Devin Brown, Lincoln Kienholz Unable to State Case for Ohio State’s 2024 Quarterback Job in Cotton Bowl

By Dan Hope on December 30, 2023 at 1:51 am
Devin Brown

Devin Brown entered the Cotton Bowl with the opportunity to establish himself as the frontrunner to start at quarterback for Ohio State in 2024. That opportunity lasted only four possessions.

After suffering a high ankle sprain to his right ankle against Penn State in October that sidelined him for the last five games of the regular season, Brown returned to action for his first career start in Friday night’s season finale. Brown’s opportunity to showcase his skills was quickly derailed on the third drive of the game, however, when he suffered a high ankle sprain to his left ankle while being sacked by Missouri safety JC Carlies.

Brown remained in the game for one more series before heading back to the locker room. He would not return to the game, ultimately leaving the stadium in a walking boot.

As a result, Ohio State didn’t get a real opportunity to evaluate Brown in his first career start, which came because Kyle McCord transferred to Syracuse after starting all 12 games in the regular season. 

Brown didn’t show much before the injury, completing four of six passing attempts for 20 yards, so one quarter of play as a starter won’t be enough for Ryan Day and the Buckeyes to come out of the 2023 season with a great feel for whether Brown is good enough to be their starting quarterback in 2024.

“I don't have a great answer for that right now, because this is not what we were expecting coming out of the game,” Day said. “We didn't have a game to look at and go through and evaluate. We know what we see in practice. But it's certainly different when you play in the game. So disappointed we don't have that.”

With that uncertainty in mind, Ohio State could add an experienced quarterback via the transfer portal. A source told Eleven Warriors that Ohio State has been in contact with former Kansas State quarterback Will Howard, a 27-game starter for the Wildcats who earned second-team All-Big 12 honors this year, about a potential transfer to Ohio State.

Brown could have convinced Ohio State that it didn’t need a transfer quarterback with a strong showing against Missouri, but the fact that he was unable to do so increases the likelihood the Buckeyes proceed forward with a transfer addition.

With Brown sidelined for the game’s final three quarters, true freshman Lincoln Kienholz got his own opportunity to audition for the job as he was the Buckeyes’ quarterback for their final seven drives. But Kienholz looked the part of an inexperienced quarterback who has only been at Ohio State for half a year as he completed only six of his 17 passing attempts for 86 yards in the Buckeyes’ 14-3 loss.

Kienholz’s struggles shouldn’t make anyone write off his potential for the future. Brown had taken most of the quarterback reps with the first-team offense leading up to the game as Ohio State planned to play him for the entire contest, and neither quarterback got much help from the Buckeyes’ offensive line, which struggled in pass protection all night.

“I feel like Lincoln got put in a tough spot there, to say the least,” Day said. “And I thought he battled his tail off. But clearly, we didn't help him up front. We didn't run the ball well enough. Freshman quarterback out there for the first time playing and we're not running the ball well enough up front. So it's hard to get much of an evaluation coming out of the game when you can't get any balance. I felt like we could have helped him in certain areas, and we didn't.”

Ohio State defensive end Jack Sawyer, sitting in between Day and Kienholz during the Buckeyes’ postgame press conference, went out of his way to praise Kienholz for his effort in the game.

“I just want to give Lincoln a shoutout for stepping in there and playing with confidence in a tough spot,” Sawyer said. “I thought you fought your ass off, man. It's not easy, and you went in there and you did the best you could. So shout out to you, man.”

That said, Kienholz’s performance didn’t do anything to dispel the notion that he still has a long way to go in his development. His accuracy was spotty throughout the game and he was unable to lead Ohio State on any scoring drives.

While he’ll get a chance to compete for Ohio State’s starting quarterback job along with Brown, incoming freshman Air Noland and any possible transfer addition over the next eight months, Ohio State can’t bank on Kienholz being ready to be their 2024 starter right now.

As such, Ohio State enters the offseason with a major question mark at the quarterback – just as it did a year ago – and a need to decide quickly whether it must upgrade next year’s quarterback roster with a transfer addition.

“It's hard for me to process all of it right now, but we got to figure out what's the best for the team moving forward,” Day said. “And that's in a lot of areas. So we've got to take a hard look at that and get that figured out. But everything will be looked at.”

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