The Justin Fields era at Ohio State is over. The C.J. Stroud era has begun.
Last night, the Buckeyes took the field for their season opener at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are an underrated team (probably should’ve been ranked to start the season), but should not hold a candle to Ohio State — the No. 4 team in America. However, in last night’s game, not only was Minnesota competitive, but it had Ohio State fans sweating for more than half the game.
A large reason Buckeye fans were so worried was because of the lackluster play from their new redshirt freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud. There were rumblings throughout the offseason that a QB battle was brewing between Stroud, true freshman Kyle McCord, and NIL darling Quinn Ewers.
After Stroud struggled mightily in the first half of last night’s game to the tune of 8-of-14 passing for just 58 yards, no touchdowns, and one pick, some people were calling on Ohio State head coach Ryan Day to throw in McCord or Ewers. After all, if the battle was as close as the reports made it seem, giving someone else playing time in the season opener might help determine which route to go for the remainder of the season.
Day didn’t listen, and he continued to play Stroud for the remainder of the game and was rewarded when Stroud turned things around in the second half, completing 5-of-8 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns. Ohio State would go on to win 45-31.
So, what was the takeaway from Stroud’s first start in scarlet and grey? Does he look like someone capable of carrying the weight of being Ohio State’s starting QB?
Based on the box score, you’d probably have one of two responses, either:
“Absolutely, just look at that yards per attempt. He’s clearly got that explosiveness factor that teams look for at quarterback.”
“No way. Do you see that inconsistency? That won’t cut it against the elite teams of college football like Alabama, Georgia, and Clemson.”
In actuality, neither of these statements is truly accurate.
While most people believe Stroud looked downright awful during the first half, Stroud actually showed a lot of potential.
- He was patient in the pocket. There were times where he left the pocket too early and tried to roll before he needed to, but on most of his dropbacks, he stayed calm and kept his eyes downfield trusting his offensive line.
- He would consistently look for big play opportunities first, yet was still ready to flip a pass to his checkdown should he need to. I’m not saying that he was afraid to throw deep. He wasn’t. His third pass attempt of the game was a deep shot down the right sideline for Garrett Wilson that was just out of his reach. He also made a nice throw with less than a minute and a half left in the first quarter to his star receiver Chris Olave way down the field that drew a pass interference call and set up the Buckeyes for a field goal.
- His accuracy was questionable. That was the biggest grievance I had with his performance. Yes, his interception was tipped in the air by his receiver, but the throw shouldn’t have been that far behind Olave.
That wasn’t good, but the kid is just 19 years old. The accuracy is something that Day and the Ohio State coaching staff can work with him on.
- He seemed nervous: This is to be expected. Last night was arguably the biggest moment of his life, and I’m sure the nerves will wash away after a few weeks. That first half was not as bad as people seem to think it was. Meanwhile, that second half...wasn’t quite as good as advertised.
In the second half, the Buckeyes made an attempt to run the ball more, and that they did. They ran the ball effectively to the tune of 50 yards in their first seven attempts on the ground. This made Minnesota bite hard on play-action, and that’s what led to Stroud’s incredible second half. Can watch Stroud’s first touchdown pass below.
Look how hard the linebackers bite on play-action. Ironically, the only one that didn’t was the one who had to get back to disrupt the throw to Olave, which he was unable to do. Obviously, the throw was beautiful, but I believe the Ohio State’s play-calling deserves more credit. Prior to this pass, the Buckeyes had run the ball for 21 yards over the last two plays. Not to mention that every time the Buckeyes faced a second down and less-than-five-to-go prior to this snap, the they had run the ball. That really helped sell the play fake. Of course, none of that matters if Stroud can’t complete the throw, so good on him, but that play wasn’t “all Stroud” as some people are making it out to be.
As great as Stroud was in the second half, he still struggled to complete tight-window throws. All of his touchdown passes were to receivers with more than five yards of space from the nearest defender. Good on Stroud for finding those guys, but that many receivers running free is more indicative of an offensive system working wonders and great receivers than stellar quarterback play.
I like Stroud a lot. From what I saw yesterday, he has the physical tools and smarts to make Ohio State a national championship contender yet again. He needs to work on his accuracy and nerves though. I’m not sure if the nerves were from him worrying about maintaining the starting job, or whether he was blinded by the enormous lights he was put under. Either way, the Buckeyes need to get that sorted out if they want to see more of what Stroud did in the second half. The Buckeyes are probably good enough to compete for a Big Ten title without stellar quarterback play, but the Buckeyes know they are capable of more. It falls on the shoulders of Stroud to bring Ohio State up to that level. He seems more than capable. He just needs to shore up a few things.