COLUMBUS — It’s safe to say that a fan base where more than 100,000 people come out to watch a spring football game has pretty high expectations. So does its coach.
Loyalty played a big role, but maybe most of all it was curiosity that brought 100,189 people to Ohio Stadium on Saturday to watch Ohio State’s spring game, which was more of a practice than a game.
It was curiosity about who will fill the 16 starting positions where first-year starters will line up in the fall to replace seven departing seniors and nine underclassmen who declared for the NFL draft.
Also, it was curiosity about whether the Buckeyes can come up with an encore for the last two seasons where they won a national championship and had their pursuit of another derailed by a late-season loss to Michigan State.
There is no certainty OSU can reach the level it was on in 2014 and 2015. But coach Urban Meyer said the goal is to do that after the Gray defeated the Scarlet 28-17 in the Buckeyes’ spring game.
“We’re not going to lower our standards. That was the message all week to our players,” Meyer said. “We certainly don’t lower our standards just because a player moves on. That’s not what this place is all about.
“If you play quarterback at Ohio State, you need be a Heisman candidate. You have to be a high draft pick to play defensive end. If you play receiver at Ohio State, you have to start in the NFL.
“When you lose nine juniors, there is a gap. It’s like missing a recruiting class. There is a lot of talent. We just have to push them up a year,” he said.
The chance to see those young players competing for all those open starting positions in front of a nearly full stadium was the best thing Ohio State took away from the spring game, Meyer said.
“You’ve got to find out how guys perform in those kinds of situations, in those kinds of arenas,” he said.
Some of the players who performed best in their first extensive test in front of a crowd included receivers Torrance Gibson (two touchdown catches) and Terry McLaurin (4 catches, 111 yards and a TD), safety Malik Hooker (two interceptions, including one he returned 82 yards for a touchdown), Jerome Baker with a spectacular one-handed interception and defensive lineman Davon Hamilton (three sacks).
Meyer added the names of defensive linemen Mike Hill, Dre’mont Jones, Jashon Cornell, Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard to the list of players he thought played well.
But one of the players who might have made one of the biggest statements on Saturday isn’t expected to start in the fall.
Back-up quarterback Joe Burrow completed 14 of 23 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Gray team to its win.
It was an encore of sorts for the redshirt freshman from The Plains High School in Athens. The last time he was on the field at Ohio Stadium he threw for 446 yards and six touchdowns in the 2014 Division III state championship game.
“Joe Burrow has been coming on,” Meyer said. “He was a guy that last year I had my concerns about — arm strength to release, to ability to run the ball. But he’s gotten better and better. He’s a grinder.”
Burrow said, “I thought I played OK. I thought I took a little step forward but I still have a long way to go. I’m going to work really hard this summer to get where I need to be.
“What I got out of this spring is I know I can play here now. I know what I need to do to get to be the starting quarterback and what I need to do to be the back-up this season,” he said.
Starting quarterback J.T. Barrett played the first half for the Scarlet team and completed 13 of 22 passes for 102 yards and was intercepted twice before becoming a spectator in the last two quarters. No. 3 QB Stephen Collier was 4 of 11 for 154 yards and an interception as Barrett’s replacement in the second half.
The crowd of 100,189 is a national record for a spring game, beating last year’s Ohio State crowd of 99,391.
“What I saw today was that the future is bright at Ohio State. A hundred thousand people came out and watched a practice. Pretty cool,” Meyer said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.