Saturday’s game against Penn State was definitely a tale of two of the best defenses in the country; the final score of 20-12 is a clear indicator of that. Both quarterbacks were limited in this game, but it got me thinking: is Kyle McCord the guy for the job? Or was Penn State’s defense really that good?
Let’s take a look at McCord’s stats from the game. He was 22-of-35 and threw for 286 yards and one touchdown. That means he completed about 63% of his passes. There were a lot of overthrows and overall inaccurate passes in this game, which yes, was somewhat brought on by pressure from the Nittany Lions’ defense.
However, even the throws he did complete weren’t the best. Yes, he had some good ones in there, but a lot of them weren’t pretty. In the first half, he was not connecting with any of the receivers, not even Marvin Harrison Jr.; if Marv can’t catch them, you know they’re uncatchable.
Things improved a bit from a statistical standpoint as McCord went 11-for-14 after halftime, but a big part of that felt like it was Marv going into Beast Mode. McCord did settle down a bit, but he was just really struggling to find a rhythm.
Throughout the season, McCord has led this team to two huge wins, and The Game hasn’t even been played yet. Now, was the defense the main factor in this game? Yes. But did McCord keep the offense in it, especially with that TD to Marv that sealed the deal? Also yes.
You really can’t even call Saturday that much of an “off day” for McCord, as he still threw for almost 300 yards and — thanks in large part to a defensive holding penalty — was turnover-free. During the Ryan Day era, Buckeye fans have become spoiled by 300 and 400-yard passing games so anything short of that can be a bit underwhelming. It also was a bit nostalgic having C.J. Stroud on the sidelines, as he routinely put up big numbers during the past two years at Ohio State, especially in his final campaign in 2022 — the one most fresh in fans’ minds.
That’s not to say that McCord has been bad this season. His 1,937 passing yards in 2023 currently rank 20th in FBS and he has the 17th quarterback rating in the country as well. Very solid numbers for a first-year starter, even if they aren’t what Buckeye fans have gotten used to after Dwayne Haskins, Justin Fields, and Stroud for the past five years. However, the most important stats are that McCord is undefeated as a starter, as thrown 12 touchdown passes and only a single interception.
But, something should be said for McCord’s occasional inaccuracy — especially in the first halves of games — and how at times he seems to be rushing himself in the pocket, even when there isn’t any pressure. It all worked out on Saturday as he overcame Penn State’s defense, but moving forward, these issues will need to be addressed; he cannot do those types of things against Michigan or any games that follow.
Early in the season — and during certain games so far this season — a number of Buckeye fans have called for Devin Brown to be the starter? Day said on his Monday radio show, and reiterated in Tuesday’s press conference, that Brown will be out for a week or two following a sprained ankle suffered on a redzone play on Saturday, so the option of making a mid-season switch isn’t really in play right now. But even if he were completely healthy, it’s pretty clear that the coaching staff is all-in on McCord and he has proven that he’s able to lead the team to major wins — even if they look differently than the ones under Stroud and Fields.
It’s hard not to compare McCord to other quarterbacks in the country right now, though. LSU’s Jayden Daniels has 25 passing touchdowns on the season, while McCord has 12. Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. has 2,576 passing yards and McCord has 1,937. Once again, these are good stats. But I think many Buckeye fans expected a bit more out of him by this point in the season.
Maybe I’m nitpicking. Maybe I have unreasonably high standards. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter at the moment. The Buckeyes are 7-0, so clearly McCord is doing something right. I just really hope he continues to improve week after week, so by the time the big games roll around, he’s peaking at the right time and looking like the type of dominant, play-making quarterback that Ohio State fans have become accustomed to. If he can, considering how great the defense has been this season, this could end up being a truly special season.