C.J. Stroud had an incredible first season under center for Ohio State which culminated in the Buckeye quarterback being invited to New York City for the Heisman Trophy Ceremony. We all know how that unfolded, and a certain tweet that the QB sent following the event is actually what inspired this week’s film study.
After an up and down start — including an early season injury that hindered him a little bit — Stroud found his footing and began excelling as a passer as the season went on. The Buckeyes’ offense ran through his abilities to connect with the wildly talented receivers and today we’re going to take a look at his evolution throughout the year.
The quarterback that Stroud was in Week 1 is a world away from who he will be when he takes to the field in the Rose Bowl. His ability to move through progressions improved throughout the season, and he gained tremendous confidence throwing balls into tight windows. Stroud has outside-the-number arm talent, which he displayed throughout the last eight games that he started.
In this film study, we’re going to take a look at the beginning of this super villain origin story and catch a collective glimpse of the monster that Stroud’s doubters have created.
Early Season Mistakes
With a first year starter, there’s always going to be growing pains, and Stroud was no exception. The expectations left by Dwayne Haskins Jr. and Justin Fields set a high bar for Stroud to attempt to clear, and the early returns didn’t earn the faith of some of the Buckeye faithful.
Now with the reminder that Stroud was a redshirt freshman, first-year starter, his inexperience should not have been a surprise. We’re going to take a look at some of the freshman mistakes that Stroud made, and what happened in those situations that could have been avoided.
In the Oregon, game we saw some of Stroud’s early struggles and in a major out of conference matchup, these mistakes were amplified. Missing key throws plagued him in his first three starts, and it came from a combination of different things. With the OSU defense not slowing down Oregon’s offense, this put more pressure on Stroud to keep up.
Oregon’s willingness to sit back and force Stroud to beat them worked because once they got to the short part of the field, Stroud was unable to convert on key downs missing some easy completions.
In the first play that we’re going to look at, Ohio State lines up in empty in an obvious passing situation on 3rd-and-7. With three receivers to one side and two to the other, the Buckeyes have favorable numbers to the short side of the field. Jaxon Smith-Njigba (No. 11) has leverage in this situation, giving Stroud an easy pre-snap read on this to get the first down. Stroud identifies this and Smith-Njigba runs a hitch route to the sticks. After JSN creates separation, Stroud misses high and the Buckeyes’ offense is forced off the field.
If you watch Stroud’s feet before he throws the ball, you can see him never getting set. This speeds up his internal clock and he rushes the throw, despite having plenty of time. This leads to the unfortunatE overthrow on the play.
The issues in the Oregon game came from inexperience and you could tell that Stroud was playing too fast for most of the game. Ohio State was unable to convert early and as the game progressed, these missed opportunities were compounded by an awful defensive performance.
In the first series on offense, the Buckeyes were unable to convert on a 4th-and-7. Ohio State lined up in a condensed trips set, and ran a mesh concept, which has been a bread and butter play for OSU since Ryan Day got to Columbus.
Oregon ran their quarters and had this play well accounted for with the routes being met by Oregon’s outside linebackers and the middle sit-route getting cut off by the middle linebacker.
With the mesh concept, if Stroud had been more patient, Garrett Wilson would have come open in the flat, but instead the QB threw the ball across the middle of the field. In fairness, if Stroud had put the throw on Olave’s left side, there was some potential that it still could have resulted in a positive play.
However, Stroud sailed the ball way over Olave’s head. This was yet another scenario in which you could tell that Stroud was playing too fast; but dear reader, that changed as the season went on.
The last play that we are going to look at in terms of Stroud’s early season struggles cmae against Tulsa. This ended up being a grind-it-out win for the Buckeyes and Stroud endured a lot of disdain from the fanbase afterwards. With his struggles against Oregon already raising eyebrows, this needed to be a big time performance for the QB. However, his mistakes in this game led to a serious conversation from fans about whether or not he was the right man for the job.
To give some credit to Tulsa’s defense, they rely on a lot of disguises as well as multiple cover looks to try and confuse the opposing team’s quarterback. In this clip, Tulsa shows a five-man pressure which ends up being a four-man pressure with the middle linebacker dropping into the middle.
With Tulsa in a Cover-6 look – with a quarters look to the short side of the field and cover-2 to the field side – they areable to match Ohio State’s play really well. Each receiver is accounted for and this is where the problem occurs. We can see that running back TreVeyon Henderson (No. 32) is open to the short side of the field and that each receiver is covered.
