Breaking Down How All Five Quarterbacks Performed in Ohio State's 2024 Spring Game

By Josh Poloha on April 15, 2024 at 7:30 am
Will Howard

Ohio State fans got their first look at the Buckeyes' five scholarship quarterbacks in live action this year during Saturday's spring game.

While none of the five were clear standouts in Saturday afternoon’s game, each of the gunslingers gave the coaches, along with the public, an opportunity to evaluate the quarterback competition heading into the summer while playing in front of 80,000+ fans in Ohio Stadium.

None of Will Howard, Devin Brown or Julian Sayin – the top three contenders for the starting job – did enough to stake a clear claim to the starting job in the spring game. Howard struggled with his accuracy downfield, Brown only threw seven passes (including the only passing touchdown of the game) and, while Sayin showed glimpses of a promising freshman, some of his decisions and throws also showed he is a first-year quarterback who should be getting ready to attend his high school prom.

Ohio State had 14 other spring practices leading up to the game, so the coaches have plenty more film and practice time to evaluate than those of us who just watched a single spring game. While it's easy to overreact, the game is a small sample size of the quarterback competition as a whole.

“I wouldn't say that I'm going to make any declarations right now," Day said after the game. "But we'll look at the film and see what it looks like and then decide where to go from there. But I don't have much to say about it right now.”

With that caveat in mind, we dive into how each of the five scholarship quarterbacks performed on Saturday by breaking down each of their passing charts from the exhibition in the Shoe. (Note: Each passing chart is categorized by how many yards the quarterback threw the ball in the air past the line of scrimmage on each attempt and whether the ball reached its target inside or outside the hashes, though the stats listed include yards gained after the catch on each completion.)

Will Howard

Will Howard's passing chart in the 2024 spring game

Although this is Howard's first spring at Ohio State, the fifth-year quarterback is by the most experienced Buckeye at his position. While he is likely the frontrunner to be the starting signal-caller for OSU's season opener against Akron, Howard hasn’t won the job yet and wasn’t spectacular in Saturday’s spring game.

During the practices that media members were allowed to attend this spring paired with the spring game, Howard's accuracy dipped the further downfield he threw the ball, which isn't necessarily a surprise. On Saturday, he completed just 2-of-6 passes over 10 yards, missing his only throw of 20-plus yards downfield.

While Howard was a very accurate passer downfield in 2022, those numbers dipped in 2023, a trend that continued this spring.

Will Howard's Stats at Different Passing Depths in 2022 and 2023 (via PFF)
Depth (Yards) 2022 2023
20+ 14/26 (53.8%), 410 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs 15/46 (32.6%), 452 yards, 6 TDs, 4 INTs
10-19 18/31 (58.1%), 338 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT 43/78 (55.1%), 789 yards, 6 TDs, 4 INTs
0-9 33/44 (75%), 281 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT 117/159 (73.6%), 1,043 yards, 7 TDs, 2 INTs
Behind los 18/20 (90%), 195 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs 43/46 (93.5%), 346 yards, 4 TDs

Howard's best throw of the day came on an 18-yard connection to Emeka Egbuka on which the receiver made an incredible one-handed catch.

Overall, Day was satisfied with Howard's first showing in the Shoe, especially his pocket presence.

“I think that over the spring, the timing is increasing, it's getting better over and over again. I think the more reps that all these guys get the better,” Day said. “He had some nice completions in there. And I think there was a sack in there, maybe he held onto it a little too long. And wind was going pretty hard today, so I think we underthrew a couple balls. But overall, I thought he had at least had a good comfort level for the first drive in the Shoe.”

Devin Brown

Devin Brown's passing chart in the 2024 spring game

While he only threw seven passes, Brown was the most impressive quarterback on Saturday. Averaging the most yards per attempt among his peers, Brown led the offense's most impressive drive of the day, completing 3-of-3 passes for 50 yards including an 11-yard touchdown throw to Brennen Schramm.

Brown completed all three of his passing attempts more than 10-plus yards downfield and was the only quarterback to complete a pass more than 20 yards downfield with a 25-yard completion to David Adolph.

