Spring game takeaways: QB battles at Ohio State, Clemson, Florida; Jimbo Fisher’s debut

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UF’s first Gator Walk with Dan Mullen

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Despite weather forcing cancellations and movement of many spring games across the midwest, Saturday’s slate of spring football games was the busiest of the year that included many College Football Playoff contenders and familiar faces in new places.

Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, USC, Florida, Florida State and Texas A&M headlined a wild day that gave us a taste of what the 2018 season will be about.

What do you need to know? Here’s a Cliff’s Notes version of the day that was:

Ohio State is just fine at quarterback

In a game that was moved up to 11:45 a.m. ET to avoid inclement weather and clearly rushed since players were whistled down anytime a defender was in the same zip code, the Buckeyes showed that they’re loaded at quarterback. Junior Joe Burrow was 15-for-22 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore Dwayne Haskins was 9-for-19 passing for 120 yards and two touchdowns as both split time between the scarlet and gray teams. Redshirt freshman Tate Martell added 28 passing yards and 74 rushing yards combined between both squads. But when will coach Urban Meyer make a decision?

A quick decision likely has to due with Burrow’s impending graduation. He’s expecting to earn his degree in May, and could transfer and play immediately somewhere else for his final two years of eligibility.

All Bryant did in his junior season replacing Clemson legend Deshaun Watson was lead the Tigers to the ACC title and berth in the College Football Playoff. What does that earn him? Another offseason quarterback battle. He went 8-for-15 passing for 35 yards and looked uncomfortable throughout the spring game on Saturday. It was his first major action he’s seen since going 18-for-36 passing for 124 yards with two interceptions in the Sugar Bowl semifinal loss to Alabama.

Meanwhile, true freshman early enrollee and former five-star prospect Trevor Lawrence went 11-for-16 passing for 122 yards with a touchdown — a 50-yard dime to Tee Higgins deep down field in the first half. True sophomore Hunter Johnson went 8 for 14 for 85 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Despite coach Dabo Swinney’s insistence that Bryant is the returning starter, it’s clear the duo has inched closer in the three-man battle that suddenly seems closer than previously anticipated. Bryant separated himself from the pack last August during fall camp to win the job. With two highly-touted prospects chomping at the bit and a spring game that didn’t go as planned, he’ll likely have to do it again.

Florida had a lot of fun in Dan Mullen’s debut

Mullen’s first spring game as Florida’s coach was more of an entertainment event than your normal spring scrimmage. Sure, quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask continued their battle for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, running back Jordan Scarlett returned after a year off and looked sharp, and the staff refined a few things.

But it was more about former Gators in The Swamp. Two of the roughly 170 former players in attendance got into the action and scored touchdowns off the sidelines. First up, it was Trask to former Gators safety Lawrence Wright, who made a solid diving catch for the 48-yard score and then celebrated on the sideline.

Later in the game, Franks tossed a 60-yard bomb to former wide receiver Travis McGriff for a touchdown. It wasn’t just the former Gators having some fun, though. Scarlett and his teammates played a little game of duck, duck, goose after Scarlett scored from 7 yards out.

As for actual football, Trask — who hasn’t taken a snap in college and was primarily a backup in high school — looked sharp, completing 12 of his 24 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. Franks went 8-for-12 for 117 yards with one passing TD and two rushing scores.

Oklahoma’s offense needs some work

While junior Kyler Murray and sophomore Austin Kendall continue to fight for the top spot on the depth chart at quarterback, the offense as a whole was very much a work-in-progress. The Sooners “battled” to a 3-3 tie in regulation of the competitive portion their spring game on Saturday afternoon that eventually ended with Team Adrian Peterson beating Team Trent Williams 10-9 in overtime. That kind of offensive production — or lack thereof — is not going to fly in the Big 12.

To compound matters for the Sooners, running back Trey Sermon — the primary backup to Rodney Anderson — left the game with a leg injury in the first quarter. Sermon rushed for 744 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman last year.

Texas A&M’s offense looks solid under Jimbo Fisher

Quarterbacks Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond were solid by spring standards in Texas A&M’s spring game on Saturday, but the real story was how coach Jimbo Fisher blended his more traditional offense into the wide open style Texas A&M ran under former coach Kevin Sumlin. So far, so good.

Kwame Etwe had a long touchdown run and looked like he can provide quality depth behind Trayveon Williams, Jhamon Ausbon looks like the next big thing at wide receiver after racking up 108 yards in the first half and (gasp) Fisher even used tight ends — plural — in the game plan. That’s a position that was more myth than reality under Sumlin.

The quarterbacks do need to be more consistent, but there’s still plenty of time between now and the start of the season for that to develop. The more pressing issue was the offensive identity of the new-look Aggies, and it looks like it has already rounded into form. Oh, and former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was the all-time quarterback during the legends game at halftime and had a little fun.

He also jokingly fielded a 60-yard field goal that fell short at the end of the first half and half-heartedly attempted to recreate the “Kick Six.”

You couldn’t tell much about USC

With the Los Angeles Coliseum under construction, USC moved to the school’s track to put on its “spring showcase.” In reality, it was a diet version of a spring game — which, typically, are diet versions of actual football games. So, if you were wanting to see whether Jack Sears or Matt Fink had the edge in the battle to replace Sam Darnold at quarterback, you’re going to have to wait a little while longer.

In the meantime, here’s Fink running it in for a score on a zone read play (even though he would have probably been tackled if quarterbacks were “live”).

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