Stroud has a lot of decisions that he could have made – run, throw the ball away, or check down to Henderson – but he opts to stay locked on tight end Jeremy Ruckert, forcing the ball into coverage, resulted in a pick.
This interception exemplifies the early issues for Stroud.
His Development to Elite
Stroud was not perfect in the early part of the year, but you could see an elite potential in the California product. After resting his ailing shoulder against Akron, we saw a highly motivated Stroud looking to prove doubters in his own fanbase wrong. This led to one of the most efficient streaks by an Ohio State quarterback in program history, and he was able to show the wide array of skills that could lead him to being a first round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. We saw his confidence grow and the throws that he struggled with at the beginning of the season became second nature.
Stroud made his return against Rutgers after Ohio State had its most productive game of the season against Akron. The season had not started devoid of drama, including the fanbase questioning OSU’s starting QB and the defensive unit going through midseason plastic surgery. So, it was up to Stroud to right the ship and get the Buckeyes back on course.
The first play that showed his elite potential was this moment here. After a first quarter of Day’s game plan terrorizing Greg Schiano’s defense, it was time for Stroud to show what makes him special.
In the play below, on 3rd-and-9, Rutgers shows as if they are bringing the house, leaving all of the receivers in man-coverage. But, they end up dropping seven defenders, then bring a delayed stunt with their defensive end.
This rusher gets through untouched and Stroud has to make a play to save himself and the drive. The QB makes the rusher miss, then steps up to deliver a strike to a wide open Olave who does the rest and takes it to the end zone. Yes, the throw was easy, but getting there was what makes this play special. Stroud needed to make something out of nothing and he did so in phenomenal fashion.
The next play that we’re going to look at is the best throw by a quarterback all season in my opinion. Ohio State was playing Indiana in a match-up that was hyped to be a real test for the Buckeyes. In what ended up being a blowout, we saw a glimpse of Stroud’s uncanny ball placement ability.
Ohio State lined up in a tight end trips set to the boundary side of the field. Indiana is in a Cover-2 Man Under, which means that the defensive backs are going to play a trail technique staying one step behind the receivers. This is because the defenders have safety help over top and the goal of this coverage is to force the quarterback to throw the ball into an awkward window.
Smith-Njigba (No. 11) runs a post from the slot to split the safeties. After clearing his defender, he gets enough separation to get the ball. The decision is made quickly by Stroud showing a decisiveness and confidence that wasn’t there at the beginning of the year.
Stroud sneaks this into a window between three defenders and throws it to a place that only Smith-Njigba could catch it leading to a big gain. This is an NFL throw and is a perfect example of the super power that Stroud possesses when he is playing with confidence.
Stroud raised the bar for himself throughout the season and coming into the Michigan State game, he had an opportunity to catapult himself to the front of the Heisman conversation. The young quarterback went from his own fanbase’s doghouse to Heisman darling in the span of just a few games.
We started this article with multiple overthrows across and around the middle of the field. This was an issue for Stroud early in the season and this play against Michigan State shows everything that Stroud had become up to that point.
In the clip, Ohio State runs a quarters-beater and the play opens up exactly how it is designed to. The Buckeyes get a two-high safety look from Michigan State. The shallow route from Smith-Njigba holds the linebackers and keeps them from sinking into the middle of the field.
Olave (No. 2) clears the outside linebacker and splits the safeties, but rather than putting the ball directly on Olave, Stroud puts it in a place that protects Olave from the under-cutting safety.
His ball placement here gets the pass into a place where only his receiver can catch it, and by bringing Olave more upfield, Stroud saves his guy from a collision. This is next level quarterbacking and shows once again, that Stroud has all the makings of a national championship quarterback.
The world has given Stroud plenty of fuel, starting with his own fanbase and ending with the disrespect from a certain weasel at the Heisman Ceremony. After finishing second this year in the B1G East and finishing fourth in the pursuit of college football’s most prestigious award, there is plenty of motivation for Stroud to carry into this offseason.
The world created a path for the quarterback and today we took a look at his super villain origin story, a.k.a. his development throughout his first season.
Over the course of his first year as the starter, Stroud faced a ton of adversity and fought his way back. As one of the few elite signal-callers returning next year, expectations will be high, but with the seeds of motivation that brewed over the past few weeks, the rest of the country better be prepared.