College football spring games, takeaways: Alabama, Ohio State look just fine with new quarterbacks

Do you smell that? Ah yes, football is in the air. 

Saturday played host to the biggest slate of spring games ahead of the 2021 college football season with 21 teams taking the field for their annual scrimmages. Defending national champion Alabama, national runner-up Ohio State, title contender Georgia and Pac-12 threat USC are among some of the high-profile programs that were in action to finish off the spring practice session on a high note. 

There’s a lot to cover with those games and everything in between on Saturday. Here are the top takeaways from a busy spring Saturday around the country.

Alabama’s offense is just fine

The new-look Crimson Tide offense looked just like the old ones — scary. Quarterback Bryce Young, who is widely regarded as the front-runner in the race to replace Mac Jones, was 16 of 30 for 251 yards and a touchdown. The first of those scores came on a great pass in which he stepped up in the pocket and found tight end Cameron Latu for 59 yards. One drive later, True freshman Agiye Hall — who has had all the buzz around the program — had a one-handed catch in tight coverage to keep the chains moving in the first half, and two tremendous catches — one of which was a toe tap on the sideline — on the opening drive of the second half. Those three players are going to be a big part of the new offense under coordinator Bill O’Brien. If there is a concern, it is the offensive line. Young was stripped on a scoop-and-score late in the first half on a play in which Chris Braswell came free off the edge. It’s only spring, though, and there is plenty of time to get that worked out. Offense wins championships these days, and Alabama’s quest to repeat looks like it’s going according to plan.

Ohio State’s QB situation is a luxury, not a concern

It’s never easy to replace a legend, but Ohio State quarterbacks C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller and Kyle McCord all looked solid on Saturday, with Stroud looking like the front-runner to replace Justin Fields. Stroud went 16 of 22 for 185 yards and two touchdowns working primarily with the first-team offense. Star wide receiver Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson seemed to take a back seat to some younger, less-experienced players, including highly touted prospect Marvin Harrison Jr. Stroud will likely enter the fall atop the depth chart, but the other two will apply plenty of pressure. Miller went 17 of 30 with a pick, while McCord completed 12 of his 17 passes for 184 yards and two scores. All three looked in command of the offense and seemed to have the trust of coach Ryan Day.

Auburn back to the old school

Every first-year coach says that his team is going to play physical and tough. Auburn’s Bryan Harsin clearly means it. The 2021 Tigers running game had much more of a downhill feel instead of the side-to-side eye candy that was a staple in the Gus Malzahn regime. Star Tank Bigsby broke off a 46-yarder up the middle and Shaun Shivers, who was primarily used as a jet sweep specialist a year ago, ran north and south way more than he did in previous years. That’ll be big for the Tigers moving forward. Quarterback Bo Nix has been under pressure since the moment he stepped foot on campus, which has caused him to look like a deer in headlights throughout his first two seasons. If Auburn can establish the running game with a physical offensive line that gets downhill, it’ll make Nix’ job a lot easier than it has been in the past.

Rambo makes a statement at Miami

Charleston Rambo may just be the ACC’s worst nightmare. The Oklahoma transfer caught six passes for 67 yards in the first quarter, and looked like he fit seamlessly into the Rhett Lashlee offense. That’s going to be huge moving forward, because star quarterback D’Eriq King sat out the scrimmage as he recovers from a knee injury. No worries … King said on the broadcast that he’s on track to play this fall. If he is back to 100%, the King to Rambo combo might truly become a nightmare.

LSU’s defense is looking good

The Tigers’ defense got lit up like a Christmas tree in last year’s opener vs. Mississippi State, and those lights stayed on throughout the season. Things have changed quite a bit. Edge threat BJ Ojulari had two sacks in the first half and made a living in the backfield. Granted, some spring game sacks occur when defensive players get in the same zip code as the quarterback, but these were legit. Defensive back Derek Stingley Jr. looked healthy and back to his old self, and fellow defensive back Dwight McGlothern looks like he could be one of the breakout stars of 2021 after two pass breakups. Antonie Sampah and Raydarious Jones each had picks. Yes, the offense had its moments — especially wide receiver Kayshon Boutte. But the defense looked well-coached, worked well together and on its way to fixing what ailed the 2020 Tigers.

The search for Pickens’ replacement

Georgia lost star wide receiver George Pickens to an ACL injury earlier this spring, but it appears that quarterback JT Daniels has plenty of options to pick up the slack. He looked extremely comfortable with Adonai Mitchell and Kearis Jackson in the first half, including a 24-yard touchdown strike to Mitchell in a two-minute drive. That has to put the fears of Georgia fans at ease. The running back room is just fine — and looked the part on Saturday. If Daniels can develop one deep threat, this offense will be deadly. He might even have two.

Yung A. Elizabeth

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