As a redshirt freshman last season, Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud set school records in pass efficiency (186.56) and completion percentage (71.9%). His 4,435 yards and 44 touchdown passes were second all-time in OSU history behind Dwayne Haskins’ 4,831 yards and 50 touchdown passes in 2018.
In his first season as a starter, Stroud produced some of the most impressive quarterback performances in Ohio State football history. Against Michigan State, for instance, he completed 29-of-31 passes for 391 yards and school record-tying six touchdowns — in the first half. He also completed a school-record 17 consecutive passes in that game against the Spartans.
In the Rose Bowl win over Utah, he threw for 573 yards and six touchdowns, completing over 80% of his passes.
It was a season for the ages, and he did it without ever having thrown a collegiate pass before last season.
Now that he has a full season under his belt, more will be expected of him.
Has that changed Stroud’s approach since last season?
“I’m not really attacking it different,” he said this spring. “I’m just trying to get better like I always do. Just trying to take one step at a time. Just lead my guys. My job is to make everybody around me better, so that’s just my what approach is.”
The numbers from last year will be difficult to reproduce. Losing a pair of receivers like Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave will hurt. A renewed focus on the running game could knock some of those passing numbers down as well. A better Ohio State defense will also eliminate the need for so much passing.
And yet, Stroud should be even better in 2022 because the game has slowed down for him compared to a year ago.
“Honestly, things change. Of course, you get more reps behind you, you see it better,” he said. “I think that’s definitely something I’m doing better, just feeling the game more. I think I’ve always had a good mindset of coverages and seeing blitzes and things of that sort, but you’re getting better and better. Maybe one thing that took you 30 seconds to pick up, maybe takes you 10 now. So that’s something I’m picking up on.”
Stroud certainly had responsibilities last year, but is taking more on this year, which he deemed an appropriate measure given his standing and experience. He is asking for more from head coach Ryan Day and preparing in the offseason to handle what he’s requesting. He knows it will help him get ready for the next level, but more immediately it will help the Buckeyes this season.
“I mean, shoot, ask Coach Day. I’m not the offensive coordinator, but the more things that I can think about, he doesn’t have to think about,” Stroud said. “He has other things to think about. So we’re just working together as a team.”
Coaches and players try to prepare for as much as they can, but they can’t cover all of the possibilities. Once the ball gets snapped, the preparation can only do so much.
“Coach Day talks about this all the time, I talk about it, when you draw up a piece of paper, you draw a line, you draw a slant, it’s never done like that in a game. Ever,” Stroud said. “So you just have to go there and play football. Play with your instincts. Don’t be out there second guessing yourself. That’s something I do.”
Every play is a living, breathing organism and you just never know how it might react. But the better a player understands what he is seeing before and after the snap, the better he’ll know what to do. Even if he’s seeing something for the first time, he will still have his rules and laws that he can follow.
That’s part of the work CJ Stroud is involved in right now. And it’s part of the job that he loves.
“That’s the thing I like about football, it’s that you can actually put in the work and go see it. Go put it on the field,” he said. “So that’s something I love. I love meeting. I love talking about this stuff. I love more so about just the verbiage, trying to get better, you know? I love challenging myself, so I think that’s something I love about the game, and I think always will.”