There are plenty of changes Ryan Day could make after Ohio State’s loss to Oregon on Saturday, but a new starting quarterback won’t be one of them.
C.J. Stroud has drawn his share of scrutiny from Ohio State fans for his play in the Buckeyes’ first two games of the season. The first-year starter has had issues with sailing passes high and overthrowing receivers, and one of his two interceptions ended the potential game-tying drive in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 35-28 defeat against the Ducks, when Ohio State had more than 600 yards of offense yet scored on just four of its 13 possessions.
Given that he is succeeding one of if not the best Ohio State quarterback ever in Justin Fields, and that he’s in a room that also includes two five-star recruits in Kyle McCord and Quinn Ewers, Stroud was going to have to be just about perfect to shut down questions about whether the Buckeyes are playing the right QB. His first two games as Ohio State’s starting quarterback have been imperfect.
No one should have expected perfection, though, from a redshirt freshman quarterback who had never even thrown a collegiate pass before this season. And the good has outweighed the bad in his first two games, as evidenced by Stroud earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors after both of them. On Saturday, he completed 35 of 54 passing attempts for 484 yards, all the second-most by an individual player in a single game in Ohio State history; he’s thrown for more yards in the first two games of the season than any other Ohio State quarterback ever has by a margin of nearly 200 yards.
So when Day was asked Tuesday whether he was giving any consideration to playing another quarterback in place of Stroud, Day made it clear he had no intentions to do so.
“Not after how he played on Saturday,” Day said. “We gotta help him more. We gotta run the football better, we gotta play better defense. That’s the bottom line.”
Asked about Stroud overthrowing receivers, Day didn’t seem concerned. To the contrary, Day was impressed by how Stroud threw the ball in his second start against Oregon.
“I thought he was really accurate on Saturday,” Day said. “I thought he made some throws that I haven’t seen a young kid make in a long time. So that was not our issue.”
While Stroud has demonstrated the ability to sling the ball down the field, one area where he hasn’t looked nearly as dynamic as Fields is in the running game, as he has just 10 net rushing yards for the season. He did have a 15-yard scramble for a first down against Oregon, though, and would have had another 11-yard run for a first down later in the game if not for a questionable holding penalty against Thayer Munford; he only finished the game with negative rushing yards because of two late-game sacks.
Even though Stroud ran the ball past the line of scrimmage only four times on Saturday, Day was pleased with Stroud’s decision-making of when to run the ball.
“I don’t think he was that tentative. I thought he was pretty aggressive,” Day said. “I thought the third down that we had the holding call on Thayer, he did an unbelievable job. It was 3rd-and-10, he tucked it, he’s got the first down, he took a good shot in there, he dropped the shoulder and took a hit there.
“I think as a quarterback, you also have to be smart. You have to be smart as you’re running down the sideline. He had a really good scramble for a first down along the right sideline early on, got a late hit on the sideline, picked up 15 yards there. So I think he’s gotten himself out of trouble.
“So I think he’s got a pretty good feel in the pocket and he is a threat with his feet, he is a threat with his legs. We saw last year, the (48)-yard touchdown run he had (against Michigan State), so he’s had some good scrambles. And we’ll continue to build on that as time goes. But at the end of the day, our running backs have to run. Our O-line has to block. And there will be times where we want to read somebody with him, and he’ll do a good job of it.”
“I thought he made some throws that I haven’t seen a young kid make in a long time.”– Ryan Day on C.J. Stroud’s play against Oregon
One other question surrounding Stroud right now is whether he’s fully healthy, as Stroud revealed after Saturday’s game that he had “been through a lot” last week after taking some hard hits in the season opener at Minnesota. He was still healthy enough to throw for nearly 500 yards, however, and Day expects Stroud to become more comfortable playing through minor injuries as he gains more experience.
“That’s part of being a quarterback,” Day said. “In the spring or you’re in the preseason, you have a black jersey on, you’re never touched. And you go out there and you get into conference play or this game this past weekend, you’re gonna get banged around a little bit. Justin went through that, all these guys, J.T. (Barrett) went through that a ton, and that’s part of being a quarterback at the big-time level. So it’s something he’s just gonna have to get used to and work through.”
Stroud knows he still needs to get better, and his teammates see him putting in the work to do so. Wide receiver Garrett Wilson said Wednesday that he thinks the Buckeyes are focusing on getting “one percent better every day,” and he said Stroud “for sure” embodies that mentality. Fellow wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba said Stroud “has a big heart, and he’s a competitor,” so he expects his quarterback to lead the way as the Buckeyes look to bounce back from their loss to Oregon.
That said, Day believes it’s just as important for the Buckeyes to do more to help Stroud on both sides of the ball. Offensively, that starts with running the ball effectively and having better balance so Stroud doesn’t have to throw the ball as repeatedly as he did against Oregon; defensively, of course, that means holding opponents to fewer than the five scores they’ve allowed in each of their first two games.
“At the end of the day, we probably put too much on C.J.’s shoulders,” Day said of Ohio State’s loss to Oregon, “and we gotta do a better job stopping them, stopping the run and then running the football on offense.”