The Ohio State Note and Quotebook - Akron Edition
By Tony Gerdeman
In With the New...Era
Photo by Dan Harker
The tumultuous offseason brought with it both sad tidings and new beginnings. But as time passed, players found themselves embracing the change, which then culminated on Saturday with the opportunity to take the field with their new leader Luke Fickell.
“Literally, I don't think I could feel my feet when I was running out of that tunnel,” said All-American center Mike Brewster.
“It was awesome. It was just a feeling that I haven't had since I've been here. It's always special, but just today, starting a new era and after everything that had gone on, it just felt unbelievable to get back there.”
“It felt good just to turn the page, put the off-season behind us, and play a football game,” said offensive lineman Jack Mewhort.
It wasn't just the players who were excited, however, as they could also sense it from their new head coach.
“He seemed pretty amped up,” said tight end Jake Stoneburner.
“He was cursing, yelling, it got us all pretty excited. You could see his passion to get out there and begin his career as Ohio State's head coach, and I think we started off pretty well.”
“You could tell he was maybe a little bit nervous. We all were. It was our first game and our first game under Coach Fick. We just wanted to go out there and win for him. We wanted to play hard and I feel that's what we did. He was pretty happy after the game.”
“He's just always really intense and that's how he was,” said Mewhort.
“He's not going to change under pressure, so he was the same Coach Fick that we've been seeing the last couple of months. I wouldn't want to be out there with anyone else. He's a great leader, a great general and I think that everybody on the team would agree that we would follow him into hell.”
As one of the few seasoned veterans on the team, Brewster has seen Fickell grow from position coach to head coach, and that growth hasn't gone unnoticed.
“It's different. He's a younger guy, a little more intense and outspoken, but he's the coach at Ohio State and that's the main thing you have to respect,” he said.
“It's really cool being out there with him leading the pack. He has come such a long way since a month or two ago. He's grown right in front of my eyes. It's probably easier for us older guys to see it because we've been around Coach Tress so long, and now seeing Coach Fick step into that role, we're following him. We're following him.”
The Fresh Connection
Twelve Buckeye true freshmen made their debuts against Akron on Saturday. Only Texas (18) and Auburn (13) played more this past weekend.
Of those twelve Ohio State tenderfoots, there were three freshmen on offense who particularly stood out.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Quarterback Braxton Miller completed 8-12 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. His first career touchdown pass as a Buckeye went to fellow freshman Devin Smith, who finished with three catches for 52 yards.
“Coach Drayton told us to make plays, and that's what we did,” Smith said. “He told us to have fun with whatever we're doing out there on the field, and make plays.”
Smith's big play of the game was the touchdown, of course. It was also a pass that he wasn't sure was going to find him.
“He saw me open and I didn't think he was gonna throw it, and when he threw it I had to make a play,” he said. “Coach Drayton was in my head as soon as I saw the ball, 'Make a play', and that's what I did.”
“It was a play-action play,” Miller explained.
“It was a flat play. The first read is to the fullback. If he's not open, go to the next read. I went to my last read and that was Devin coming across. So I just hammered it in there.”
However, as nice as the Miller to Smith touchdown was, it was the spectacular one-handed grab made by Evan Spencer down the left sideline late in the game that stole the show.
The catch went for 33 yards and it was the Illinois freshman's only catch of the day, but it sure made its mark.
“We had a go route called,” Spencer said of the play.
“I was going, and then as I was out, I realized that I was beating him and I didn't think Braxton was going to throw the back shoulder fade. And then he threw it and it took me a second to react to it, and then I just had to go make a play on the ball.”
“It was a deep route, and since the guy was outside of him, I threw it back shoulder,” Miller recalled.
“He said he looked back late, and since he looked back late, he just put one hand out and caught it. He made a great play.”
Miller wasn't the only one impressed. Former Florida head coach Urban Meyer was doing the broadcast for ESPN and he had nothing but accolades for the youngster.
“Wow. ESPN just got their top play of the day,” he said during their play-by-play. “That's one of the best catches I've ever seen.”
It may have been the best catch that Meyer had ever seen, but was it the best catch that Spencer has ever made?
“Probably,” he said.
Spencer's father is of course former Buckeye running back Tim Spencer, who was in the stadium to see the catch in person. But the well-wishes from his father and teammates were just a fraction of the love that he would end up receiving.
“I checked my phone and I had like 47 text messages,” he said after the game
“It's crazy. It's really unreal. I'm glad I'm here. I'm ready to go to work, but all of this is crazy.”
“Devin and I, when we came in we realized that we had a lot to learn because it's a big offense. As camp kind of went on, the coaches really made it easy on us and broke it down section by section. He and I have the offense down pretty good right now. Our development through camp was slow at times and fast at times, but we got there, so it's all good.”
“It was really fun,” Smith said of the game. “I enjoyed it. This is something that I'm looking forward to for the rest of my life.”
“I can't describe it,” Spencer said of his first game as a Buckeye.
“All I can say is it was really weird, because growing up as a kid it's a totally different perspective sitting in the stands. Getting to put on my 16 jersey with my name on the back and representing Ohio State, as a kid I was dreaming what this would feel like and I really can't explain it to you.”
The Heat Was On
The temperature was reaching into the 90s throughout the game on Saturday, and down on the field there were temperatures in the 120s. It made for uncomfortable conditions for everyone. Well, almost everyone.
“It was pretty hot, but I'm kind of used to it playing in Florida,” said Naples, Florida native Carlos Hyde.
“We play like that every Friday in high school. It wasn't too bad, it was alright. It definitely felt like Naples a little bit.”
