It begins tonight. The Ohio State season opener against Minnesota. The beginning of the C.J. Stroud era for Buckeye football; or at least that’s the plan.
So, what can we reasonably expect from the Buckeye quarterback who’s never thrown a pass in a college game? We didn’t see much of Stroud in the shortened 2020 season, he played in only one game, carrying the ball only once. But on that one run, he galloped 48 yards for a touchdown. We all watched with our eyes open wide.
For comparison, let’s take a look at how J.T. Barrett, Dwayne Haskins, and Justin Fields performed in their starting debuts. Note that I’m leaving out Cardale Jones, we all know how he did in his first start against the Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game. But Jones’ start came at the end of a season. He was more experienced than these others first-time starters.
Aug. 30, 2014 | Ohio State vs. Navy: J.T. Barrett’s first start
Barrett starts at quarterback after Braxton Miller’s injury seemed to doom the season before it started. How did Barrett do?
First of all, and most importantly, he won, 34-17. He completed 80% of his passes (12-of-15) for 226 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Barrett also rushed nine times for 50 yards.
All in all, his first start brought a strong sense of relief to the Buckeye faithful and a return of hope for the season as a whole. Barrett wasn’t outstanding, but he was good, very good, as we would see as the year unfolded.
Sept. 1, 2018 | Ohio State vs. Oregon State: Dwayne Haskins’ first start
We get our first look at Dwayne Haskins as a starter against the Beavers, and wow! Haskins led the Bucks to 723 offensive yards in the jaw-dropping 77-31 victory over the other OSU.
Haskins completed 22 of 30 passes (73.3%) for 313 yards, five touchdowns, and an interception. He also carried the ball twice for 24 yards. Had we ever seen an Ohio State passing attack like this one? Probably not, but we’d see plenty more of it before the 2018 season ended.
Aug. 31, 2019 | Ohio State vs. Florida Atlantic: Just Fields’ first start
Transfer quarterback Justin Fields makes his Buckeye debut against the Owls a little over two years ago. Again – Wow! Ohio State won as Fields threw 25 times and completed 18 of his passes (72%) for 234 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also proved that he could run, too: 61 yards gained on 12 rushes.
The game was a sign of really good things to come over the next two seasons — and likely more, if you are a Chicago Bears fan.
What did these three opening starts have in common? All three were OSU victories. All three QBs completed at least 70% of their passes. All three played really well and launched the season positively.
Sept. 2, 2021 | Ohio State vs. Minnesota: C.J. Stroud’s first start
After winning a heated battle to the top of the depth chart, Stroud makes his first start tonight. Compared to the other three recent examples above, there are several differences this time that we notice immediately. The game is on a Thursday night. The game is against a conference opponent. That opponent is of higher quality than Navy, Florida Atlantic, or even Oregon State.
Naturally, as Ohio State fans, our expectations are sky-high for Stroud, who’s loaded with talent. He looked great in the spring game, he’s got the best corps of receivers in the country, his offensive line may also be the best in the country. Also, we know that Ryan Day can coach quarterbacks and get them ready to play.
Stroud has a strong arm, and I think that he’ll be allowed to use it in this game. He’ll throw 15-yard sideline patterns; he’ll throw deep balls. He’ll also give the ball to his three running backs and watch them roll behind that line.
Anything to worry about? Sure. Stroud’s young and inexperienced. He’ll make some misreads of the defense, make some bad throws. He may even show some panic when he’s rushed.
One thing to watch for is how easily he gives up on a pass play as pressure mounts. We know that he can run — as evidenced by his TD scamper last season — but you want to see him trust his line and receivers enough to let routes develop.
If you watched Saturday’s Nebraska-Illinois game, you would have seen Adrian Martinez scramble way too often and way too soon. Yes, he gained some yards, and the Huskers weren’t having much success otherwise, but his scrambling put an end to the Nebraska passing game. It frustrated his receivers, who soon became less focused on their routes. It also adversely affected the line’s blocking on pass calls and led to some penalties. Stroud needs to stick to the call — unless he’s about to be sacked. And I don’t see that happening much.
All in all, I think that Stroud will do just fine, just as his predecessors have. The first priority, obviously, is to win the game. He needs to limit his mistakes (misreads, penalties, turnovers) and let his excellent supporting cast do their stuff.
Secondly, he needs to pass well enough to build his confidence going into a tougher game in Week 2. He needs to complete, say, 60 to 65% of his passes, throw at least a couple of touchdown passes, and rack up 250 yards of passing offense. He should also show that he can run on designed quarterback rushing plays. Stroud needs to display poise and leadership and demonstrate that he’s genuinely next in line to those who have come before him and worthy of defining a Buckeye “era.”