Brown also added three carries for 24 yards, but given that quarterbacks weren't allowed to get hit by the defense, his ability to stay healthy remains one of the biggest questions about Brown, especially for a quarterback known for his mobility.

Julian Sayin

Julian Sayin's passing chart in the 2024 spring game

Saturday was a reminder for all of us that Sayin is an early-enrollee freshman who still has plenty of time to get used to the speed of the college game. While he has already shown plenty of promise, the No. 1-ranked quarterback in the 2024 class must be also given time to develop, both on and off the field, especially against Jim Knowles' defense.

“Julian is a very fast processor. He really thinks very, very quickly on his feet. He makes really quick decisions. He doesn't stick on reads. He can progress and he sees things really well for a young player,” Kelly said. “(Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles) can make a young freshman quarterback cry with some of the stuff he does. But I never saw that with Jules. And what's been impressive is his ability to retain. Him and (freshman wide receiver Jeremiah Smith), the compliment I would say to them is if you got here and you didn't know what class they were in, you wouldn't say that those guys were freshmen in terms of how they picked things up.

“Sometimes freshmen act like freshmen, but the guys who are special, they don't act like freshmen. They act like they're football players. And those are two guys that are examples of that.”

He completed just two of six passing attempts more than 10 yards downfield, a part of the field that included his worst throw of the day: An interception thrown into the wind that hung up for far too long.

Lincoln Kienholz 

Lincoln Kienholz's passing chart in the 2024 spring game

In what was an important day for Kienholz given that Sayin has already made a move to surpass him on the depth chart, the sophomore didn't have a good day on the gridiron. He not only threw two interceptions, but Kienholz completed just 1-of-6 passes more than 10 yards downfield.

Air Noland

Air Noland's passing chart in the 2024 spring game

Noland didn't play at all in the first half but showed impressive glimpses while getting some snaps in the final two quarters. Although he technically threw an interception, it came on the final play of the game, one in which he scrambled around for a long time before heaving the ball to the end zone just trying to make a play as the clock hit zeroes.

Overall, it wasn’t a spectacular day for the quarterbacks. Only one quarterback, Brown, completed more than two passes 10-plus yards downfield as the five combined to complete just eight of 24 passes (33.3%) more than 10 yards downfield for 130 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

“We grade everything. They're getting constant feedback in terms of where we are. And then after 15, which we had today. But we can't do it unless you watch the film.”– Chip Kelly on evaluating the quarterbacks

Nobody won or lost the starting job (or even the backup job) on Saturday, but Howard, Brown and Sayin each had glimpses of impressive play that showed why they’re all “in the mix” for the job.

“We'll give them our assessment,” Kelly said. “But we do it after every day. They know where they stood after practice one, after two, after three, after four. We grade everything. They're getting constant feedback in terms of where we are. And then after 15, which we had today. But we can't do it unless you watch the film.”

Ryan Day and Chip Kelly both have a track record of developing successful quarterbacks, but given the up-and-down performances at quarterback both in the spring game and the practices media was able to attend, one quarterback stepping up and taking the job early on in fall camp is key, with Howard the favorite to land the job followed by Brown and Sayin.

“You always want to do it earlier. But I also believe every time I've been involved in this is that it kind of happens organically and authentically,” Kelly said. “Because the players know. If you say, ‘Hey, we decided we're going to be with Joe,’ and they all think it's Tim, they know. They're in the locker room with them every day. Players understand who they feel is the guy, and most of the time, the decision is very obvious. And you just say, ‘Hey, this is where we are with it.’”

Considering Howard and Brown were the only two quarterbacks who took snaps behind the first-team offensive line while the other three played with the backups across the front line, it seems as though the starting competition is likely a two-horse race between Howard and Brown, even if Sayin has the highest long-term upside of the group.

Much like last year, the quarterback competition and questions along the offensive line will be the two biggest storylines heading into the fall. Considering Ohio State boasts arguably the best defense in the country and has a plethora of talent at skill positions throughout the offense, finding the correct guy to start at the most important position in football is imperative.

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