CJ Stroud will see limited time, and his backups at quarterback will receive plenty of snaps to get more experience during Saturday’s spring game at Ohio Stadium.
Columbus, OH – Almost one year ago to the date, Ohio State’s quarterback room going into the spring game might as well have been a preschool after All-American Justin Fields left one year early to enter the NFL draft.
The teenager with the most experience was redshirt freshman CJ Stroud. He did run for a touchdown in a blowout victory against Michigan State in 2020. But he didn’t complete a single forward pass the entire season.
Next up were true freshmen Kyle McCord and Jack Miller.
The college football nation knows the rest. Stroud went on to become a Heisman Trophy finalist in making everyone comfortable in moving on from Fields.
Stroud is back for the annual scrimmage that begins at 12:05 p.m. at Ohio Stadium. He will start, of course, but backups Kyle McCord and Devin Brown will play a lot.
How things have changed.
Miller has transferred to Florida and Quinn Ewers, who shocked head coach Ryan Day by graduating from high school early and enrolling at the university last August, bolted for Texas with all of his NIL loot.
McCord is locked in as the No. 2 quarterback and Brown, a true freshman, No. 3.
Day likes what he has got.
“I feel really good about where we’re at in that room right now,” he said Thursday. “I think the guys have the right mentality. They’re developing, they’re getting better every day. Their focus is not about how quickly can I get on the field. (With) Kyle and Devin, it’s more about how do I develop to get better so that when I do get on the field, I’m ready to go? It’s good to know that Kyle has had some experience. It’s good to get Devin in here midyear, not coming in the summer, where at least he’ll have 15 practices under his belt.”
It’s a golden nugget that McCord has started a game. With Stroud sitting out Game 4 against Akron to rest a tender right throwing shoulder, he completed 13 of 18 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted once.
Here’s a trivia question: Which Buckeyes quarterback had the longest pass completion in 2021? Answer: It was McCord with an 85-yard touchdown to Emeka Egbuka against the Zips.
McCord also received spot duty against Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana and Michigan State.
“It’s ridiculous,’’ he said. “I was talking to Marvin (Harrison) about it right before the first spring practice and it was funny. I said at this time last year you’re stressing and hope you remember the plays and you go out there and don’t know what to expect. A year later, you are a lot more relaxed and confident. It just slows everything down.’’
Day hand-picked McCord out of St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia. He was a five-star recruit and rated the No. 25 overall senior in the nation and the No. 3 quarterback.
How good was he?
Good enough to lead his team to three straight Pennsylvania state titles.
McCord might have a few yips today, but those probably won’t last long.
“I’m not a boastful kind of guy, but I think I run the offense well and can make any throw,’’ he said. “I make good decisions with the ball. It’s not one area I want to improve on – it’s everything.’’
Day’s plan is to always have a stud quarterback in waiting, and that player is McCord.
He never thought about transferring like Ewers.
“It’s definitely a marathon and not a sprint,’’ McCord said. “I look at the bigger picture coming here, you realize how well you are coached. That is really important to me. I feel like just being here I’ve learned a lot.’’
McCord says that he has made quantum leaps since the day he reported for spring practice last year.
“It’s night and day, it really is,’’ he said. “I think when you go through a whole off-season and then a full season and another off-season, you see things from a different perspective. I think the biggest thing is that things are slowing down.’’
Yes, McCord’s start against the Zips was supposed to be a pushover, and it was just that in a 59-7 victory. But he quelled the anxiety about who’s next after Stroud.
“It was wild,’’ he said. “I wasn’t sure if CJ was going to play until about Tuesday or Wednesday. When I got the green light, it was kind of surreal almost as a true freshman starting my first game. I think it wore off Thursday and Friday. Then you have to lock in and focus. That game was a great learning experience. You can practice, but that game was the real deal when you step out there on the field. That was a great stepping stone to help me develop faster.’’
One can tell that Day appreciates McCord as a player and person. His body of work is small, but reporters can see his maturity during interviews.
The poise part in close games still is to be determined, but so far, so good.
“I think he has had a good spring,’’ Day said. “Having a whole year under his belt, he is that much better. He’s competitive and wants to be at Ohio State. He has made that clear to us. But he has to be ready that first game if he needs to be in that game. That’s the thing when you are a backup – sometimes if feels you are millions and millions away (from playing) when, really, he is one snap away. I think he understands that.’’
Now, it’s Brown’s turn to feel as though everything is coming at him like the bad guys at the highest level in a video game.
He, too, was Day’s choice to be the newest quarterback in waiting. He, too, was a five-star as the No. 52 player overall in his class and the No. 5 quarterback.
Brown played his first three years for a pretty crummy high school team in Queen Creek in Arizona for former Ohio State quarterback Joe Germaine.
He transferred to Corner Canyon in Draper, Utah, and blossomed in getting his team to the state championship game.
Think about what he has done in graduating from high school early and moving across country to enroll at a university that has the enrollment of a small city.
Then again, Brown lived away from his family for his senior year of high school.
The plan is to build Brown brick by brick.
“(Day) knows it’s early on and keeps telling me, ‘Steady in the boat. Don’t ride the roller-coaster, it’s never too high, never too low, just stay ready,’” Brown said. “It’s night and day. I never really had to worry about protections in high school. We were either pass blocking or run blocking, and our pass blocking was the same thing every time.”