I booked a flight to New York at halftime of Saturday’s game at Ohio Stadium.
At that point, there was no longer any reason to doubt that I’d be heading to the Big Apple in three weeks to cover the Heisman Trophy ceremony as an Ohio State beat writer.
With Ohio State up 49-0 at halftime, C.J. Stroud had already broken an Ohio State record by completing 17 consecutive passes and tied an Ohio State record by throwing six touchdown passes. He had already thrown for 393 yards after completing 29 of his first 31 pass attempts. And it was already clear Stroud had done what he needed to do to solidify his status as a Heisman frontrunner.
In a game where he played just one possession in the second half with a blowout victory over Michigan State already well in hand, Stroud threw for the sixth-most passing yards (432) in a single game in Ohio State history while his 91.4 completion percentage (32 completions on 35 attempts) was the third-best ever for an Ohio State quarterback in a game with at least 10 passing attempts.
Stroud was already a slight Heisman favorite at most sportsbooks entering Saturday’s game. A nearly flawless performance in the national spotlight against a Michigan State team that was ranked seventh in the country was the Heisman moment he needed to begin to separate himself from the pack – or at least most of it.
He wasn’t surprised by his success against the Spartans, who were already ranked last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards allowed per game – though they had only allowed 17 touchdown passes in 10 games and 6.9 passing yards per attempt before Stroud lit them up for six touchdowns and 12.3 yards per attempt on Saturday.
“We had a great week of practice. Great week of preparation,” Stroud said. “Really everything that we thought we were gonna get we kinda got. So it was good just to come out there and execute at a high level. … A lot of the things I could kind of see before it happened thanks to preparation and things of that sort.”
Stroud’s receivers weren’t surprised by how well he played either, as they’ve seen him getting better and better as the season has progressed.
“C.J.’s one of a kind,” Chris Olave said after the game. “His talent’s off the charts. So I’m proud of him and I can’t wait to see him keep going.”
While Ryan Day made it clear he expects Stroud’s focus to be on beating Michigan next week rather than on winning an individual award, Day did say he hopes Heisman voters will take into consideration that Stroud’s huge numbers against the Spartans came even though he spent most of the third quarter and all of the fourth quarter watching from the sidelines.
“Not that this really matters to our team or not, but when you only played really one half of football and you throw for six touchdowns, I just think that matters when you’re looking at statistics,” Day said. “And the level of play that he’s playing at right now is very high. I think that needs to be taken into consideration. But our focus is on the team up north right now and getting ready for those guys.”
Coming out of some games early and missing one September game against Akron due to a shoulder injury haven’t stopped Stroud from putting up some of the gaudiest numbers of any quarterback in college football this season. Having now played in 10 games, Stroud has already thrown for the second-most passing yards (3,468) and the third-most passing touchdowns (36) in a single season in Ohio State history, while his completion percentage (71.1) and passer rating (186.7) are both currently on pace to be the best in school history.
In a span of just two months, Stroud has gone from being a quarterback who some Ohio State fans thought should be benched after he threw for only 185 yards against Tulsa to a national darling who is now widely recognized as one of the nation’s elite signal-callers. That said, Day said Stroud needs to handle the praise he’s receiving now the same way he handled the criticism he received earlier in the season.
“The same people that thought maybe he shouldn’t have been playing are the same people that are telling him maybe he should be the Heisman Trophy winner. Can’t listen to either of those people,” Day said. “Has to stay focused on just having a great night tonight, getting home, getting rest, waking up in the morning and getting started on these guys. Learn from what happened in this game and stay focused.
“And I hope he can do that, because so far he’s done that. He’s been really steady, even though there’s been a lot of ups and downs, and right now we’re on an upswing. So being able to handle that is critically important. Almost more important when things go bad. But I think it’s just putting one week in front of the other preparation-wise and learning from it and staying strong and not riding that roller-coaster.”
“The level of play that he’s playing at right now is very high.”– Ryan Day on C.J. Stroud
Stroud certainly can’t allow the praise to get to his head. He’ll face a much tougher pass defense next week against Michigan, who was ranked eighth in the country with just 178.4 passing yards allowed per game entering this week. Wisconsin had the second-best passing defense in the country entering Saturday, and the Badgers are currently in position to win the Big Ten West with just one week to go in the regular season.
What was a crowded Heisman race just a couple of weeks ago, though, looks like a two-man race now. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young was still considered to be the Heisman frontrunner at some sportsbooks entering the weekend, and he also put up huge numbers on Saturday against Arkansas – though the Crimson Tide needed him to play all four quarters – as he threw for 559 yards and five touchdowns against the Razorbacks.
But Stroud will have another opportunity to make a statement on the national stage in The Game next Saturday, and another one in the Big Ten Championship Game one week after that if the Buckeyes can beat the Wolverines. And if he can play in those two games anywhere close to as well as he did against Michigan State, Stroud will have built himself an excellent case to become the eighth Heisman winner in Ohio State history next month.
- #4 Ohio State 56, #7 Michigan State 7
- • The Buckeyes Dominated Michigan State on Senior Day
- • It Was the Best Day Yet From the Ohio State Defense
- • C.J. Stroud Builds His Heisman Trophy Resume
- • Chris Olave Breaks David Boston's Career Touchdown Receptions Record
- • Ohio State Postgame • Notebook • Quotebook
- • Photos • Five Things • Debriefing • 3 Key Stats • Social Reactions