Big crowd watches Buckeyes work on passing game
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The look in Urban Meyer's eyes said it all as several hundred Ohio State students rushed toward him to get their picture taken, an autograph or to pass on a word of encouragement.
He was pleased, but at the same time maybe just a little bit scared.
It was Meyer's idea to open up the Buckeyes' practice on Saturday to more than 3,000 fans who showed up with a student ID. Originally scheduled for outside at massive Ohio Stadium, heavy rains chased everyone indoors to the Woody Hayes football facility.
"When I first went to Florida I visited almost every student organization on campus. This place is too darned big and I'm getting a little older, so I can't do that. So we're reaching out to the students," the first-year coach said earlier this week of his time with the Gators, when he won two national championships. "Sometimes we keep forgetting what this is all about is about student-athletes and it's about the student body and making the collegiate experience a positive thing. So, what's every student want? They want ownership and access. We're going to give it to them."
Ohio State plays its annual spring intrasquad game next Saturday at Ohio Stadium, rain or shine.
Meyer posed and preened, smiled for the camera and put his arm around kids who stumbled out of bed to get a close-up look at the Buckeyes. For 20 minutes or so, he was mobbed by the crowd, barely visible while the students snapped photos with their phones.
The students were permitted to sit on the field while the Buckeyes scrimmaged. During placement kicks late in practice, coach Meyer even let the crowd surround the line of scrimmage - almost like the gallery on the final hole of the British Open.
Kicker Drew Basil not only had kids peering over his shoulder as he lined up to boot the ball, but his kick then sailed over the heads of other kids.
"It was awesome, just to see that whole end zone packed down there, all the way out to the 20- or 25-yard line,"Basil said. "That was just incredible. I've never seen this many people in the Woody at once. This is the best atmosphere ever."
Afterward, the fans milled around and talked with the players.
Wide receiver Evan Spencer, sidelined with a broken bone in his shoulder, still got to enjoy the scene.
"It was fun. It was really fun. I've never been a part of something like that before," he said. "This was really cool."
The scrimmage featured a big run by freshman back Bri'onte Dunn, who reversed field while rambling 70-some yards to the delight of the nearby crowd. Another fan favorite was quarterback Braxton Miller pump-faking and then tossing a 45-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Devin Smith.
Such big gainers out of the passing game have been a rarity this spring, with Meyer openly challenging the wideouts. A year ago, while going 6-7 overall and losing their last four games, the Buckeyes got very little through the air. Nobody on the team caught as many as 15 passes.
Meyer, who loves throwing the ball to receivers in the open field, has insisted the receivers must be more of a threat this fall.
"One of the first things that Urban taught us is that's he's used to guys catching more than 14 passes," Smith said. "He said 14 passes in his offense is called one game."
No one is more aware that Meyer, a wide receivers coach during his days as an assistant, is watching the progress of the receivers than position coach Zach Smith.
"When coach Meyer does that, there's an obvious reason for it: They need to step up," Smith said after Saturday's practice. "And to say they've answered the call, I would say they haven't yet. Now have they improved and made more plays? Yeah. But not to the level we want them to and need them to. They need to do a lot better before you can say they've answered his demands, and my demands."
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