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Bowl practices vital for Devin Brown, Lincoln Kienholz and Ohio State

It’s trial by fire time for the Buckeyes’ 2023 backup quarterbacks.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

With the surprising announcement that Ohio State starting quarterback Kyle McCord decided to enter the transfer portal, the next few weeks become huge ones for backups Devin Brown and Lincoln Kienholz. As the Buckeyes prepare for a game against Missouri in the Cotton Bowl, head coach Ryan Day has only a few weeks to prepare someone with limited snaps against an opposing defense to lead his offense in a New Year’s Six matchup against a solid Tigers squad.

Neither Brown nor Kienholz were given much to do on game days in 2023, and the former’s season was exacerbated by an injury, keeping him sidelined for a few weeks. Brown was fighting McCord for the starting position even as the season was getting underway, but ultimately lost the battle.

The sophomore got more meaningful snaps, as he was inserted into a red zone package designed to take advantage of his skills as a runner. Brown completed 12-of-22 passes (54.5%) for 197 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw an interception. He also carried the ball as a runner 19 times for 35 yards and a touchdown, averaging just 1.84 yards per carry.

Kienholz got to throw a few passes, albeit in low-pressure situations when the game was well in hand. The sample size is small, but the freshman was the more accurate passer of the two backups who saw snaps this year, completing four of his five attempts (80%) for 25 yards. He did not throw a touchdown pass or an interception, and was mainly just asked to throw short and move the chains to eat up clock at the end of games.

The Buckeyes’ current situation is a byproduct of Day’s refusal to let his backups run more of the team’s normal offense when they get into games. Some may see this as not wanting to run up the score or put the ball in harm’s way with a big lead, and those are valid reasons. But those snaps are too important in the development of a young quarterback to simply keep handing the ball off, running into a pile three times, and punting.

Had Day allowed McCord to run the offense normally when he was spelling C.J. Stroud late in games the last two years, McCord may have been better prepared for 2023, fully seized the starting spot earlier (and more decisively), and perhaps earned enough confidence to expect the job to be his next year, negating the need to go look for a starting job somewhere else in order to raise his draft stock.

The quarterback battle over the next few weeks should be an interesting one. Brown seems to have a leg up in Day’s eyes, based on where he started the season. But Kienholz looked like the real deal as a passer in his limited live snaps. This competition is likely Brown’s to lose, but he’ll need to be much more precise with his passing than he showed in the regular season if Ohio State is to have a chance against Missouri.

Could we see a two-headed quarterback system against the Tigers? That is a strong possibility. Day has already shown that if a battle is close, he’s willing to give both guys a look in live action.

But the next few weeks of practice are more important than just giving the Buckeyes a chance to win a meaningless exhibition game — one that several key players will likely opt out of, including potentially the entire starting receiving corps (Julian Fleming has already entered the transfer portal).

This battle may determine the course of the 2024 Ohio State season, and who might be in the best position to challenge an incoming new quarterback from the portal. Multiple big names from the portal have already been potentially linked to a move to Columbus, and they’ll likely arrive with expectations of winning the starting job.

For Brown, the next few weeks may determine whether he finishes his college career at Ohio State. For Kienholz, it’s an opportunity to lay some groundwork to at least stay ahead of incoming freshman Air Noland in the pecking order, and, at best, to claim the job himself.