“First-year position coach Corey Dennis walked into a pretty loaded position with Justin Fields and Gunnar Hoak on the roster, Jack Miller and C.J. Stroud signed for the Buckeyes and 2021 5-star quarterback Kyle McCord happily committed even after the departure of Mike Yurcich.”
In 2019, Ohio State lived on the edge. For a team that bullied its way through the Big Ten with ease and held aspirations of a national title, the Buckeyes were actually in a pretty precarious situation all season long. While the roster was loaded with talent at almost every single position, there was one spot — the most important one — that was a single injury away from the season going off the rails: quarterback.
Justin Fields was an absolute blessing for Ryan Day’s squad. After Dwayne Haskins elected to enter the NFL Draft following one incredibly successful year as a starter in 2018, Ohio State was starting an offseason QB battle between Matthew Baldwin and Tate Martell. That competition changed drastically when Fields, a former five-star Georgia commit, announced his intentions to transfer to Columbus.
Shortly thereafter, Tathan announced his intentions to transfer to Miami. Then, in April, it was Baldwin who entered his name into the portal, finding a new home at TCU in May. In a few short months, Ohio State’s quarterback room went from a trio of capable bodies, to one inexperienced five-star prospect and a 2018 graduate transfer in Chris Chugunov.
The Buckeyes would manage to add another body to their QB room that April, as former Kentucky quarterback Gunnar Hoak joined Ohio State as a graduate transfer, but the sentiment remained the same. Justin Fields was clearly the key to OSU’s offense, and his incredible skillset could take the Bucks to the next level. Both Chugunov and Hoak were fine QBs with some playing experience, but would they have what it takes to lead Ohio State to a national title against the toughest competition? Probably not.
Fields far exceeded even the most lofty expectations for a first-year starter, finishing the season with almost 3,300 yards passing with 41 touchdowns to just three interceptions while also adding nearly another 500 yards and 10 scores on the ground. However, in no fault of his own, he also flirted with danger on numerous occasions.
Late in the fourth quarter against Penn State, Fields went to the ground with an apparent knee injury after a scramble on a 4th-and-5 play. He would stay down for a minute or so before walking off the field on his own power as Ohio State appeared to dodge a bullet. The next week against Michigan, Fields went down again after being hit low in the pocket, this time appearing to be in serious pain. He would miss the next few plays, being replaced by Chugunov, but would return a short while later to throw a beautiful TD pass to Garrett Wilson on his very first play back.
While Fields looked no worse for wear the remainder of the game against the Wolverines, the knee injury lingered. Forced to wear a bulky knee brace the remainder of the year, his movement was limited the rest of the way, and it was very apparent in both the Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin and the CFP matchup against Clemson. A fully healthy Fields capable of utilizing his entire skillset, a large part of which is his legs, could have been a game changer against the Tigers.
While Ohio State rolled with a banged-up Fields, they were lucky to have their starting signal caller at all. The backups behind him were guys the coaching staff could depend on to come in and limit mistakes, but not necessarily players you could ask to win games against some of college football’s best. Heading into 2020, the Buckeyes no longer have many questions of depth at the QB position.
This past recruiting class has brought a pair of talented quarterbacks to Columbus in Jack Miller and CJ Stroud. Miller, a four-star recruit, has thrown for just under 9,500 yards in 38 games played at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, AZ. Completing over 56 percent of his passes, he has racked up 115 touchdown passes with 31 interceptions in his varsity career. Stroud, a five-star recruit and the No. 2 pro-style QB in the class, has thrown for nearly 6,500 yards in 35 games at Rancho Cucamonga HS in California, completing just under 63 percent of his passes with 70 touchdowns to 15 interceptions.
While Miller and Stroud are not getting a full offseason training regiment with the lack of practices this spring, the hope remains that teams will be given additional practice time in the summer should things return to a more normal state in the near future. Regardless, either of the two would likely be a capable backup in an emergency situation. In addition, Hoak has now had a full year to learn the team’s playbook and schemes should he be forced into action.
Moving past 2020, Fields will all but definitely be entering next year’s NFL Draft. Luckily, Ohio State is way ahead of the game, and, on top of both Miller and Stroud, have another reinforcement on the way in 2021 five-star commit Kyle McCord. The nation’s No. 3 pro-style QB, McCord is already being projected an early-round NFL Draft pick despite being just a junior in high school. 247Sports national recruiting analyst Brian Dohn had this to say about the 6-foot-3 Pennsylvania QB:
“Great leadership qualities. Plays with high IQ. Can throw 15-yard out on line. Touch to throw over linebackers on intermediate routes. Has quick release with good arm angle. Fits balls into tight windows. Accurate throwing on run. Moves in pocket. Extends plays. Needs to continue to develop escapability. More consistency needed on deep balls. Multi-year starter at top 15 program.”
First-year QB coach Corey Dennis has found himself in an excellent position heading into 2020. While any coach in the country would be ecstatic to be returning a Heisman favorite in Fields, he also gets to have the piece of mind that he will be working with more than capable backups this upcoming season, and have a ton of viable options for the years that follow.