The biggest day of the spring season in college football took place on Saturday, with defending national champion Georgia, SEC champion Alabama, Big Ten power Ohio State and Mario Cristobal’s Miami Hurricanes among some of the notable teams taking the stage to present their annual spring games.
These spring scrimmages give teams a great chance to get an idea of how coaches view their depth charts and where the youngsters fit in during the midpoint of the offseason. So what were the biggest takeaways from Saturday’s slate that just happened to feature some legitimate national championship contenders? Let’s have a look.
Crimson Tide need some help up front : The clock in the Alabama spring game seemed to move faster than actual time, but there was enough time to see that coach Nick Saban’s offensive line needs a lot of help. The first-team struggled to give quarterback Bryce Young time in the pocket and couldn’t consistently open holes for the running backs — including Georgia Tech transfer Jahmyr Gibbs. Edge threat Will Anderson was particularly frightening, as he got into Young’s face for “two-hand touch” sacks twice in three plays late in the first half.
Let’s get this out of the way: it’s irresponsible to make snap judgements on a team during the spring. But, for Alabama, that might not be the case. Young was forced to escape the pocket in the exact same way last spring, and it translated to the fall when the offensive line finished last in the SEC in tackles for loss. Saban loves to have a reason to yell at his players in order to create the championship-level culture of competition, and his offensive line gave him that ammo on Saturday.
Buckeyes’ recipe for success : Two of the biggest questions facing the Buckeyes is the quest to replace receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson outside and the defensive renaissance that new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is looking to orchestrate. Well, they’ll be fine at wide receiver. Star Jaxon Smith-Njigba caught two passes for 38 yards and a touchdown, but the real story was behind him where others shined. Emeka Egbuka had four catches for 39 yards, Marvin Harrison Jr. had a snag and looked comfortable with the first-team offense and running back Evan Pryor looked like a multi-dimensional force to be reckoned with.
The defense had its ups and downs, but there’s no reason to freak out. Yes, it has to improve off of last year’s squad, but Knowles said before the game that it was going to be vanilla on purpose and not bring heat on the quarterback. Offense is the driving force in college football, and Ohio State appears to be on track to continue its dominance. If the defense just plays adequate, the Buckeyes will be fine.
Beware of the tight ends : Tight ends have become a much bigger part of college football offenses over the last decade, and Georgia might have the best tight end room in college football history. LSU transfer Arik Gilbert caught two touchdown passes from Stetson Bennett IV after being away from the program during the 2021 season. The 6-foot-5, 248-pound freak athlete had 35 catches for 368 yards and two touchdowns for the Tigers in 2020, and is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Fellow tight ends Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington sat out of the G-Day Game but have already proven just how dangerous they can be.
When you toss these tight ends into the mix with Georgia’s versatile backfield and wide receiving corps, this offense should be much better and more balanced than last season’s. In other words … “get your popcorn ready.”
Tyler Van Dyke is going to be a stud : The Miami signal-caller took over for D’Eriq King last season in Coral Gables and set the tone for what could be a tremendous sophomore season. Van Dyke was 20 of 32 for 172 yards and a touchdown to Jacolby George. That’s a great day if you look at the box score, but it was even better if you watched on television. Van Dyke threw three absolute dimes in the first half that were dropped by Hurricane wide receivers, which skewed his stats in a negative direction. It was so bad early on that boo birds could be heard at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Miami is a work-in-progress, which is understandable considering it’s Mario Cristobal’s first season as coach at his alma mater. But the progress the wide receiving corps showed in the spring game alone is encouraging after just 15 practices. With Van Dyke at the helm, things should be fine.
CBS Sports was live throughout the afternoon providing updates, highlights and analysis from Saturday’s spring games, which you can view below.
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