Ohio State Denied Backup QB Clarity by Spring Cutbacks

Bruce Hooley

There's a difference between not giving the answer and not knowing the answer, as Ohio State coach Ryan Day well knows now that he's stuck with the latter dilemma rather than the former.

Day doesn't know, and isn't likely to know, whether either of his true freshmen quarterbacks is capable of backing up starter Justin Fields, or whether senior Gunnar Hoak is the best option, until the Buckeyes get back on the field this fall.

Assuming, of course, they do.

That's a predicament freshmen C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller figured to solve for Day during spring practice, until spring practice came to a screeching halt that doesn't appear to be ending any time soon.

Stroud, the high-riser in recruiting circles from Rancho Cucamonga (Ca) High School, and Miller, the long-committed QB from suburban Phoenix, are back in their respective homes since OSU called a halt to in-person classes and asked students to vacate their dorms by March 22.

“Yeah, for them it’s unfortunate because spring practice is so important for young quarterbacks,” Day said. “But they do have access to our film, and we’re going to do the best we can to make sure that they have everything they need to study that stuff."

Fields took every meaningful snap last season and will again if he remains healthy.'

But if he gets hurt, that would create a gaping concern, one Day would prefer to hand over to either Stroud or Miller to position them to take over in 2021 when Fields will presumably be off to the NFL.

Hoak would be the fall-back option,  given that he's been in the system a year.

All three backup quarterback candidates are under the direction of new position coach Corey Dennis, although that's a bit of a misnomer because Day is extremely involved with the quarterbacks, too.

"Corey will make sure that he’s giving them everything they need to try to get ahead on this thing the best they can without actually having spring practice," Day said. "We’re hopeful that down the road there are some workouts we can capture back based on when everybody comes back on campus. But until then, we’re not really sure."

 Stroud won Elite 11 MVP honors in the summer before his senior year and jumped from a three-star prospect ranked in the mid-200s to the second-ranked pro-style quarterback with a Top 100 overall ranking.

Miller had been committed to OSU for more than a year before that, but since had fallen from No. 3 at his position nationally to nearly 300th overall in the wake of an injury-plagued senior year.

Keeping two elite quarterback recruits happy while they bide time behind an established starter is a delicate dance for Day, as evidenced by the transfer of Joe Burrow to LSU once Dwyane Haskins became the starter, and Tate Martell's and Mathew Baldwin's transfer once Fields came aboard from Georgia.

That's why Day, if he had been able to take an extensive look at Stroud and Miller in the spring, likely would have been careful characterizing their competition, so as not to offend or scare off whoever trailed the other.

"I don't think it's weird at all," Stroud said before COVID-19 concerns called a halt to spring ball. "Me and Jack, we're like brothers. We hang out all the time. We go out to eat. We watched the Super Bowl together. At the end of the day, the competition will take care of itself."

Miller is back home in Scottsdale, Az., at the Princess Resort, where he lives with his mother and father, who is the five-star facility's manager.

"I really enjoy competition," Miller said. "It's best for Ohio State. I'd been committed here for two years. I really never wavered. I never really thought about going anywhere else. I've always known this was the place for me."

For the latest on Ohio State follow Sports Illustrated Buckeye Maven on Facebook and @BuckeyeMaven on Twitter.