The Ohio State quarterback competition began in the winter and continues even as you read this. Redshirt freshmen CJ Stroud and Jack Miller are working to fend off each other and also true freshman Kyle McCord. Spring practice is long over but the work inside the weight room and the playbook is still going on.
There are prerequisites for every starting quarterback. They need to be able to throw the ball at least a little bit. They can’t be mistake prone. And they need to lead. Those are the basic ingredients and if you’ve got a decent running game and a stellar defense, you can win a lot of games with that type of quarterback.
With the way the Buckeyes have recruited, however, all three candidates can do more than throw “a little bit,” but the standards are still the standards.
“I’m really looking for leadership and an ability to kind of learn day in and day out, not make the same mistake twice,” OSU head coach Ryan Day said this spring. “It’s one thing to make a mistake — you don’t just jump on a bike and start riding. You’re gonna make mistakes. You’re gonna fall. But how quickly can you make that correction the next day? If you’re making the same mistake for two or three days, that’s not a good sign for a quarterback.”
Learning from mistakes is key. That’s how quarterbacks grow and gain the kind of experience that teaches them the stove is hot. But even better than learning from mistakes is learning without ever making them. If one quarterback can grasp the offense better than the others while also understanding what a defense is going to do in order to disrupt him, he can anticipate where to go with the ball and bypass all of those annoying opportunities to learn from a mistake.
In fact, the winner of the Ohio State quarterback battle will be the guy who knows the answers and is able to avoid unnecessary lessons.
“How quickly can you have the answers to the test? We can’t in a meeting go through every single scenario that a quarterback would encounter,” Day explained. “When I would talk to the guys all the time, what makes Drew Brees so great? What what made him have a Hall of Fame career? Tom Brady? What made him great as a quarterback wasn’t because he was really fast. Was it because he had a great arm? Was it because they were just super talented? I don’t think so. I think it was because of their skill that they created but also their discipline and their ability to have the answers to the test before the questions came up.”
The starting quarterback at Ohio State should know which stoves are hot and shouldn’t need to touch them to find out. Now is the time when they should be neck deep in the playbook and the practice film, treating it like a “choose your own adventure” novel and picking out scenario after scenario. This way when it happens in a game they’ll have already gone over it in their mind.
“There’s a contingency plan in place for every single play,” Day said. “And as the coach, we can only go through so many and then create so many of those in practice. The great ones go through and they study the film and they have the answers to the test before they happen. And I think anticipating what’s going on on defense, as opposed to reacting, is the key to quarterback play. So those are all the things we’re going to be looking for.”
The Ohio State playbook is a sizable chunk of tree and each play has its own roots and branches. The scenarios are endless. But the more a quarterback knows the offense, the better he’ll know how to steer it when he is presented with something he’s never seen before. Understanding the purpose of the offense can bring about common sense decision making even when faced with the unexpected.
It’s a process that is ongoing. The timetable is never fast enough for a head coach, but progress is a must.
“It’s not all going to happen in one day,” Day said. “But as long as we can start to see a gradual movement towards those things, then those will be signs that things are going well.”