Tape on Ohio State’s newest quarterback, and presumed replacement at the backup spot for Matthew Baldwin, is a bit tough to get a read on. That’s not because Gunnar Hoak’s game is particularly unique, or strange, but rather because tape on Hoak is fairly hard to come by, as is the case for most quarterbacks that don’t see much playing time in college football. Hoak has thrown just 26 passes in his career, and that means we have a pretty tiny sample to go off of when discussing what exactly he brings to Ohio State.
Because of that tiny sample size, we have to extrapolate a bit, and we have to look to sources —like spring games and high school tape— that we usually wouldn’t use when scouting a college quarterback. With that added in, we can get a bit clearer picture of Hoak’s game, and what Buckeye fans should expect if he does see the field this year as a backup. So, what does Gunnar Hoak bring to Columbus?
First things first, don’t believe anyone that says this is a quarterback battle. I said the same thing about Tate Martell vs. Justin Fields when Justin Fields first arrived, as I did about Fields vs. Matthew Baldwin. Justin Fields did not come to Ohio State to sit on the bench, and he’ll be your starter this fall. Gunnar Hoak does nothing to change that. Hoak came to Ohio State knowing that he’ll almost certainly be a backup for the next two years, and he seems to be okay with that. He gets to play for his hometown team, and Ohio State gets a capable backup that they know can be depended on.
Hoak, however, isn’t just a warm body. He’s an actual Power 5 caliber quarterback, which perhaps couldn’t have been said about Ohio State’s backup situation post-Baldwin before Hoak arrived. He has good size at 6-foot-4, is capable of finding open targets, and doesn’t make decisions that will put his team in a ton of danger. He seems to have a pretty good grasp of Kentucky’s offense, and in a more quarterback friendly system, I think he’ll be a serviceable game manager.
When it comes to physical ability and traits, Hoak is, well, less impressive. He doesn’t make great use of his size because he has a tendency to throw with his arm exclusively, rather than using his whole body to generate more force. He doesn’t do this every time, but when he does, it can result in some pretty serious floaters, like this completion against Murray State.
Look at Hoak’s legs here. The throw gets to the target, but it has no zip because Hoak generates no force with his lower body. He’s throwing with his arm only, and that completely saps the zip out of his throws. This seems to be a habit he’s established when he knows the throw has to come out quickly. He locks in on getting the ball out quickly, and forgets to use the rest of his body to generate more force on the ball.
Hoak also has a bit of a tendency to play with angles when faced with pressure, which isn’t the worst thing in the world (look at Pat Mahomes or even Justin Fields for examples of someone who can do this well) but because of his inconsistent throwing motion, it can cause ugly throws like this one. Again, the pass is complete, but Hoak sacrifices form to throw the ball quicker, dropping his shoulder and throwing nearly sidearm, which creates one hell of a duck. This doesn’t work with tighter coverage, and makes me worry that Hoak has a maximum range of about 30 yards.
It should be noted that this is not an every throw thing for Hoak. Neither of these habits happen every time he drops back, and they only seem to creep in when he isn’t fully comfortable. We can see this on the following two throws, which are almost identical situations to the first two.
Here, just like on the first throw, Hoak is hitting an open 12 yard curl, but unlike on the first throw, he has a little bit more usage of his whole body, and creates a bit more zip, and a much tighter spiral. He’s able to use that size when he gets his legs involved, and throws a nice ball for the score.
We see the same thing here on this second throw across the middle. It’s not as a far a throw, checking in closer to 15 yards, but because Hoak steps into the throw a bit more, and doesn’t just plant his feet into the ground, he can generate more force and overcome the pressure in his face. He gets drilled as he’s throwing, but because he threw with proper mechanics, he’s still able to get the ball to his receiver.
Here, he ties it all together, and shows me that he can use creative angles, and that he can get zip on his passes, it’s just a matter of maintaining correct form. In the face of heavy pressure, needing to launch the ball with some force to beat tighter coverage, Hoak once again drops to the sidearm. Unlike last time however, he does it with the support of his whole body, and despite the big hit he takes, that extra force helps him deliver a great throw.
That’s very, very encouraging to me. That tells me that Hoak does have the strength, does have the intelligence, and does have the confidence in the face of pressure to make these throws. The issue is with consistency. It’s with trusting his coaching and sticking with this motion every single time. When he does that, he can do whatever he wants with the angles, because he does have the strength, he just has to remember to use it.
In his film, Hoak also shows a pretty intriguing amount of touch. He’s not by any means elite or even good at this yet, but he shows an interest in throwing touch passes, and seems to understand the appropriate context for adding air under his passes.
This throw against Central Michigan stood out to me specifically. Touch throw is absolutely correct in this context, and this is caught if not for the pass interference. It’s a beautiful spiral, right where it needs to be, even with the defensive tackle closing in on him quickly. Again, it’s about consistency, but this tells me that Hoak can learn to throw a really pretty ball on the outside.
He did this again in Kentucky’s spring game, twice successfully and once with some trouble. We’ll start with the worst of the three.
The main issue here seems to be that he just didn’t grip the ball very well. I think the footwork and mechanics are solid, but the throw wobbles pretty badly, and his receiver is forced to make a really phenomenal play to compensate.
Later, however, he launches this ball, which again shows the flash of ability. This is right where it needs to be, up over the defender, but within range of his receiver to make a play. His receiver does just that, because this is a nice, catchable spiral, generated once again by good mechanics. I wouldn’t hate to see this ball even a bit higher, but with a good receiver, of which Ohio State has many, this can get the job done.
This final throw is the best I’ve seen from Hoak. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a big time deep threat, and he’ll almost certainly stick to throws under ten yards if he does see the field in Columbus, but he puts everything together here and it results in a beautiful touchdown pass. His footwork is great, which helps him gets this ball on a line to his receiver about 35 yards down the field. He uses a shoulder dip to freeze the corner and create a bit more space. Everything here is exactly what you want to see from a still developing quarterback. It won’t happen every play, but the ability to do this makes Hoak an intriguing prospect.
That final phrase, “intriguing prospect” is, I think, the key when talking about Hoak. He is, in no way, a complete player. He has plenty of work to do, specifically on his consistency, and because he has to learn an all new offense this offseason, I have no illusions that he’ll be anywhere near a finished product by the fall.
However, he does have that natural ability, more so than any of the other backups on this roster. He does have a foundation that makes me think he could be a capable replacement for Justin Fields, if needed. His ability to handle pressure, his production when he does do everything correct from a mechanics perspective, his quickness in reading a defense all screams capable replacement. He’s not an NFL caliber quarterback, he’s not Justin Fields, Dwayne Haskins, or even Joe Burrow, but I do think he can keep things afloat if Ohio State needs him to.
Hell, I don’t hate a comparison to Taylor Cornelius for Hoak, especially with the Mike Yurcich connection. He doesn’t have a big enough arm to be anything more than good, but he does show the ability to manage an offense, and I don’t think Ohio State had that on the depth chart behind Fields after Baldwin left. Hoak isn’t starting at Ohio State, he’s not winning the Heisman any time soon, and I don’t foresee a Cardale Jones style championship run if the Buckeyes need him for an extended period of time. I do, however, see a capable backup, and a player that could benefit quite a bit from working under two brilliant quarterback coaches.
Given the spot Ohio State found themselves in when Baldwin left, to enter the season with a capable backup with upside like Hoak feels like a pretty massive win.