a weak spot of the Ohio State offense has been run-blocking. Can this group be better than last at allowing the running back to work? Time will tell but it likely won’t give any answers in this game due to the softer nature of the “tackling”.
Will There Be Another Kye Stokes-Type of Game?
Last year, true freshman safety Kye Stokes was everywhere, garnering the attention of every Ohio State fan looking for a bright spot on the defense. Ultimately, Stokes only played 83 snaps on defense throughout the year. The year before, it was Jack Sawyer.
For most, a “breakout” performance in the Spring Game is just a fun topic of conversation on Reddit boards or Ohio State Facebook groups. For a few special athletes (SEE: Malik Hooker 2016 Spring Game), it results in an opportunity.
A freshman wide receiver breaking through in that loaded room? It’s more than possible with the talent that Tate possesses. Harrison’s and Emeka Egbuka‘s roles are well-defined and they don’t have much to prove. Tate will have to battle three+ years’ worth of elite, top-recruited receivers to make headway but he’s already been turning heads. If the Spring Game ends and Tate doesn’t find the endzone, it’ll be a disappointment.
Igbinosun transferred to Ohio State from Ole Miss to win a starting cornerback spot and he’s got the ability to do so. Last year, the corners were a weak spot for Ohio State. Now that’s a sentence you never would’ve expected thinking back a few years…
If Igbinosun — or ANY corner, for that matter — can look good against this receiver corps, they’ll more than earn a role in the rotation. With a strong performance, Igbinosun could end up as CB1, only needing to displace Denzel Burke, who struggled last year.
Finally, C.J. Hicks was a freshman breakout candidate last year and never really got the opportunity. He played sparingly last year behind Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers. With Chambers sidelined for the remainder of the spring, now is the time for Hicks. He is an uber-athletic freak who can do just about anything a linebacker needs to do. Even without the defense going full-go, you’ll know exactly where number 11 is at all times.
What Will the Secondary Look Like?
While the secondary wasn’t Michigan State bad, it was not up to the standard of BIA. The claims of DBU seem out the window as Ohio State just cannot seem to field a collection of competent corners and safeties. Let’s be real, if you allow Michigan and their 1980s offense break open multiple 75+ touchdown passes, it’s not good.
The Buckeyes secondary has lost Tanner McCallister, Cam Brown, and Ronnie Hickman, so there are snaps to be had. At corner, it looks like it’ll be Burke and Igbinosun, but guys like Jordan Hancock and Jyaire Brown are right there to compete.
Realistically, for as bad as the secondary has been, no player’s job should be safe at this point. You’d think that iron sharpens iron and the fact that these athletes line up across that loaded receiver room would just make them better. A better idiom to compare these groups could be diamond cuts through talc.
It’s the Most Exciting Glorified Scrimmage
Prior to Urban Meyer, the Ohio State Spring Game was just another practice. Now, the Buckeyes can sell out the Horseshoe to watch a two-hand-touch game.
The Spring Game signifies the end of spring football and gives fans hope for the team in the fall. For as ravenous a fanbase as the Buckeye faithful is, it temporarily quenches their thirst for football. Every year, there are CFP aspirations for Ohio State and this is just another way Ohio State looks to build its brand and get better.
Perhaps in the very near future, there will be jokes that when the CFP expands, both the Scarlett and Gray teams would be good enough to make it. Hyperbole aside, the Ohio State Spring Game is a fun event and is actually well worth the watch. There are so many questions facing this program. Will any be answered?
Main Image: Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK