Ohio State should consider playing 2 QBs the next few weeks
Obviously, something isn’t quite clicking at Ohio State. And I’m not just talking about the defense, which let up 428 passing yards to Tulsa on Saturday.
The Buckeyes haven’t exactly lit it up offensively yet, despite a plethora of talent at every position. The toughest part has been finding a rhythm early in games. The No. 10 Buckeyes (2-1) had 13 points in the first half against Tulsa, and that was an improvement on the first 2 games, when they combined for 17.
This is not an indictment of QB CJ Stroud, because he has played very well at times and shouldn’t be expected to be perfect. Justin Fields wasn’t even perfect. But coming off a game in which Stroud threw for only 185 yards, had an interception and failed to connect with star wide receiver Chris Olave, Ohio State should consider mixing in another QB in the first half (and maybe beyond) the next few weeks against Akron, Rutgers and Maryland.
I think that is a practical course of action for a few reasons.
Stroud has had trouble early in games, and as a result, Ohio State has gone into halftime trailing in 2 of 3 games (and led by only 7 in the other). The redshirt freshman has great numbers — 321 passing yards per game, 9.5 yards per attempt and 8 TD passes against 3 INTs — but he is doing all of his damage in the second half. His first-half QB rating of 118.5 is the eighth-best in the Big Ten, behind guys like Spencer Petras, Jack Plummer and Noah Vedral. He has just 1 TD pass in the first half this season, with 2 INTs. How long can the Buckeyes tolerate these slow starts?
Secondly, Stroud is hurt. He admitted as much after the Oregon game and reiterated it after the Tulsa game. He obviously isn’t trying to use his injured shoulder as an excuse, because he probably doesn’t want to relinquish the starting job and let one of his talented backups run away with the job. But him saying “It hurts, but life hurts” and that he has to grind through this is an indication that the injury is impacting his performance.
The good news is that Ohio State has 3 blue-chip QBs who have yet to take a snap this season that would jump at the chance for a series here or there. If this offense needs improvement, maybe one of those guys can help make that happen.
It’s not as if this is 2019 when Justin Fields was the only one you’d want out there. Redshirt freshman Jack Miller, a former 4-star recruit, can play. True freshmen Kyle McCord and Quinn Ewers, both 5-star recruits, can play (though Ewers is probably not ready quite yet after enrolling in the fall). The Buckeyes have options, and I think they owe it to the entire team to see what they have in those guys — especially considering a few of them are likely to transfer after this season.
Plus, what if Stroud’s shoulder worsens and he is unable to play? Miller, McCord and Ewers have not attempted a pass in a game, and only Miller has taken snaps, though those all came last year. Those 3 need the experience, and getting game reps against Akron (and maybe Rutgers and Maryland, depending on the situation) seems prudent. Their first game action shouldn’t come against Penn State or Michigan, because the margin for error will be much smaller.
The downside, obviously, is creating a QB competition right as Big Ten play is about to heat up. But if that’s the worst thing that comes out of it, so what? I think it’s ideal to have an unquestioned starter, but other great programs play multiple guys. Florida has flirted with it this year. Alabama did it with Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, before settling on Tagovailoa. Ohio State can do it, too.
Ohio State’s QB is always going to be under the microscope, and with how poorly the defense has played this season, perhaps there is even more pressure for the QB (and the offense in general) to carry the team. But the reality is that if not for a few spectacular runs by true freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson, the Buckeyes very well could have lost to Tulsa at home. That is unfathomable.
Stroud is not to blame for Ohio State’s struggles, but when he isn’t 100 percent and the offense isn’t clicking, it would be wise for the Buckeyes to explore other options — just in case they need them down the road.