After Justin Fields departed for the NFL Draft at the conclusion of the 2020 season, Ohio State entered the offseason with a quarterback battle between two players that had not thrown a pass in a college football game in C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller. Stroud of course won the race for the starting job, with Miller transferring to Florida, but the California kid struggled at the beginning of his first year at the helm of the offense.
Whether due to a shoulder injury or lack of experience, Stroud’s first three games were solid, but not elite, culminating in a 15-of-25 passing day for 185 yards with just one touchdown and an interception against Tulsa. He would sit out the team’s following game against Akron, and whether the benching allowed him to get healthy or to get his head right, Stroud was dominant for the rest of his career with the Buckeyes.
It made sense, it would appear, for Ohio State to avoid that sort of scenario moving forward by getting the backup QBs some real passing reps in blowout games. However, that is not at all what happened this year, even though everyone knew this would be Stroud’s last collegiate year as he’s potentially QB1 in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Despite the Buckeyes winning 11 games in 2022 by double-digits, with six of those wins being by at least 30 points, backup QBs Kyle McCord and Devin Brown got next to no playing time.
Looking at the snap counts for Ohio State’s quarterbacks not named Stroud, McCord led the way with a whopping 67 total snaps in 2022 — according to the Eleven Warriors snap counts — with only two games of more than 10 snaps against Toledo (14) and Michigan State (16). In those 67 snaps, McCord attempted only 20 total passes, completing 16 of them for 190 yards and a touchdown.
Brown saw even less time, recording only 15 total snaps on the year (nine against Toledo and six against Rutgers) while not attempting a single pass.
Those numbers look somewhat similar to the ones from 2020, when Fields was the only quarterback on the roster to attempt a pass with Stroud and Miller combining for just 18 total snaps. Obviously things were different with the COVID-shortened season, but it still hampered the development of the backup quarterbacks, much in the same way the 2022 season did not prepare the room to have a new starter in 2023.
The lack of playing time for backups is an issue for Ohio State that isn’t exclusive to the quarterback position, either.
When the Buckeyes lost Marvin Harrison Jr. in the Peach Bowl against Georgia, the offense lost its way. Ohio State has a ridiculous amount of talent stocked up at the wide receiver position, but nobody behind Emeka Egbuka and Xavier Johnson was ready to step up in that moment because they simply have not seen the field at the collegiate level in a real game scenario.
There likely isn’t another guy out there to match what Harrison Jr. brings to the field as one of the most elite receivers in the game, but there is no reason to have all these other blue-chippers waiting in the wings if they aren’t able to contribute when they are needed.
Kojo Antwi, Jayden Ballard, Caleb Burton, Kaleb Brown and Kyion Grayes were all four-star prospects are higher coming out of high school. Ballard played the most snaps of the bunch with 101 on the season, but nobody else on that list saw the field more than 27 times outside of special teams duty. Of that group, there were only 10 combined receptions on the year — eight of which were by Ballard, including a long 72-yard touchdown.
None of these guys were expected to see 500+ snaps similar to that of Harrison Jr., Egbuka and Julian Fleming, but it wouldn’t have hurt to see what these guys could do in a game and potentially contribute in the event of an injury — like the one that sidelined Harrison Jr. in the final game of the year.
When you’re winning games 45-12 (Arkansas State), 77-21 (Toledo), 52-21 (Wisconsin), 49-10 (Rutgers), 54-10 (Iowa), 56-14 (Indiana) and so on, there is no discernable reason to not be getting your backups reps to help you down the line, whether that be in the current year or when those guys become starters in the future.
Ryan Day has made it a habit of leaving the starters in too long in blowouts. Most of the time, even when the second-stringers do get a chance to enter the game, the offense gets watered down to hand-offs only — good for guys like Dallan Hayden, who saw 214 snaps as a freshman this year, but bad for quarterbacks and receivers.
The same can be said on the defensive side of the ball, where we didn’t get to see much of either of Ohio State’s five-star freshmen in C.J. Hicks and Sonny Styles this year, but these issues are more glaring on offense.
So now we enter the 2023 season with a quarterback battle between two guys with hardly any experience — something that was entirely preventable. McCord, of course, has the one start at Ohio State under his belt against Akron in 2021, but Day and the offensive staff did he and Brown no favors by not letting them get meaningful reps this year when there were ample opportunities to do so.
The receivers and running backs all coming back should make things a little easier for whoever earns the job as QB1, but it would behoove the Buckeyes’ coaches to let their talented underclassmen play a little here and there when you’re beating everyone by a million.