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Sleepers of the Room: Don’t count Gunnar Hoak out for the backup job

Experience and seniority gives the redshirt senior an edge in the backup QB battle

Ohio State v Rutgers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Now that we’ve addressed the leaders of each group on Ohio State’s roster, it’s time to take a look at the guys that just might surprise us this season—the guys who tend to fly under the radar, but carry immense potential.

To begin, we’ll start with one of the most reputable and, arguably, one of the most important positions on the roster: The Backup Quarterback.

As Buckeye fans, we know all too well the impact a backup quarterback can have on a game, hell, an entire season. I probably don’t have to remind you of the 2014 quarterback saga, but I’ll give you the SparksNotes version just in case. Backup quarterback J.T. Barrett became the team’s starter in the blink of an eye after Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending injury eight days before the first game. A few months later, Barrett went down early in the fourth quarter of the Michigan game, leaving the rest of Ohio State’s national championship run in the hands of their third-string QB, Cardale Jones. You know the rest.

Then there’s the infamous Kenny Guiton, who did the impossible against Purdue in 2012 after Miller was carted off the field. Guiton had to go 61 yards for the touchdown AND get the two-point conversion to tie the game, all within 47 seconds. He did just that, and then went on to win the game in overtime.

And most recently, when Barrett injured his knee (again) during the third quarter against Michigan in 2017, it was redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins who took over, completing six of his seven pass attempts for 94 yards, and making his case for the starting job the following season.

However, last season is when I think we all really felt the importance of having a reliable backup QB. Justin Fields went down in the third quarter against Michigan (I think it’s safe to assume Ohio State will probably need their backup in the second half of every Michigan game) after aggravating a sprained MCL injury. Sure, he was out for all of three minutes, but for those long ( long) three minutes, the fate of Ohio State’s season fell right into Chris Chugonov’s lap. In that moment, we all prayed for a Guiton/Barrett/Jones/Haskins performance to occur.

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t exactly confident in Chugonov’s ability to lead us through the playoffs, but then again I was pretty skeptical about Jones, too. While Chug never got the chance to prove us all wrong, the lesson to be learned is this: Ohio State should have a damn good QB2 ready to go every. single. year.

And luckily, we just might have that this fall, as this season’s quarterback room is the deepest it’s been in quite sometime. Lined up behind Fields is redshirt senior Gunnar Hoak, and the highly acclaimed freshmen, CJ Stroud and Jack Miller.

Stroud and Miller have certainly been the headline grabbers since they arrived in Columbus in January. Not only are they each battling Hoak for the backup job, but they’re also in the mix to become Field’s successor in 2021.

Stroud was a five-star, No. 41 overall prospect 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.

Miller was a four-star recruit who, due to injury, dropped to No. 334 overall during his final year of high school. 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.

So yeah, they deserve all the hype, and I make the argument as to why one of them could easily snag the QB2 spot at some point in the season here.

But if Fields goes down early in the season, I don’t think it’s Stroud’s or Miller’s name Ryan Day will be calling— not when there’s another guy on the list who’s had a full year to study the playbook, along with four years of experience in the Power Five.

Hoak — a Dublin, Ohio-native and the only other returning scholarship quarterback besides Fields — spent three years at Kentucky before graduate transferring to Ohio State last summer. Hoak served as Ohio State’s third-string quarterback behind Fields and Chugunov last season, and took advantage of every opportunity he was given. He completed all six of his pass attempts for 104 yards and one touchdown.

Before they were cancelled, this year’s spring practices were supposed to serve as the big stage for Hoak, allowing him to show off his experience and understanding of the playbook—something he has over Stroud and Miller. However one could also say that the lack of in-person practices gives Hoak somewhat of an edge in the backup battle. Sure, he could have benefited from spring practice, but as freshmen, those reps are even more crucial for Stroud and Miller to get acclimated to the increased speed and intensity of the college game.

Now, as game one approaches, the two freshmen have spent minimal time with their coaches and teammates, having to learn most of the playbook virtually, while Hoak is well-versed in the system, is accustomed to the college game, has practiced with most of the receiving unit already and is without question the most reliable option on the depth chart right now.

Maybe as the season progresses, Stroud or Miller get in the swing of things and inch their way past Hoak, but it’s always hard to look past the veteran. As Hoak is approaching his final year of college eligibility, it could be his most important one yet.