Kyle McCord’s Early Mistake Proves Costly in Ohio State’s Loss to Michigan

By Dan Hope on November 25, 2023 at 6:56 pm
Kyle McCord

In the week leading up to The Game, Ryan Day made it clear what Kyle McCord’s most important job as Ohio State’s starting quarterback would be against Michigan: Take care of the football.

“You see him executing plays, you see it in practice, and then it carries over to the field. And that's what you want,” Day said of McCord on Tuesday. “Now ultimately, we got to take care of the football and win the game, that's the bottom line here. And the good news is he’s got a great group around him, and he's been in these environments before, so a lot of things in his favor going into the game, but now he's gotta go put it on the field.”

Ultimately, it was a pair of interceptions thrown by McCord that proved to be two of the most costly plays for the Buckeyes in their 30-24 loss to the Wolverines.

While Ohio State’s offense was forced to punt on its first two possessions, Ohio State’s defense held serve by forcing two punts from Michigan. The game rapidly swung in Michigan’s favor, however, when McCord forced a pass into coverage for Marvin Harrison Jr. and was picked off by Michigan cornerback Will Johnson, who returned the ball to the 7-yard line to set up the first touchdown of the game.

The interception came on a run-pass option with McCord’s first responsibility being to read where the linebacker was going. But he never saw Johnson, who jumped Harrison’s route and made McCord pay.

“If I could have it back, obviously, probably just want to run that one in the ground and live to see the next play, because we put our defense in a tough situation there,” McCord said after the game.

That turnover and subsequent touchdown put the Buckeyes in an early hole from which they would never fully recover. Without that mistake, Ohio State might have won the game. After all, the Buckeyes’ offense would go on to outgain the Wolverines’ offense by 40 yards (378 to 338) while gaining more first downs (21 to 18), converting more third downs (4-of-9 vs. 3-of-12) and averaging nearly a yard more per play (6.5 to 5.6). But they never strung together enough plays on either side of the ball to retake the lead.

“In this game, you got to win the rushing yards and you got to win the turnover battle. And we did neither of those things,” Ryan Day said postgame.

Still, McCord and the Ohio State offense had a chance to win the game at the end. After Ohio State’s defense held the Wolverines to a field goal with 1:05 remaining, the Buckeyes got the ball back trailing by six points and needing a touchdown to win. McCord made a couple of plays to give Ohio State a realistic shot, connecting with Harrison for a 22-yard gain and with Julian Fleming for another 21 yards. But Ohio State’s comeback hopes ended on the next play when McCord was intercepted by Michigan safety Rod Moore on a throw over the middle.

It’s harder to blame McCord for the second interception; Ohio State was in a situation where it had to keep moving the ball down the field to have a chance to win, and he got hit on the throw as a result of Ohio State left guard Donovan Jackson falling down. Still, it was the nail in the coffin in a game that will be remembered more for the mistakes McCord made than the plays he made.

“Obviously, in that situation, they knew we were gonna have to take a shot down the field to get the ball moving,” McCord said. “I went back to Marvin and kind of got hit as I threw it. Didn’t get as much on the ball as I wanted to. And they made a play.”

McCord certainly had his share of positive moments in the game, too. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns, including six passes that went for 20 yards or more. His most impressive play of the day came late in the first half when he stepped up through the pocket to complete a 44-yard pass to Harrison, who caught the deep ball despite pass interference from Johnson.

There are plenty of other factors beyond McCord’s mistakes that played a role in Ohio State’s defeat.

The defense that had led the Buckeyes to success all season allowed Michigan to score on six of its last seven possessions, not including its end-of-game kneeldown, and never forced any turnovers of its own. Ohio State’s offensive line was inconsistent in both its pass protection and run blocking, and like Day said, the Buckeyes got outgained by nearly 50 yards (156 to 107) on the ground. Day’s big-game decision-making drew scrutiny once again, particularly his decision at the end of the first half to settle for a 52-yard field goal attempt – which Jayden Fielding missed – rather than go for it on 4th-and-2 and try to score a touchdown or at least set up a more makeable kick.

While there wasn’t much he could have done on the second interception, Harrison could have also made a better effort to break up the first interception or at least to tackle Johnson after the interception, though he wasn’t sure how much he could have done to stop it from his vantage point.

“I’ll have to go back and watch it, but I think the DB just on the snap, he kind of just went inside and we already had a slant called,” Harrison said after the game. “I guess I just have to go back and watch it. I don't know how much else I could have done there.”

But in a game where every play and every point mattered, McCord learned the hard way just how costly one or two mistakes can be.

“Games like this come down to one or two plays, and you prepare all offseason, you prepare all year long and your season really comes down to a handful of plays, whether you make them or you don't,” McCord said when asked what he had learned from the loss. “The margins of error, especially in games like this, are slim. So obviously, not the result we wanted.”

McCord, like the rest of his teammates, now must wait for the next eight days to find out who, when and where the Buckeyes will have the opportunity to play in the postseason. Ohio State will need multiple results to break in its favor to make the College Football Playoff; otherwise, the Buckeyes will be headed to a non-playoff New Year’s Six bowl, likely the Orange Bowl. In the meantime, McCord plans to be back at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Sunday watching the film from the loss and figuring out what he needs to do better next time.

“It's one of those games where you put everything in, and it hurts to come up short. But we'll regroup tomorrow,” McCord said. “Watch the film obviously, make the corrections on it. But the worst part is that we kind of have to sit back now and see how everything shakes out. It's out of our control. But I know last year, we got a second chance at life there, getting in the playoff. And we came ready to play and motivated. But we'll see. Like I said, the worst part is that it's out of our control.”

While it’s likely McCord will remain the starting quarterback for whatever postseason game or games the Buckeyes play in, his mistakes in the biggest game of the year amid an inconsistent season could give Ohio State reason to make him compete for the job again next year with Devin Brown, Lincoln Kienholz and incoming freshman Air Noland. He certainly left Ann Arbor with a lot to prove at the end of his first regular season as Ohio State’s quarterback.

The Ohio State player who has known McCord the longest, though, expressed confidence that his teammate since they played together at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia will bounce back.

“He's going to continue to fight. How things are going, good or bad, he's always going to continue to fight,” Harrison said. “I think he's done a tremendous job of just handling everything that comes with being the starting quarterback at Ohio State. There's so much pressure and expectations and he's done a phenomenal job all year just handling that. So I'm super proud of him. I tell you guys this all the time but before he’s my quarterback, he's my friend. So I'm gonna support him through the ups and downs, and I’ll always be by his side.”

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