Ohio State’s QB race: Spring game leads to more questions than answers

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Midway through the third quarter of Ohio State’s spring football game, quarterback Kyle McCord handed the ball off to a linebacker who donned a baseball cap, long pants and a scarlet T-shirt. number 45. The runner turned around the right side of the offensive formation and ran down the sideline.

Buckeye legend and two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin’s unexpected cameo resulted in a 25-yard score that, in a reflection of how relaxed the second half of Saturday’s game really was, count toward the final score of 40-31 in a modified scoring format won by the gray team formed by the Ohio State defense. Up until that point, Griffin’s fake touchdown was the only McCord drive that ended with the ball in the end zone.

“It was fun to see him out there,” head coach Ryan Day said. “I think next year is the 50th anniversary of his first Heisman, so we wanted to make sure he came back for that one. The offense also needed some help at that time around the 30-yard line. yards. So we felt like we called the bullpen and got 45.”

Day was right to say the offense needed the help on an afternoon that many expected to be a high-profile duel between McCord and fellow quarterback Devin Brown, the two players vying to replace the two-time finalist Heisman Trophy CJ Stroud, who declared for the NFL. Draft. But a minor injury to Brown’s throwing hand kept him from playing in front of a crowd of 75,122 at Ohio Stadium, and McCord was hampered by the same collection of issues that have complicated the transition of one of the great passers of all the times of the school to whom he replaces. in September: Inconsistent decision-making, a slow-developing offensive line and injuries to several key skill players who have missed most, if not all, of the Buckeyes’ allotted 15 practices this spring.

McCord completed 18 of his 34 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown while taking most of his reps with the first offense. He avoided turning the ball over but was “sacked” at least three times on a day when quarterbacks were not allowed to be hit. And while the game itself is nothing more than a data point in Day’s eventual selection of a starting quarterback, the relative inefficiency of Ohio State’s offense in the final practice before the field of autumn underlined the room for growth there is.

“I think what you saw in the game was similar to what you saw in practice,” Day said. “Some good things, some things you’d like to see a little better.”

The tenor of Ohio State’s quarterback competition changed earlier this week, Wednesday morning, when Day told reporters that Brown underwent a procedure on his throwing hand and would miss the remaining spring practices. That the injury wouldn’t prevent Brown from having “a full summer” of workouts, as Day described it, offered good news for the Buckeyes in the long run, even if it slowed the headline story of the public exposure of Saturday.

Although unable to play, Brown joined his teammates on the field with his black No. 33 jersey draped over a sweatshirt. He watched as McCord, who many believe is the favorite to win the quarterback competition, was given the keys to the starting offense. Meanwhile, Oregon State transfer Tristan Gebbia completed 14 of 24 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown with the reserves. Brown accompanied McCord to the postgame press conference with the ring and little fingers of his right hand taped together.

“Nothing crazy,” Brown said. “We’ll be back in four weeks or so. It’s definitely hard to know that I could have been out there playing, I mean, we were working towards it all spring. But at the end of the day, I was just happy to be able to cheer for it . my boys and do what I can.”

The task of evaluating McCord was clouded by personnel issues surrounding him heading into Saturday’s game. Starting running back TreVeyon Henderson was unavailable as he continues to recover from torn ligaments and a broken bone in his foot. Henderson’s primary backup, Miyan Williams, was only allowed to participate in the first few drives during which the offensive players were not attacked on the ground. And in the receiving corps, where Marvin Harrison Jr. played sparingly before the coaching staff surrounded him with bubble wrap, the following injuries sidelined him: Emeka Egbuka (1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns last season), Julian Fleming (533 yards, six). TDs last season) and Xavier Johnson (151 yards, two TDs last season).

There were additional problems in the trenches, though any breakdowns along the offensive line cannot be accounted for by injuries. How the Buckeyes will replace starting tackle Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones, both potential first-round picks in this month’s NFL Draft, has been the most popular line of questioning directed at Day aside from the quarterback battle. Josh Fryar, a senior and the presumptive starter at left tackle, was hit for sacks on back-to-back plays by star running back JT Tuimoloau on Saturday despite the handful of jerseys he grabbed each time. The constant leak inside, where defensive tackles Mike Hall Jr. and Tyleik Williams seemed to crush any center Ohio State tried, forced McCord to struggle and attempt lower-percentage throws in tighter windows.

“Inconsistent,” Day said of the offensive line play. “I thought there was some good stuff, but we need more consistency there. The good news is that on defense we’re getting into the backfield and creating confusion, chaos. It’s good to see the defense make some plays.”

Still, there were moments when McCord flashed the talent level that made him a five-star recruit and the sixth-ranked quarterback in the 2021 recruiting class, the kind of skills that allowed him to throw 319 yards and two touchdowns in his only college start against Akron as a true freshman. He completed a pair of lateral passes to Harrison, one to the left, one to the right, that fit perfectly between defenders and foreshadowed the type of connection Ohio State hopes to see later this fall . He sidestepped any concerns about mobility by dodging defenders who always seemed to crash at his feet. His 37-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Carnell Tate to start the fourth quarter was the best throw by any quarterback all day.

But nothing McCord did or did not cause Day to end the contest by naming a starter in his post-match press conference. Day had hoped that one of the quarterbacks would emerge in late spring, that McCord or Brown would part ways with the other and take over a position vacated by Stroud. The spring game confirmed that neither player has reached that level.

“Even though there’s not a winner for the job yet,” McCord said, “I think it benefits both of us, honestly. I think it’s going to push us both into fall camp. And, you know, there’s still there’s a lot of time until the season, so I think you just have to stay hungry.

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

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