ANALYSIS: What to take from glimpses of Ohio State’s spring QB battle

Ohio State's C.J. Stroud stretches before the spring game on Saturday, April 17, 2021, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff
Ohio State's C.J. Stroud stretches before the spring game on Saturday, April 17, 2021, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Trying to take away too much from a spring game is always dangerous, but Ohio State’s 2021 version offered more good news than bad when it comes to the most important position in football.

First the bad news: None of the three players competing to be the next Justin Fields are the current Justin Fields.

That is to be expected, of course, but fans could be forgiven for wishing to be pleasantly surprised when they got their first views of quarterbacks C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller III and Kyle McCord throwing the football in a live, game-like situation at Ohio Stadium.

Explore'The race is on' for starting quarterback role at Ohio State

Miller took the first snaps and led the Buckeyes down the field before throwing what appeared to be an ill-advised interception.

Stroud followed him and led a touchdown drive on which he displayed some of Fields’ ability to survey the field, move in the pocket and find the open man.

McCord got the third shot and immediately went down the field to Garrett Wilson, showing off the power arm that helped him earn a five-star 247 Sports Composite ranking.

By the time it was over, Stroud had two touchdown passes to his name while McCord had one and Miller none.

Miller and McCord also had one turnover apiece while Stroud had none, doing nothing to damage the perception if anyone had a lead in the race it was Stroud.

The California native finished last season as the backup to Fields, and he was first in line during most drills when reporters were allowed to view practices in the spring.

Those were just glimpses of the action, though, as was the spring game.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day had no problem reminding reporters of that Saturday.

“It’s the only thing you guys have seen, but we take the whole 15 practices and evaluate those things,” Day said.

“There are a lot of things that have flashed and a lot of things that go into it, and a lot of positive things that go into the game. This was just a very small glimpse at a bunch of guys taking some reps. There is a body of work that needs to be built from the first spring practice through the very first game that has yet to be written.”

Despite what you might read from the NFL Draft media complex, Fields brought a blend of passing skills, athletic ability and overall acumen to the position rarely seen anywhere, let alone Ohio State.

ExploreWhere might Fields land in the NFL?

One of the competitors could reach his level some day, but that is not much of a concern at this point.

The good news is all three showed the ability to throw the ball and manage the offense.

They also showed little reticence when it comes to throwing receivers open or fear of letting it rip despite their youth and inexperience.

Whoever wins the job will need to continue to balance the ability to move the chains with the knack for making big plays, but there is time for that to develop thanks to the roster of mostly four- and five-star recruits Day has put together (and held together in an era of transfers becoming more common) in Columbus.

With star receivers, stud tackles and a deep pool of running backs, Ohio State should not need much more than a steady hand at quarterback, at least not most of the time.

Facing his first real preseason quarterback competition as a head coach, Day seems well aware of that.

“It’s not about winning the day — It’s about learning the job so (then) you can go and help us win,” Day said. “There have been a lot of those learning opportunities. As we start to game plan different opponents, we will do that more. Right now, we’re just trying to learn the offense and where the ball goes and the system of offense.”

He is going into the summer looking for a player who can win games for him — eventually.

“We talk about it all the time: You can’t go out and win the job on one play. It doesn’t work that way,” Day said. “If you’re trying to go out and force the action, you’re going to get yourself jammed up. When it’s there, you have to take your shot. You have to be calculated.”

In the mean time, he wants to see which of his potential signal-callers can determine the right play to make and execute it most consistently.

Sometimes that means threading the ball in between two defenders to get a must-have first down on third-and-long or delivering a do-or-die throw in the end zone on fourth down at the end of a game.

Other times it simply means doing whatever is necessary to get another chance on the next play.

That was a lesson Day stressed with Fields in his early days in Columbus, and it endures now that Fields is off to the NFL.

“When it’s there, you have to be aggressive,” Day said. “We talk all the time when we watch film, if there is a play where it’s first-and-10 and there is some leakage up front, throwing the ball away is a great rep. It doesn’t feel like it at the time when you are competing for a quarterback position. All of those things are taken into consideration.”

In Other News