Spartans carried the most devastating spears and swords of their day, but it was Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord who played his sharpest football on Saturday.
He set a career-high against Big Ten opponents for completion percentage and a career-high against any opponent for passing yards.
He led Ohio State’s offense to a 35-3 lead at halftime and touchdowns on five of its first six drives.
Overall, he’s playing his best football as the collegiate game caps its second November weekend.
“I thought his feet moved better in the game,” Ryan Day said in his postgame press conference. “Just watching the rhythm of the game, the feet – he started off a little better in the Rutgers game, then he started off a little better in this game – the game is slowing down for him. You’re beginning to see that happening. Not that it’s all perfect all the time, it’s not. But when his feet are right and he’s found the rhythm of the game, that’s when he’s playing at his best and he threw some really nice balls tonight.”
For the night, McCord finished 24-of-31 passing (77%) for 335 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
"I felt like my footwork was definitely better today, and that’s something that we focused on during the week – a good base, having my weight distribution right," McCord said. "Then I think the O-line did a great job today as well in pass protection. ... I was able to step into the throws the way I wanted to."
Marvin Harrison Jr. and Cade Stover did the bulk of the work for the signal caller. Harrison had seven receptions for 149 yards and two touchdowns while Stover brought in seven catches of his own for 79 yards and a score. The duo accomplished that task on a mere 16 targets, a combined catch percentage of 87.5.
Harrison has felt his chemistry with McCord grow throughout the season, even if they won multiple state championships together already at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia.
“We played with each other in high school but it’s totally different in college,” Harrison said. “The players are better. The schemes are better. We’re still trying to adjust. We have 10 games now. We’re still developing chemistry, giving each other different looks in practice, trying to get on the same page as much as we can.”
"I felt like my footwork was definitely better today, and that’s something that we focused on during the week – a good base, having my weight distribution right."– Kyle McCord
Ohio State’s first drive already showed why McCord might be in for his sharpest performance of the season.
Yes, he only completed two passes, each to Stover for a total of 16 yards. But the first came after McCord worked through several reads before checking down to his open tight end and the second was a second-window throw that McCord showed great patience and timing in waiting for.
As much was shown in two throws that didn’t go as completions in his ledger, however. McCord recovered a botched snap and threw it at the feet of a receiver to avoid a big loss early in the drive. Then an accurate ball to Emeka Egbuka over the middle drew a pass interference flag to move the chains later on.
McCord capped Ohio State’s second drive with one of his best throws of the season.
Settling back into a short drop, McCord fired a pass up the right sideline to Harrison. The ball landed perfectly on Harrison’s outside shoulder in his outstretched hands and gave the star just enough space to tap both feet in-bounds for a 26-yard touchdown.
Great throw. Great catch. Touchdown Marvin Harrison Jr. pic.twitter.com/Pfq5EO6SJE— Eleven Warriors (@11W) November 12, 2023
McCord then found Harrison again to cap the Buckeyes’ next drive with another touchdown on a well-run and well-timed slant route.
The timing of Ohio State’s signal caller generally looked the best it has this year. This all against a Spartan defense that – contrary to its offense, which is one of the country’s worst statistically – has actually put up middling numbers this season. Michigan State ranked 47th nationally in total defense and 57th in passing defense entering the contest.
“The biggest thing is film study during the week,” McCord said of his improved timing. “I think when you put the work in, you put the hours in, that allows you the opportunity to go step on the field and play with confidence, play a step ahead and play with anticipation, which is extremely important at this level. Then I think the second part of the edge is having trust in yourself and the guys around you.”
The final of McCord’s three touchdown tosses came on a great low throw to stop Stover on a seam route.
Farmer Gronk is a DUDE. pic.twitter.com/hIagKXwDGE— Eleven Warriors (@11W) November 12, 2023
“He’s just a big target, runs his routes extremely well,” McCord said of Stover. “His attention to detail is outstanding. I think, on top of that, he's a force in the run game too. So I think the way he blocks, the way he runs routes, he's just selfless on the field. I think the whole offense benefits from that.”
Stover represented the last missing piece from Ohio State’s offense the last couple of months as at least one of either he, wide receiver Emeka Egbuka or running back TreVeyon Henderson has been held out every week since the Notre Dame game on Sept. 23.
“It was great to have everybody back,” Day said. “It was great to have Cade back, it was great to see Tre running, it was great to have (Emeka) and Julian out there. Certainly, Marvin made some big-time plays early in the game and really got us going.”
In the first half alone, McCord went 21-of-25 passing (84%) with 263 yards and three touchdowns. That already equaled his season-high for scoring tosses and was just 53 yards away from his season-high in that stat as well.
“That’s the kind of start we’ve been shooting for all year,” McCord said. “Getting out of the gate, putting points up on the board and being consistent that entire half. (The coaches) took some of the starters out pretty early in that second half, but I think this was a pretty complete game.”
McCord did post one more highlight at the onset of the second half. Ohio State came out of the gate and dialed up a shot play on a post route to Harrison, and McCord connected with him on a bomb of a 57-yard throw that traveled 45 yards in the air.
Marvin Harrison Jr. is booking his ticket to New York City tonight. pic.twitter.com/UCkZ1Ttn37— Andy Backstrom (@andybackstrom) November 12, 2023
McCord broke his career-high for passing yards the following drive on an 18-yard toss to Chip Trayanum out of the backfield. Before much longer, Lincoln Kienholz entered in relief for his first snaps as a Buckeye.
The improvements McCord and the offense have made are ones Day has seen simmering for a while now. His overarching goal has been to see the team playing its best football in November, and the first half of the Buckeyes’ joust with the Spartans might have been their best half on offense this year.
“Although it was kind of clunky at times, a lot of guys graded out well (at Rutgers),” Day said. “I felt like, watching the film, it was encouraging and it was coming. So I kind of felt like something like this was right around the corner. So counting on this to continue pushing us forward with the momentum to finish this season the way we should.”
Ohio State gets one final chance to push its momentum forward against Minnesota on Nov. 18 before its ultimate showdown with still-undefeated Michigan on Nov. 25.