Coaches love bowl games because it rewards their players for a season of effort and hard work (and also usually triggers a salary bonus.) It also gives coaches a chance to get a good, long look at the up-and-coming players on the roster.
With a month of practices between games, there is no reason to overload the veterans who already know what they’re doing.
For the young guys, bowl preparation is sometimes their first opportunity to show what they can do against the upperclassmen. Which is why when they make something happen against the veterans, people take notice.
Defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones is playing in his final game as a Buckeye, but he still remembers making strides during bowl prep as a true freshman. He missed the season due to an ACL tear he suffered in high school, but was healthy enough to turn some heads by December.
“It was like my first few weeks of playing football at all because I was out the whole year from an ACL tear out of high school coming into college,” he explained. “I was so eager to get back, and I can make up the excuses that not everybody had their legs, and I had fresh legs, so that’s probably why I did good at that time. I remember that like it was yesterday. It was crazy.”
Having success at an early age builds confidence, but it also shows the players that hard work can lead to success.
“Personally, it got me going a little bit,” Jones said. “I remember going against [left tackle] Jamarco [Jones] for the first time, and I won and I did some like crazy move. That’s the one play I do remember.”
Jones understands the value of the bowl practices because he went through it. He has mentioned teammates like freshmen defensive linemen Tyreke Smith and Tommy Togiai, and freshman linebacker Teradja Mitchell as being young players who have caught his eye.
And Jones wasn’t the only person mentioning Mitchell.
[Freshman linebacker Dallas Gant] is going to be an excellent player,” said defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. “[Freshman linebacker K’Vaughn] Pope is going to be [as well]. You look at those young guys, Teradja Mitchell, he’s already playing on the punt team, but he’s going to be a phenomenal player.”
Overall, Schiano is happy with the number of young players he has seen stepping up and taking advantage of this opportunity.
“There’s actually quite a few,” he said. “I’m encouraged in the secondary. I think [freshman cornerback] Sevyn Banks is doing excellent things. He got that club off midseason. He’s really improved. He could be the next big-time corner here if he keeps developing.
“Then all the young D-linemen. I think we have a group of freshmen D-linemen that are as good as I’ve been around as a group. And their progression, their development as they get more and more time. I think there’s – at all three levels of the defense, there’s optimism.”
Looking back, Dre’Mont Jones didn’t know what the bowl practices had done for him as a true freshman, but his performance caught his coaches’ attention.
The following season, those practices ended up helping him emerge as a redshirt freshman starter who was as active as any defensive tackle in the country.
“I didn’t realize that at first,” Jones said. “No, you kind of just play, go with the flow and see that you can come out on top of one-on-ones or doing run fits. But now being older and seeing it and outside looking in, I can definitely see how the coaches really evaluate us.”
Just as they did with Jones, the Ohio State coaches are looking for those players they can turn to next season.
From the sounds of it, there should be a number of positive options.