We couldn't find anybody that shared Hyde's opinion, however.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I didn't feel like we were moving fast,” said Jake Stoneburner, who moved fast enough to catch three touchdown passes on the day.
“It was so hot out there. My legs were dead, but I thought we played pretty well.
“Oh man,” said Jack Mewhort when asked to describe the heat.
“I never cramped in a football game in my life before, and today I was cramping. I thought I prepared very well hydrating and stuff, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was so hot in the stadium, but that was good for us because when we get down there to Miami that's how it's going to be."
“My hamstrings and my calves (were cramping). I don't know if it was from wearing the knee braces or what, but it was hot like I've never felt before. Our training staff is good. They had cold towels on our necks, water all over the place, salt tablets, they handled it pretty well.”
There is something to be said for ignoring harsh conditions, however. We have all likely seen the famous picture of Woody Hayes in a short-sleeved shirt while it is snowing. He didn't want to let the cold get the better of him. And so maybe was the case with Luke Fickell wearing two layers of clothes, with the top layer being a sun-begging black windbreaker.
“Maybe he's trying to get in better shape,” joked cornerback Dominic Clarke of his head coach's wardrobe.
“I have no idea. He was saying something about the heat all day. He was like 'Don't let the heat affect us', but I didn't even recognize that he had two layers of clothing on.”
“We preach around The Woody that you've got to be mentally tough,” said Mewhort. “That's something that Coach Bollman and Coach Fickell and those guys instill in us every day.”
“You can't do anything to get into game-shape, you can run 100 sprints, and it doesn't matter,” said Mike Brewster.
“Today was a day for us to build up some endurance and get that going. Next week it will make us even better.”
When the Ohio State depth chart for the Akron game was released last Monday, Carlos Hyde was listed as Jordan Hall's backup. He had mentally prepared himself for that role. But then late in the week the news broke that three more Buckeyes would be suspended for the season opener, including Jordan Hall, and suddenly Hall had to prepare for a brand new role.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“Actually, I found out about it when we were in specialty meetings,” Hyde said of the suspension.
“I thought 'I might even start.' I got a little nervous and thought 'This is a major role. I'm at a big university and I've become the starting running back', so I was a little nervous. Once I got to game day I had a good feeling like I could do the job and today might be a good day.”
That good day turned into 19 carries for 93 yards.
“The first play for my first start, I was nervous. I was like, 'I gotta get the ball and get this first hit out of the way so I can be good to go.' It was fun once I got in there and started feeling good and starting feeling the groove. It was fun.”
“It felt good. It felt like they were counting on me I to have my “A” game and get a good amount of yards when I was carrying the rock. They felt good with me carrying the ball and I feel great when I'm carrying the ball. So I was excited when they kept calling the running plays. I was like 'This is what I dream of. Just keep calling running plays,' so I was pretty excited.”
“I was a little nervous until I got the first carry and got the first little contact. Then I was like, 'I'm good to go, I'm ready to go', so if they call on me again I'll be ready to start running like I've been running in camp, a downhill power runner.”
Do Your Talking On The Field
Freshman defensive lineman Michael Bennett made a name for himself quickly in summer practices. He did so well that he worked himself into the two-deep on the first depth chart of the season.
Photo by Dan Harker
He didn't play a ton on Saturday, but when he was in there, he was quite noticeable. He notched his first career sack early in the fourth quarter.
“It felt great,” said the freshman from Centerville.
“With the plays that I was in there, I feel like I did my job and I did well. It was a really good first game to come out to.”
Bennett owes his success to hard work on and off the field, and his teammates have certainly taken notice.
“That's really important to me, when you come in as a true freshman, to me, the most important thing is to keep your mouth shut and work hard. And I tried to do that in camp and I feel like it paid off. And I've just got to keep earning respect throughout the season.”
Above Average Joe
Quarterback Joe Bauserman made the first start of his long and winding career, and by all accounts, it was extremely successful.
Photo by Jim Davidson
His teammates had seen what he was capable of throughout practices, so what they saw on Saturday was completely expected. The same goes for the coaches as well.
“I thought Joe played very well,” said offensive coordinator Jim Bollman.
“I thought he played very 'wise'. I thought he did a good job.”
“If we can surround him with pretty good talent, with pretty good running backs, pretty good tight ends, and some of the younger receivers have some potential, that's for sure. That guy can distribute the ball properly.”
“I thought he made good decisions and when it wasn't crystal-clear he made good decisions to run. And I thought he had some pretty effective runs and threw some good balls.”
“He's outstanding in that regard, in knowing what's going on, seeing defenses and helping us out, checking to plays, that kind of thing. He's outstanding in that area.”
“He's the one that controls our offense,” said running back Rod Smith. “Everything starts with him. We've got faith in him and we believe in him.”
Youth Did the Serving
Much has been made of Ohio State's young receivers, and for good reason. Of the six wide receivers to catch a pass on Saturday, all six are either freshmen or sophomores.
Photo by Dan Harker
With Devier Posey starting the season on suspension, the Buckeyes opened the season with a total of eleven career catches from their eligible receivers. However, against Akron alone, that receiving corps pulled in twelve passes.
They performed so well, in fact, that many fans are almost ready to forget their worries. Almost.
If you were to talk to Evan Spencer, however, you could toss those worries out the window and never think of them again.
“Truthfully I didn't believe we were a question mark,” he said.
“I knew from the very beginning, from the first day of camp, that we were going to be an awesome squad. I believe that throughout the camp and throughout this season every week we'll get better and we'll prove that we are the best receiving corps in the nation.”
“Somebody else has to prove me wrong, which I don't think they will.”
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