QB mystery gets plenty of talk, but OSU history says it may not be that important
In college football terms, Ohio State has it all. Glamor, prestige, tradition, a promising young coach, a roster full of talent, an experienced quarterback.
Wait, they don’t have an experienced quarterback. In fact, they only have inexperienced quarterbacks.
C.J. Stroud, Kyle McCord, Jack Miller — all three highly touted OSU QBs have one thing in common: Zero collegiate passing attempts.
For Ryan Day, in his third full season at the helm in Columbus, the lack of an experienced QB could be daunting. That OSU offense has hummed its way to 40+ point per game averages each of the past 4 seasons. And it has done so with a bevy of masterful trigger men leading the offense — J.T. Barrett, Dwayne Haskins, Justin Fields. And now … who?
Day did his part to downplay talk about the starting battle at Big Ten Media Days, at one point commenting, “If they’re worried about starting… they’re worried about the wrong thing.”
Maybe instead of “Who?” the answer should be “Who cares?”
Not that it’s irrelevant exactly who goes under center. But whichever player wins the job, he’ll have two of the most talented receivers in the nation playing outside, a stable of running backs awaiting handoffs, and a relatively experienced offensive line, led by one of the nation’s best tackles in Thayer Munford.
And recent Ohio State history suggests that worrying about the QB might be missing the whole point.
While it has been a few years now, all but the youngest of OSU fans can probably well recall the 2014 season. J.T. Barrett was a typical Urban Meyer dual-threat QB, impossible to contain on the ground (938 rushing yards and 11 TDs) and electric in the air (2,834 passing yards, 34 TDs against only 10 INTs). And when Barrett went down at the end of the regular-season finale against Michigan, surely the sky was falling. How could OSU compete without its top offensive banana?
Very well, it turned out. Plug in Cardale Jones and plug in a Big Ten title game blowout, a Playoff semifinal victory over Alabama, and then a 22-point spanking of Oregon for the national title. Pretty solid work for a guy in his first 3 collegiate starts.
So if OSU starts to feel worried about returning 0 collegiate passing attempts for the first time since 1952, they’d do well to remember the recipe that made Cardale Jones transition from an unknown to a champion. They ran the ball, they leaned on their defense to force crucial turnovers, and they absolutely did not stop scoring.
Meyer’s 2014 squad beat Wisconsin 59-0, partially because it could and partially because the margin was another argument that OSU should sneak into the CFP’s final spot, which it eventually did. That kind of chip on the shoulder is a must for an OSU team that finds itself being consistently relegated to being the 3rd-best squad in the sport.
As for the running game, there’s absolutely no easier way to take heat off the new quarterback — or any quarterback — than owning the line of scrimmage and having big-play threats who can turn a 5-yard run into a 50-yard run with a single move. The good news is that OSU has plenty of guys who fit that prototype, from injured veteran Master Teague to super-talented newcomer TreVeyon Henderson.
Then there’s the defense. Lit up by Alabama in last year’s title game, allowing a ghastly 304 passing yards per game, OSU will do better defensively in 2021. But more than yards and points per game improvements, OSU needs a defense that will turn a big play against the opponent, as Steve Miller did in 2014 with his pick-6 that made the difference in that one-score CFP semifinal win over ‘Bama.
All good thoughts, but Day was quick to admit to the assembled media on Friday that his 2021 Buckeyes have a way to go to end up where the 2014 squad did. Specifically, Day isn’t going to be downed by the preseason praise that Nick Saban famously dubbed “rat poison.” Despite his 23-2 career record, he sounded every bit the cranky veteran coach as he noted that OSU’s opening game at Minnesota presented a significant challenge.
Day dubbed the Gophers “a major challenge”, saying that OSU is focusing on “staying in the moment.” He uncharacteristically admitted, “You’re going to see a lot of our guys play as freshmen this year.”
The good news for Ryan Day is that whoever ultimately wins the QB Derby, while the fan and media focus may be on the signal-caller, there are enough ingredients here that the OSU quarterback might be the preseason focus that turns out to be a post-season afterthought. A repeat of 2014 would be just fine in Columbus.