Saturday was only CJ Stroud’s fifth career start as a college quarterback, but it was also one of the best performances by a quarterback in Ohio State football history.
Stroud completed 24-of-33 passes for 406 yards with five touchdowns and zero interceptions in the Buckeyes’ 66-17 win over Maryland. It was the eighth 400-yard passing game in school history, but it was the first time a Buckeye quarterback threw for at least 400 yards in a game with at least five touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
It was also Stroud’s second 400-yard game this year. His 484 yards passing in the loss to Oregon was the second-most passing yards by a Buckeye ever. The redshirt freshman is now No. 2 in school history in 400-yard games. His two games are one more than Art Schlichter and four behind Dwayne Haskins.
And despite the lofty numbers, Stroud wasn’t forcing the ball where it didn’t belong.
“I just take what the defense gives me. If it’s there, I’ll rip it. If not, then I have to be smart with the football,” Stroud said after Saturday’s game.
This wasn’t a new approach for Stroud, it’s just that he’s healthier and more experienced than he’s been all year and it’s showing.
“My game has never changed. I’ve never just felt like the game ever sped up,” he said. “I think the game of football stays the same, it’s just on how you can be more comfortable out there and be more relaxed and have your coaches lean and trust on you. I think that was the biggest thing for me, going into these past couple weeks. I don’t think my game has ever changed, it’s just gotten a little more comfortable.”
With the receivers that Ohio State has, a quarterback doesn’t have to be perfect, but he does need to be able to make the most of the talent at his disposal. Head coach Ryan Day wants an aggressive team and he doesn’t want a timid quarterback. What he does want, however, is a smart quarterback who knows when to unload one and when to dump it off or throw it away.
CJ Stroud excelled at that kind of decision making on Saturday.
“They actually had some looks that we didn’t think we were gonna get,” Stroud said of Maryland’s defense. “And we had some specific play calls that we thought were gonna maybe clear out the safety or get the linebacker to run this way, and he probably did the opposite. So I mean I just do my job and be careful and just check the ball down and take what the defense gives me. When you try to force things, you try to make things happen when they’re not there, then that’s usually when bad things happen.”
After throwing one interception in each of his first three starts, Stroud has now thrown 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions over the past two games. It is the first time in school history that a Buckeye quarterback has thrown double-digit touchdowns over a two-game stretch without also throwing at least one interception.
Any time you’re doing something that Justin Fields, Dwayne Haskins, and JT Barrett have never done, it’s impressive.
After the game, Ryan Day was asked where Stroud’s current performance level stood compared to Haskins and Fields.
“I don’t know, I mean there’s a lot to see here,” he said. “We’ll get to the film. And I think that you what you have to do is you have to kind of get through the season and then look back on some of these things because when you’re in it you don’t really know. There’s a lot of things that come into play.
“I know they had a couple corners that were banged up and things like that so. But they also played some zone and he saw the zone well and I thought he handled that. Made some nice throws down in the red zone again, but the protection was good, receivers played well, so it’s everybody across the board. But certainly when we’re executing at a high level, we got a chance to pretty good.”
And while Stroud is being recognized, talked about, and written about because of the big numbers he’s putting up, it’s the decision making that really gives his head coach confidence.
Everybody else sees the deep passes connecting with OSU’s talented receivers, but Day looks back to OSU’s first drive when his young quarterback perfectly handled a couple of unexpected looks by the Maryland defense. Each play may have ended up just being a simple dump-off to running back TreVeyon Henderson, but for Day, every one of those correct decisions against an unfamiliar look throughout the course of the game just increased the confidence he has in CJ Stroud.
“A lot. A lot, yeah,” he said. “They did a couple of things coverage wise that we really hadn’t prepared for, and he handled that well. Especially early on. That drive, it wasn’t exactly the way we expected. And he did, he checked it down. He didn’t force the ball down the field. Gets the ball to TreVeyon even for 3, 4, 5, keeps us on schedule on a couple of those. That’s pretty big-time quarterback play for a kid at his age, so that was really well done.”