As a rule, I believe in taking people at their word until they give me a reason to do otherwise. So, if C.J. Stroud says that he isn’t 100% (as he did following Saturday’s 41-20 win over Tulsa), I believe him. Also, if Ryan Day says that Stroud is the best quarterback to start for Ohio State, I believe him as well.
But I also believe my eyes, and it is difficult for me to believe that the QB that we saw behind (and surprisingly under) center on Saturday was the best option given the other three highly recruited guys in the room. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have been firmly behind Stroud as the starter since the spring game, where I think nearly every unbiased, discerning on-looker thought that he was the most prepared. He might not have been the most physically gifted, but he looked the most ready to lead the team in my eyes.
Of course, you can disagree, but it really doesn’t matter what we think, because the only decision that matters is Day’s, and he has stated, on multiple occasions, that he is firmly standing behind Stroud. But here’s the thing: Stroud has clearly been dealing with some sort of shoulder issue since the season opener. Whether it is soreness, an injury, or just discomfort, his efforts to loosen up and stretch his shoulder have become progressively visible on the field and the sideline over the first three games of the season.
Following Saturday’s win over Tulsa, Day again showed no indication that he was anywhere near benching Stroud. He said, “Everybody works through different injuries and different sorenesses and things like that ... He’s been practicing well and he’ll continue to do so.”
But, having an issue with your shoulder is not ideal for a quarterback, especially an underclassman one who is starting for the first time in his collegiate career. Though Stroud has had many impressive moments thus far, and I believe clearly has the natural gifts to be an elite-level QB, it is now obvious that something isn’t right. I have no idea if it is all his shoulder, perhaps his fundamentals, maybe it’s between his ears, or most likely, it is some combination of all of the above and more. But, Ohio State is not going to be able to right the ship and regain its footing in the races for a Big Ten title and even a College Football Playoff berth if their starting quarterback is continually missing receivers high, struggling to make decisions, and seemingly lacking in confidence.
So, here is what I think that Day should do about it. Tuesday, when he walks into the meeting room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for his weekly press conference with the collected media, he should open with a statement that reads something like this:
“As I’ve said since the middle of fall camp, C.J. Stroud is our starting quarterback, and I continue to believe that he gives this team its best chance to reach the goals that we have set. However, for over a month, he has been dealing with a nagging shoulder injury that has prevented him from playing to his full potential. This is the same issue that kept him out of a number of practices during camp, including one in which the media and the Big Ten Network was present.
“Fortunately, after talking to C.J. and our medical staff, there does not appear to be any structural or longterm issues in his shoulder. So, in consultation with the team doctors and trainers, we’ve determined that the best course of action would be to let C.J. rest his arm over the next week so that he can be 100% heading into the bulk of the Big Ten season.
“So, while he will continue to practice, it will be in a limited capacity, and we will deemphasize throwing in order to let his arm fully heal in time for the full conference slate. Let me be clear, C.J. is still our starter and No. 1 quarterback, but unless something dramatically changes between now and Saturday, he will not be playing against Akron.
“Kyle and Jack will be splitting the first-team snaps throughout the week, and based on his preparation, Quinn might get some reps with the 1s as well. Again, I want to be clear, we are doing this strictly as a way to ensure that C.J. is ready to go for the Big Ten season. He is not being demoted because of his play, and he remains our starter. But, giving him time to heal is what’s best for him and for our team.
“I’ll take your questions now.”
Opening with a statement like this would preempt any of the beat’s questions about Stroud’s health and any brewing quarterback controversy (and I am sure there will be plenty of them), and it frames the situation around an injury, rather that Stroud’s shaky performance.
If Stroud is genuinely hurt or injured (which I do believe are different things), continuing to run him out there at what appears to be far less than 100% is neither good for his shoulder, nor good for his psyche. Now, I understand that everyone is always on pins and needles about upsetting quarterbacks when they are benched — as if quarterbacks are not also football players who have been raised on competitiveness and will somehow wilt into a shell of their former selves if they get demoted, even temporarily.
But, as the head coach, Day has a responsibility to protect Stroud and to do what’s best for the team. If Stroud is injured, he shouldn’t be out there. And if Kyle McCord, Jack Miller III, or even Quinn Ewers (though that is unlikely after only being on campus for a month) is better positioned to lead the offense given Stroud’s shoulder issue, then they should be on the field. Those are the two primary responsibilities of a coach at any level: protect your players and give your team the best chance to win.
Day has stated over and over again that Stroud is the starter and the best man for the job. So the only way that I can imagine that he would take C.J. out of the lineup (despite what a growing portion of the fanbase would like) is if it were framed as an injury. But it is also well past time to get some other guys in the game, even if it is just to give the backups some seasoning; and what better game to do it in than one in which your team opened as a 50+ point favorite? And if you throw in Stroud’s shoulder issues, then the timing seems practically perfect.
The one complicating factor in all of this is if there is a significant reason for which Day is so solidly behind Stroud. If C.J. is head-and-shoulders better and/or more prepared than his QB competition, and the staff has observed that in practice, then that would account for the hesitance to bring Stroud out of the game. I don’t believe that to be the case, because even though I thought Stroud was the superior option coming out of camp, both McCord and Miller (especially the former) equated themselves more than competently enough to play against The Zips.
But again, even if Stroud is demonstrably the best option at QB, giving him a week off to rehabilitate his shoulder can only help his performance longterm, and that benefits everybody in Buckeye Nation.
Now, I know that coaches are stubborn people by nature, and Day clearly does not want to take Stroud out of the starting lineup, but whether due to injury or performance, I think that Ohio State’s head coach owes it to his team to at least see what his other QBs have to offer. I don’t imagine that Day will take my advice and handle the situation in the way that I suggested, but it if he does see this, he has my full permission to plagiarize my entire statement... just leave season tickets in my name at the box office.