Matthew Baldwin hasn’t played a single snap in his first season at Ohio State. Barring an unexpectedly one-sided game in the Rose Bowl, he won’t.
In part because of a knee injury that kept him out of spring practice and limited him into the start of the season, and in part because the Buckeyes haven’t had many opportunities to play their backups since he’s been healthy enough to play, Baldwin hasn’t seen the field this year.
With the new rule implemented before this season that allows players to participate in up to four games, that wasn’t necessarily expected to be the case. Surely, the Buckeyes would have liked to have the opportunity to get him on the field at some point – even if only for a few snaps – considering that he could be competing to be their starting quarterback next season.
Even so, Baldwin says this year has been crucial to his development as he prepares to potentially play a more significant role for Ohio State in the future.
Since he hasn’t been able to take many reps on the field this season, he’s had to focus on developing in the mental aspect of the game, which he says is something he would have had to do regardless.
“Mentally, this has been a great development point,” Baldwin said after the Big Ten Championship Game. “There is just so much more in college that you have to worry about. Protections, what the receiver’s doing, everything the defense is doing. It’s just a lot to learn.”
As a product of Austin, Texas’ Lake Travis High School, which has produced a long line of Division I quarterbacks including 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and current Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Baker Mayfield, Baldwin believes was more prepared for the collegiate game than a typical freshman because of the program he came from. But he realized upon his arrival at Ohio State in January that he still had a lot left to learn.
“When you have an injury, and you’re not able to play on the field as much as I’d like to be, you have to get better mentally or get left behind,” said Baldwin, who suffered a knee injury in the Texas state championship game last December and underwent surgery shortly after arriving on campus as an early enrollee. “We had a really complex offense at Lake Travis. Coach (Michael) Wall, who was my offensive coordinator, he was so great. But then the step up to college is so big.”
That step up hasn’t been only in what Baldwin needs to know to run Ohio State’s offense successfully, but also in the level of intensity of Ohio State’s practices and preparation. Baldwin says he has embraced that challenge.
“Everything is more intense, everything is more serious, everything matters more. I like that,” Baldwin said. “Because football’s what I love. All these guys love it too, they’re on the same boat with me. It’s different than high school in that just everything is more important.”
Baldwin acknowledged that his recovery from knee surgery didn’t only challenge him physically, but also presented a mental hurdle that he has had to overcome. But he believes he has been able to do that as the year has progressed.
“Obviously, coming through this whole season and the spring, I wasn’t really doing anything but it’s in the back of your mind,” Baldwin said. “When you take a step, I feel a little weak. But that’s kind of gone away as the year’s gone on.”
While Baldwin hasn’t seen any playing time this year, that could change in a big way next year. If Dwayne Haskins chooses to enter the NFL draft, Ohio State will have an open starting quarterback competition. Baldwin might not enter that competition as the frontrunner; Tate Martell will probably get the first crack at winning the starting job, and there’s also the possibility that Ohio State could bring in a transfer (with Georgia’s Justin Fields emerging as a potential candidate on Monday). But Baldwin should get a real shot to win the job as well, so he’s trying to put himself in the best position he can to take advantage of whatever opportunity he gets.
“It’s going to be a huge offseason for me, it’s going to be a huge spring hopefully for me,” Baldwin said. “And it’s all up to me. I’m just saying that if I want to compete, if I want to be great, then it’s up to me just getting right.”
“Everything is more intense, everything is more serious, everything matters more. I like that. Because football’s what I love.” – Matthew Baldwin on the adjustment from high school to college
Even though he hasn’t played in an actual game yet, Baldwin has made a positive impression in his first 12 months in Columbus on his coaches and teammates, including current offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and soon-to-be head coach Ryan Day.
“Just a little bit unfortunate in that he wasn’t really ready to go in practice until we started to get going with the season, and then at that point usually, you get your first and second guy most of the reps. So he hasn’t been able to really do everything we want him to do in terms of preparation,” Day said of Baldwin. “But I do think, you look at where he’s come physically and just learning football since he got here, he’s come a long way. But he just needs to play.”
Haskins also likes what he has seen from Baldwin in their year of working together.
“He can spin it,” Haskins said. “And I feel like once he learns the system completely, and has a complete grasp of the offense, he can be really dangerous.”
Baldwin says having the opportunity to learn from Haskins, who was designated as his ‘older brother’ on the team this year, has also helped him in his preparation to potentially lead Ohio State’s offense in the future.
“I learned a lot from that guy over there, No. 7,” Baldwin while standing next to Haskins in the locker room after the Big Ten Championship Game. “There’s just such a long list, I couldn’t say it all. But one thing I think I learned from him is you have to have a great relationship with the guys that you’re playing with … He’s got such a great relationship with them, that that’s something you have to have if you want to be successful.”