COLUMBUS — Ohio State head coach Ryan Day called an impromptu press conference for Saturday morning and announced that redshirt freshman CJ Stroud would be the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback for the season opener at Minnesota.
“I thought over the body of work between spring and through preseason he separated himself with his decision making, his leadership skills, his accuracy, so now we’ve got to go prepare to go play a game,” Day said of Stroud. “I’m proud of him. I’m happy for him. The other guys in the room understand that this is a long season and that room has to be strong. We know at Ohio State that it takes everybody in that room.”
Stroud played in three games last season, taking eight total snaps but never once threw a pass. He will be the first Buckeye quarterback since JT Barrett in 2014 to start a game without having ever thrown a collegiate pass in his career. Perhaps coincidentally, Ohio State won the College Football Playoff National Championship that year.
As for Stroud, he took the news in stride and understood the responsibility and the opportunity.
“He was excited for sure and fired up,” Day said. “He’s not an overly emotional guy in most situations. I think he knows that this is just an opportunity. It’s not an accomplishment, it’s an opportunity. And I think he looked at it like that, so now we’ve got to go about the business of putting it out there on the field.”
Day has been careful to let all of his quarterbacks know that the only guarantee right now is that Stroud is starting against the Gophers. The incentive is still there for the other quarterbacks to continue to work and continue to develop.
So far, that’s what they plan to do.
“I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been impressed with their approach to it and their response to it. They’re ready to continue to work,” Day said.
There is, after all, a back-up job still wide open. Freshman Kyle McCord and redshirt freshman Jack Miller will continue to battle it out over the next week or so before Day finally names a backup quarterback for the Buckeyes. True freshman Quinn Ewers is out for about a week or so but will be back eventually.
The conversations with McCord and Miller have continued to be consistent and open. Day knows people on the outside will talk about quarterbacks transferring but the conversations inside the walls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center have been about getting better rather than getting gone.
“It’s been all about development. Those guys are in it for the long haul. They’re great teammates,” Day said. “They know the focus has to be on development. We talked about this early on. They knew that there’s gonna be one quarterback that starts against Minnesota. That’s the only thing that’s guaranteed.
“They’re all here to continue to work and grow. Their attitudes have been excellent. So that’s been their focus. Now listen, we get to January and see what the year brings, I think we all come up for air and reassess. That’s all fair. I totally get it. But right now I know that they’re committed and they want to be here.”
The entire quarterback room has had a strong preseason camp according to Day and they’re all doing what they need to do in order to help the offense move the ball when given the opportunity. Stroud, however, has simply done it better than everyone else.
Stroud has impressed and surprised with his athleticism. The anticipatory throws are there, but so is the arm strength. He can drop passes into coverage or rifle a football into a closing window.
Practice is one thing, however. Playing in an actual game is quite another.
“I’m excited about what I’ve seen in camp. There’s been flashes of really good quarterback play,” Day said of his new starting quarterback. “Now again, we haven’t been live. We haven’t been tackling. I shared with him that he’s going to have to be tough this season. How does a quarterback show toughness? Well, the offensive and defensive linemen and linebackers are getting taped up, their fingers are battered and bruised and cut and everything, he’s going to have to stand in the pocket and take shots. He had a great role model in Justin last year. I’m excited about what we’ve seen for sure. He’s shown us all of the things that we needed to see to be ready to go play Minnesota.”
Stroud graded out a champion in the Buckeyes’ final scrimmage on Friday. Day planned it as a “preseason game” and had the team practice in Ohio Stadium with a 12:00 pm kickoff. There were over 100 plays scripted during the scrimmage and Day came away feeling pretty good about naming Stroud the starter.
“The anxiety is do you have a guy that you feel great about going into the game, and we do,” Day said. “So I think that part is exciting and it’s a relief, but now we’ve got to go play. So it doesn’t really mean anything until we get on the field. The only thing it means is he’s taking that first snap when we go play on the road.”