OSU coach Jim Tressel brought the jersey scrimmage with him from Youngstown State when he arrived in 2001. Each spring and fall, the two sides have gone up against each other with the scarlet jerseys at stake.
The scrimmage is contested with special scoring rules. The offense, which holds the jerseys now by virtue of a 72-53 win in the spring, can score via the usual methods – touchdowns, field goals and extra points. But the offense is also rewarded one point for first downs and an extra point or two for longer plays.
Meanwhile the defense – which has typically dominated this scrimmage during Tressel's tenure – can accumulate points through three-and-outs, negative yardage plays, turnovers and returning turnovers for touchdowns.
The scrimmage typically begins with the first team offense against the first team defense. Those units will change with each succeeding series. Tressel will also move the football with the offense starting on its own 20-yard line, near midfield, going into the red zone and coming off its own goal line at various stages of the scrimmage.
"We hope to run 125 to 150 plays," he said earlier in the week.
For the defense, which was far from full strength due to injuries in the spring, the jersey scrimmage is about atonement.
"We're excited, we talked about it today," said assistant head coach Jim Heacock, entering his ninth season as OSU's defensive line coach. "For the offensive coaches and defensive coaches, it's a war. And it's important to our kids. It's important to us. We need to get the red jerseys back. Our guys do not look nearly as good in white as they do in the red. We're going to go out and compete like crazy and get after it."
Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, who doubles as the line coach, wants to see some consistency out of his offense. The young quarterbacks – sophomores Justin Zwick and Troy Smith and freshman Todd Boeckman – will be under the gun.
"I think it will be important for all of us as an entire offense to get into a little bit of a rhythm and get into a groove and get into a game situation," Bollman said. "The more we can be more familiar with each other and have those kinds of situations the better off we're going to be.
"Saturday is a big day for a lot of guys. You have to start making some decisions on some younger guys that you project may help you down the line. Do you work and get them ready to go or do you stay with some of the other guys who are there? There will be some decisions that we have to make after Saturday."
Bollman said it will be a big day for some veteran guys who are coming back from injuries as well, especially senior tailback Maurice Hall.
"It's a big day for everyone, but when you talk about Mo it's a big day for him to get a few more live shots and get back in there and get things tested out," Bollman said. "He's been through some big games and tough times and made some big plays for us. I think we have to be smart about how he is used. That's why it's nice to have some depth there."
Hall also discussed the importance of this scrimmage.
"It's one of the biggest things you want to do in camp," he said. "That's where the coaches base on whether you're going to be able to contribute. They pretty much know what the older guys can do. It's huge for the freshmen coming in."
Fullback Stan White Jr. added, "The jersey scrimmage is the biggest scrimmage in camp. It is the place where you have the biggest opportunity to win a spot or lose a spot. For the offense, as a unit, we have the red jerseys. It will be the battle for the jerseys and we want to keep them."
Besides the quarterback spot, competition will be heavy at right tackle on offense and on the line, at middle linebacker and in the secondary on defense.
For seniors like cornerback Dustin Fox, this jersey scrimmage will be their last.
"Saturday should be fun," he said. "Hopefully, we will go out there and get the jerseys back. We don't want to go through the season without our jerseys. That's embarrassing for us as the Silver Bullets to not have those jerseys. I remember losing them during a jersey scrimmage in the fall one year, but we had another one and we were able to win them back."
Outside linebacker Thomas Matthews was one of the standout players in the spring scrimmage situations. But with his senior year approaching, he knows he has to make his case for playing time with this scrimmage.
"It will give us a time to go out there and let it go," Matthews said. "There will be no holding back. Everything is live. You go out there and try show the things you've been practicing for the last couple of weeks. It's all about having fun. I had fun in the spring game."
And the stakes – while not all that high – are still worth playing for, Matthews said.
"We've been thinking about that," he said. "We're not too comfortable in the white jerseys. We'd rather have the red ones. There is some locker room trash talking every now and then, but we're going to come ready to play on Saturday."
Senior flanker Bam Childress has historically been one of OSU's best scrimmage players. He thinks one more big showing could help him in his bid for increased playing time as well.
"I feel good going in there," Childress said. "I just want to take care of my body and stay healthy. I just have to wait until we go three or four receivers, wait until my number gets called and make some plays. It's always exciting going live. It's none of this, `He could have tackled me, I could have made that catch.' It's gametime situations. If you make the play, you make the play. There are no excuses, no nothing.
"In my situation, I'm just trying to get in game shape and see how the speed of the game will be Sept. 4."
Sept. 4, of course, is OSU's opener with Cincinnati. Over 105,000 people will jam into the Horseshoe that day. For this scrimmage, just a few hundred invited guests and members of the media will be milling around the cavernous stadium.
That doesn't matter, Heacock said. Any chance to play on the hallowed ground of the Horseshoe is a big deal.
"You get fired up when you walk out on that field at the ‘Shoe," he said. "It's unbelievable. It's got to be the greatest stadium in the country. You run out there and you're excited. You know there is some tradition you're upholding. There is some pressure on you, but it's fun pressure. It's neat and exciting."