Stroud, McCord neck and neck, a cut above in Spring Game QB battle
COLUMBUS, Ohio –– Prior to Saturday, Buckeye fans had not been privy to the passing abilities of any of the three players vying for the vacant starting quarterback job in a live-game capacity at the collegiate level, exhibition or otherwise.
Ohio State’s three underclassman quarterbacks each had ample time to put a stamp on their first impression with the viewing public at Ohio Stadium on Saturday though, and while Spring Game results are often inconsequential, a pecking order of sorts under center did seem to be established.
Redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud, the presumptive frontrunner for the starting job, did nothing to dispel that notion Saturday, tossing a pair of touchdowns and 185 yards with no turnovers while leading the Buckeye offense on three scoring drives. True freshman Kyle McCord, the No. 34 overall prospect in the 2021 class, was on Stroud’s heels with an impressive performance of his own, throwing 12-for-17 with 184 yards and two touchdowns.
The clear third-place finisher was redshirt freshman Jack Miller, who threw a pick on his opening possession and couldn’t get the Ohio State offense past the goal line all afternoon.
“They’ve learned a lot, but now the race is on over the next few months to figure out who can make the next stride so that they’re further along,” head coach Ryan Day said after the Spring Game.
Miller was the first of the three on the field Saturday, and marched his group down the field before second-year corner Ryan Watts came up with a 50-50 throw intended for junior wideout Garrett Wilson at the goal line.
The next time Miller got the ball, he threw three-straight incompletions, one a miss to a wide open man over the middle, another a near interception, and the third a drop by senior WR Chris Olave.
That was not the only drop by a Buckeye wideout on a Miller pass, and his cause was not aided by a handful of attempts batted down at the line. The Arizona native finished 17-for-30 passing with 128 yards, no scores and an interception.
“(Saturday was) very similar to what this whole spring’s been. Some good, some not-so-good,” Day said. “A lot of learning opportunities there. We tried to get a little bit of a two-minute going at the end of the half, some red zone stuff, all learning. You can see when you watch, there’s flashes here and there, and then there’s just learning opportunities.”
Both Stroud and McCord, on the other hand, opened with eye-popping plays, Stroud going 55 yards on his first two throws before a 5-yard touchdown toss to freshman Marvin Harrison Jr., and McCord completed a 55-yard bomb downfield to Wilson on his first throw of the day.
Stroud worked through a number of roll-out looks in Day’s offense on Saturday, and one such play in the red zone resulted in his second and final score of the scrimmage, connecting with Olave for a 5-yard toe-tap touchdown in the right corner of the end zone. The Rancho Cucamonga product was 16-for-22 passing.
McCord’s first scoring toss was a beauty in its own right, as the Philadelphia native laid a 15-yard pass into outstretched right hand of second-year wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who added to his highlight reel with a touchdown snag.
In the fourth quarter McCord found the end zone again, this time linking up with second-year tight end Joe Royer over the middle to run a 12-yard strike past the plane.
The most impressive throw of the day may not have come from any of the three Buckeye quarterbacks in question though, as senior Jagger LaRoe ended the Spring Game with a 20-yard cross-field missile to senior wide receiver Sam Wiglusz that brought the entire team off the bench in celebration.
Ohio State’s starting quarterback job may not have been won on Saturday, but many will walk away with confirmations that Stroud is the man to beat. However, with Day and company asserting that the competition is still wide open, McCord proved that being a year behind Stroud and Miller does not appear to be much of a handicap.
“Spring’s been good, there's been a lot of progress made across the board, but there’s still a long way to go before we play against Minnesota,” Day said.