During his postgame press conference at Northwestern on Saturday, Ryan Day admitted what had been evident for the past two years but had never been fully acknowledged publicly by Ohio State’s head coach: He doesn’t want C.J. Stroud to run the ball when he doesn’t have to.
When the Buckeyes needed Stroud to run the ball in a game where they had no success passing the ball, however, Ohio State’s starting quarterback showed he could make the necessary plays with his legs to lead the Buckeyes to a win.
Stroud had his worst game ever as a passer against Northwestern, completing just 10 of 26 passing attempts for 76 yards and failing to throw a touchdown for the first time as Ohio State’s starting quarterback. His completion percentage (38.5), passing yards per attempt (2.9) and passer rating (63) were all by far his worst as the Buckeyes’ signal-caller.
Of course, Saturday’s weather in Evanston had much to do with that. Heavy winds were blowing throughout Saturday’s game, making it extremely difficult for any quarterback – even one who entered Saturday’s game with the best passer rating in the country – to throw the ball accurately downfield, particularly in the first and fourth quarters when the Buckeyes were playing against the wind.
“I don't know what the numbers show, but there must have been 30-mile-an-hour winds. And if you ever tried playing golf in 30-mile-an-hour winds, it's hard to get off the tee, forget throwing a football,” Day said after the game. “Very, very difficult to throw the ball, for sure, in this game, but almost impossible into the wind.
“We tried to. You can see, we had some things that were designed. Even when we tried to get the ball into the perimeter, with some of the movement passes, it still wasn't just crisp because that ball was just darting in and out.”
As a result, Ohio State had to take the reins off Stroud and utilize him as a runner more than it had all year. Stroud delivered by running the ball six times for 79 yards, including two of the Buckeyes’ most important plays of the game.
C.J. Stroud had a career-high 79 rushing yards in the win over Northwestern, including a number of different designed QB runs, something that fans have been hoping for all season.— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) November 5, 2022
Strouds running ability could be a game changer for Ohio States offense. pic.twitter.com/9hd4ZpgzTU
With the Buckeyes still scoreless and just over three minutes remaining in the second quarter, Stroud made a crucial 4th-and-1 conversion for the Buckeyes by pulling the ball on a read option play – as Northwestern’s defense sold out to try to stop Miyan Williams – and running for a 16-yard gain, which set up Ohio State’s first touchdown of the game on a 15-yard run by Emeka Egbuka two plays later.
Stroud acknowledged after the game that the play was effective, partly because there was reason to believe Stroud wouldn’t run the ball in that situation based on his history as Ohio State’s quarterback.
“A lot of teams probably think that I can't run or I'm not willing to. So I mean, I took that into my hands and tried to get a first down for my teammate,” Stroud said. “It was the nickel who came off the edge, trying to wrap around, trying to get Miyan, so I just felt like it was necessary for me to pull and try to get upfield.”
With the Buckeyes still leading by only one touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Stroud made another crucial play with his legs to help the Buckeyes put the game away. Once again, Stroud read a defender and then pulled the ball to take off into open space on the right side of the field and ended up going for a 44-yard gain – his longest run since his 48-yard touchdown run as a true freshman at Michigan State in 2020, when he was a backup to Justin Fields.
CJ Stroud 44 yard run! pic.twitter.com/UxQjyHGjh4— @ (@FTBeard7) November 5, 2022
That run got the Buckeyes inside Northwestern’s 5-yard line, leading to a 2-yard touchdown run by Williams two plays later that gave Ohio State the 21-7 lead that would ultimately hold for the final score.
Having taken plenty of criticism for not running the ball over the past two years, Stroud acknowledged at the end of his postgame press conference that he enjoyed having the opportunity to show what he could do as a runner.
“It felt good to get a couple of runs in today, and hopefully Coach Day calls some more runs. Maybe everybody in the world will be happy with me then,” Stroud said.
In the moment, though, Stroud wasn’t trying to prove anything about his own skill set – he was trying to do what he needed to do to keep the Buckeyes’ undefeated season intact.
“We had to find another way to win. I'm like that every game though where I tell Coach to run me if he wants to or if he doesn't, it's up to him,” Stroud said. “I'm willing to do anything to win, and if that's throwing the ball, running the ball – I don't play this game to please anybody. Of course, I want to be appreciative of Buckeye Nation, which I am, and the fans out there that support me. But at the end of the day, I'm here to win for my brothers in the locker room and my family back home, so any way I can do that, I'll do such.”
Day’s reasoning for not wanting Stroud to run the ball in most games is simple: He doesn’t want his star quarterback to get hurt. Day remembers what happened in the College Football Playoff two years ago when Justin Fields suffered an injury on a running play in Ohio State’s semifinal win over Clemson that hampered him in the Buckeyes’ national championship game loss to Alabama, so he wants to avoid putting Stroud in harm’s way when he can help it.
“C.J. wants to run,” Day said. “But we know how important it is to keep C.J. healthy, and he's not going to take shots unless we need him to. We needed him to today. And he did it.
“He's such a weapon in the pocket with what he can do. We got to be smart about when we put him in those situations. But that has nothing to do with C.J. He wants to compete. He wants those opportunities. So when the time was right today, he did it to win the game. And that's what's most important. Keep winning, and you move on, despite these really difficult conditions today.”
Certainly, Saturday’s game might not be the only time Ohio State needs Stroud to run down the stretch of the season if it’s going to continue winning. The potential for bad weather will be on the table for all of Ohio State’s November regular-season games. There will also be much tougher competition than Northwestern, meaning the Buckeyes may need Stroud to run more even in better weather conditions.
Day’s comments after Saturday’s game indicated that Stroud running the ball more won’t be a part of the game plan unless Ohio State feels like it needs to be, but Saturday’s game is one the Buckeyes must keep in mind as they assemble their game plans in the future.
“That's the balance you try to find. Is it worth it to get the quarterback involved and get him exposed to the shots that could potentially put him out of the game, or do you need those yards?” Day said. “And I think that's where you have to make good decisions. And you have to take a deep breath at times and keep working through that. Knowing that if you involve the quarterback, yeah, you might be able to make a few yards, but you're also exposing him to hits. And we needed it today, in these conditions, at the right time.”
- #2 Ohio State 21, Northwestern 7
- • Buckeyes Slog Past Northwestern, 21-7
- • No Style Points in Sloppy NW Win
- • Stroud Shows He Can Run When Needed
- • Buckeyes Break FBS 20-Point Record
- • Ohio State Postgame • Photos • Notebook • Quotebook • Debriefing
- • NW Postgame • 3 Key Stats • Five Things • Social Reactions