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Leaders of the Room: If Justin Fields goes down, who’s taking over?

It could happen, but unlike last year, it won’t be the end all be all

Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Leading up to Ohio State’s Fall Camp, which is expected to start Aug. 7 — while players and coaches can begin other football activities on July 13 — we here at LGHL will be taking a look at the leaders of each position group. Who will the team turn to when the clock is ticking and the stakes are high? Some positions’ standouts will be obvious, but others are still up for discussion.

First up— who will lead the quarterbacks?

Well, his name is Justin Fields, and he is just a measly Hesiman-favorite and potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft who threw for 3,273 yards, 41 touchdowns, and just three interceptions with a completion percentage of 67.2 last season. He’s a dual-threat who also rushed for 484 yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. Oh, and he was named the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year and a second-team All-American. So, using deductive reasoning, I have come to the conclusion that Fields is the leader of Ohio State’s quarterback room.

I told you some would be obvious.

There’s absolutely no question that Fields will be QB1 heading into the 2020 season barring injury, but unlike last season, the junior finally has some sort of depth behind him for worst-case-scenario.

Since Fields is the obvious choice here, let’s just assume that, for whatever reason, Fields goes down. And folks, this is a very real possibility in light of current events. We are in the middle of a global pandemic caused by a highly contagious virus that is passed by talking or yawning next to someone. Safety precautions in place or not— the virus can and probably will spread on the Ohio State football team. All that to say, the backups and the backups’ backups at every single position are going to have to be ready to go at the drop of the hat.

So, getting back to my point, let’s say Fields either tweaks his knee again or he tests positive for COVID-19, who’s the next man up?

If it were to happen within the first couple of weeks, redshirt senior Gunnar Hoak will likely be told to suit up. While he’s spent his entire college football career as a backup — only throwing the football 32 total times — his seniority and collegiate experience may put him ahead of the freshmen I’m about to mention (at least at first).

But, if the stakes are high and the freshmen have gotten some fourth-quarter reps under their belts, I don’t think Ryan Day is calling on Hoak. I think he’s calling on whichever rookie that he believes has the potential to be next season’s starting quarterback, and that’s likely going to be one of the freshmen quarterbacks, C.J. Stroud or Jack Miller.

Stroud was a five-star prospect and the No. 41 overall and No. 2 pro-style QB in his class. He threw for nearly 6,500 yards in 35 games at Rancho Cucamonga, Cali., completing just under 63 percent of his passes with 70 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, earning him Elite 11 MVP honors.

The only thing standing in his way of stepping in for Fields is his fellow freshman, Miller. While his recruiting rankings don’t jump off the page like Stroud’s (Miller was a four-star recruit who, due to injury, dropped to No. 334 overall during his final year of high school) his stats certainly do. Miller threw for just under 9,500 yards in 38 games at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Ariz. He completed over 56 percent of his passes and totaled 115 touchdowns with 31 interceptions.

It’s your basic QB battle. They’re both fighting for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, which would then give them an edge for the starting job next season. And while it’s hard to say, considering they haven’t been able to practice with the team in quite some time, Stroud has seemingly popped up in the backup conversation more often than Miller.

“Stroud certainly looked the part for the Buckeyes and would be the knee-jerk pick to potentially develop into the heir apparent for the program,” Austin Ward of Lettermen Row wrote after the team’s one spring practice in early March. “Again, that’s nothing against Miller, who showed off some mobility and can definitely deliver the football with some zip. But Stroud’s package of size and athleticism combined with a few big-time throws caught the eye at least on Day One, and it just felt like a more confident performance for a debut practice than any other passers had in recent memory.”

That was in March, which means you can’t write off Miller just yet. It’d be silly to think that he didn’t spend these last four months putting in the work to catch up to Stroud. Of course, we won’t know much until they’ve gotten a few more practices in with the teams’ receiving unit.

All I can confidently tell you is, Fields is the clear leader of the room. If he goes down in Week One or Two, Hoak will suit up. If it’s Week Eight, the score is tied at Happy Valley and Day needs someone in who will win the damn thing, he’s calling on a freshman quarterback.