Ohio State spring game makes it clear Buckeyes' QB Derby is still wide open
The stakes for Ohio State’s spring game weren’t as high as the last time there were this many questions about who would be starting at quarterback for the Buckeyes in the fall.
In 2018, it was a “loser walks” scenario when Joe Burrow challenged Dwayne Haskins for the starting job. Burrow was unable to dislodge Haskins. He transferred to LSU just weeks after the spring game was over.
There’s no need for anybody to walk in the current Ohio State quarterback competition, because it seems pretty clear Devin Brown will still be pushing Kyle McCord in training camp — and maybe even a few weeks into the season.
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We don’t know that’s the case as the result of anything Brown did in the spring game — he was out due to a finger injury. But McCord’s performance left plenty to be desired. He completed just over 50% of his passes, and narrowly missed throwing a couple interceptions.
Even Archie Griffin found the end zone before McCord threw a touchdown pass.
That's ✌️-time @HeismanTrophy winner and @OhioStateFB legend Archie Griffin running for a TD. 😍 pic.twitter.com/hta1Z0xz3G
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) April 15, 2023
It wasn’t until McCord uncorked a 37-yard fourth-quarter touchdown to freshman Carnell Tate that Ohio State demonstrated its trademark explosiveness in the passing game.
Scale of 1-10: How excited are you about Carnell Tate? 💥@carnelltate_ x @OhioStateFB pic.twitter.com/yoZ70X7pFP
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Of course, it’s also important not to cross the line from reaction to overreaction.
We’re talking about a spring game — an event where Justin Fields once completed 4 of 13 passes, which is something no person ever would have remembered until reminded.
But what we saw on the field gibes with what Ryan Day said about his quarterbacks a week before the spring game: “We’re not there yet.”
A blessing in disguise?
The landscape in college sports is drastically different than it was just 5 years ago. Burrow left Ohio State because he had already put in the time, earning a degree in 3 years. And at the time, he was only eligible to play the next season because he was a graduate transfer.
Now anybody can play without sitting a year, and they’re doing it in record numbers. Quarterback depth has thinned everywhere as backups vie to be starters elsewhere and 3rd- and 4th-stringers become backups.
This was the risk facing Ohio State this spring, and part of the reason former Oregon State quarterback Tristan Gebbia was seen as an important addition to the quarterback room. Gebbia isn’t going to beat out McCord or Brown for the starting job. But if either transfers, now the Buckeyes have veteran depth in place.
If McCord had run away with the competition, chances are that might be the end of Brown as a Buckeye. (Or vice versa.)
But he hasn’t. And it would be foolish to give up on being the starting quarterback at Ohio State while you’re still swimming midstream.
In a way, that makes Brown’s finger injury a blessing in disguise.
It’s not serious enough that he’ll be limited for any additional amount of time. And he missed just enough practices at the end of spring that the coaching staff can’t feel this competition has been settled.
There’s no reason for either quarterback to leave before the season.
QB isn’t Ohio State’s biggest concern
Quarterback and wide receiver have reached a point where they shouldn’t even be considered positions of concern at Ohio State. You’re getting the best of the best recruits at both positions because that’s the reputation the program has earned in the passing game.
There’s little chance Day whiffed on 2 quarterback prospects at the same time. One of these guys will eventually pull away — even if it takes a little longer than usual.
Ohio State’s first 3 games are against Indiana, Youngstown State and Western Kentucky. There will be opportunities to work out the kinks.
Not to use a dirty word, but it’s not unlike the scenario Michigan faced last year in picking between JJ McCarthy and Cade McNamara.
A more valid concern for Ohio State’s offense is how well the starting quarterback will be protected — especially early in the season. The Buckeyes are replacing starting offensive tackles Paris Johnson and Dawand Jones, both of whom may get selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
If there was an area where Ohio State looked shakiest in the spring game, it was keeping a clean pocket. McCord was “sacked” 3 times on Saturday. The No. 2 defense was also credited with 2 sacks of Gebbia. And there were several instances the quarterbacks dumped it off before getting to all their progressions.
If Brown wins the quarterback competition, it might not be because he’s a better passer than McCord. It could be because he’s considered the tougher player to take down. Though no one would call Brown a true dual threat, his escapability was a trait highlighted in his recruiting.
Even if that translates along the lines of being a youthful version of Ben Roethlisberger, it could be a crucial trait if the Buckeyes are lacking in any way at either tackle spot.
For those of us on the outside, the tackle competition won’t make for compelling training camp fodder. Until you’re facing another team, it’s something that truly takes a coach’s eye to appreciate. But it’s going to be a meaningful competition.
Whether it’s McCord or Brown, Ohio State’s quarterback will have enough weapons at receiver, running back and tight end to succeed in 2023. The thing that will determine Ohio State’s overall success is whether that quarterback will have enough time to throw to them.