Leadership Style, Preparation of Ohio State Quarterback Devin Brown Gives Team Confidence for Cotton Bowl

By Andy Anders on December 28, 2023 at 5:59 pm
Devin Brown at Cotton Bowl practice

This is the moment Devin Brown’s been waiting for.

While most quarterbacks would hold onto some nerves when making their first start in a New Year’s Six bowl that is the one shot they have to get a leg up in a pending quarterback competition, Brown’s aura is a bit different.

“I'm just so pumped to get out there and finally play,” Brown said. “Even my family has been asking me, ‘How are you not nervous? Are you nervous?’ I had my family over when I was back in Arizona for the three days that we had (off), and I’m like, ‘Nah, I really don't feel anything.’ I've been playing tackle football since I was 7 years old. It's just in (front) of a bigger crowd, that’s really it. It’s the same game.”

As Ohio State prepares to take on Missouri in the Cotton Bowl on Friday, the Buckeyes’ coaches and players are expressing confidence both in Brown’s leadership and his preparation throughout the season and in bowl practice.

“He's prepared at a high level and the guys believe in him because of what he's done in the last few weeks in practice,” Ryan Day said.

Brown wasn’t far off from being Ohio State’s starter under center at the start of the year.

He and former starter Kyle McCord, who has since transferred to Syracuse, had a competition with a razor-thin margin through much of fall camp. Brown saw action in Weeks 1 and 2 before McCord was named the starter in Week 3.

That didn’t stop Brown from working on his leadership skills behind the scenes.

“He did a great job of staying in it even after Kyle won the position,” wide receiver Xavier Johnson said. “He was leading in his own way, he was finding a way to lead without stepping on Kyle’s toes. Since he’s had the ability to make that role his own he’s owned it. You’ve kind of seen him blossom, you’ve seen the confidence that got him to being a highly-touted quarterback out of high school, the playmaking that he did to earn that notice.”

Brown said the only difference between his preparation now and when he was backing up McCord is the command that comes with being the top dog at the spot.

“Every day since Week 1, Indiana, it's been the same,” Brown said. “Whether it's with Coach (Todd) Fitch, Coach (Corey) Dennis, Tristan (Gebbia) getting in there and watching as much tape as I can and getting with the guys around me as much as I can. Obviously it's a little different not being the starter, trying to get around those guys and prepare like that. Still was able to do that stuff on my own. But this month has changed where I'm the guy and guys are starting to be around me more and I'm trying to bring them in with me and watch tape with me.”

Brown found spots to contribute for Ohio State as well, seeing use out of a specialty red zone package with him as a rushing threat at quarterback and at the end of blowouts to keep McCord as healthy as possible. He tossed his first career touchdown to Carnell Tate against Western Kentucky the Saturday after McCord was announced as the team’s starter.

He ran eight times for 20 yards and a touchdown against Purdue in Week 7, then hit Brandon Inniss with a 58-yard touchdown strike in garbage time. On the year, Brown is 12-of-22 passing for 197 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He has an additional 35 yards and a score on the ground.

“Really after that Purdue game, going into it, I didn't know I would have been used that much,” Brown said. “But it was great. I felt confident the whole time in there. Once I got hit a little bit and got banged around, ‘All right, I'm here, I can do this. This is why I'm here.’”

Brown’s charisma and understanding of what makes the program tick are what have stood out the most to his teammates.

“Devin Brown is a super positive player,” wide receiver Emeka Egbuka said. “Not the innate traits that he was gifted by God, his arm, his legs, all that type of stuff, it's the personality he's accumulated over the field, just being immersed in the culture of Ohio State, (that’s) something that really sticks out with Devin. And he's the first one to greet you after he makes a good pass. He's dapping up all the linemen after great blocking. He's just a positive energy to be around.”

Cornerback Denzel Burke has been particularly impressed with Brown both in that regard and in his play during bowl practice.

“I’m really proud of Devin,” Burke said. “A lot of things I was not expecting, he showed me. He’s really bringing the team together with a lot of leadership tactics and a lot of things we didn’t see. I’m really excited to see what he can do this coming Friday. If he puts it all together, he’ll have one hell of a day.”

Brown probably won some more affinity from his fellow players when he gifted them all with JBL speakers on Tuesday.

Throughout preparations for the Buckeyes' contest against Missouri, Ohio State’s coaching staff is working to ensure it has the best game plan possible to maximize Brown’s abilities. 

“I think it's big on us to make sure, ‘OK, what do we feel like Devin does best? And let's make sure we do that,’” Hartline said. “He's taken the bull by the horns and ran with it. So a lot of credit to him and really excited to see him let it loose on Friday night.”

Brown feels as though the game has slowed down for him throughout the month of practices, adding that he’s “overthinking” less.

He views the Cotton Bowl as not just an important game to win but also an audition for next season. Whether Ohio State will add a transfer quarterback remains uncertain, but even if no one is added, Lincoln Kienholz and Air Noland will be in Columbus ready to compete for the 2024 starting quarterback job.

For now, however, Brown sits in the driver’s seat. 

“Once the season is over, we'll kind of figure out where we're at with everything,” Day said. “But as of right now, I mean, he's our quarterback and we're moving forward. This is a great opportunity for him to go build more confidence with the guys around him as we head into next season.”

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