Just like in Ohio State’s season opener at Minnesota, head coach Ryan Day had to have a conversation with his first-time starting quarterback in the early going of the Buckeyes’ 59-7 win over Akron on Saturday night
Only this time, instead of it being redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud following a second-quarter interception, it was true freshman Kyle McCord, who did not complete a pass during the opening drive of the game, which included a backwards pass that sailed out of bounds and resulted in a 6-yard loss.
“(I told him to) just take a deep breath, find the speed of the game and just trust your eyes, trust your reads. You’ve had a lot of preparation to get here,” Day said during his postgame press conference. “And then I thought he settled down a little bit.”
McCord – a former five-star prospect who was starting in place of an injured Stroud – gained some confidence by completing a pop pass to sophomore wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba for 22 yards on the opening play of the subsequent drive. He then had another quick pass a few plays later to senior receiver Chris Olave for five-yard touchdown to tie the game at seven apiece.
“I remember going through it when I was a quarterback. You overthink things,” Day said. “That’s kind of what you hope to do with a couple completions, just kind of flush out all of those jitters, and now you can go back to your training and your instincts.”
From that moment on, McCord looked comfortable in the pocket. He completed 11 of his next 13 passes and finished the game with 319 passing yards and two touchdowns, including a 34-yard touchdown to Smith-Njigba and a 39-yard pass to junior Garrett Wilson, which set up a field goal right before the half.
Still, there’s room improvement after Saturday’s performance, as McCord overthrew redshirt sophomore tight end Cade Stover and was picked off on the opening drive of the third quarter.
“I thought there were some things that were OK, but I thought there were some things that we need to certainly clean up,” Day said. “Kyle does a really good job preparing. An excellent job. He puts a lot of work into this thing, and so it’s the first time he’s ever played in a college football game. He’s a true freshman, so I think the game was moving pretty fast for him early on.
"One of the things we talk about with all the young quarterbacks is finding the speed of the game, and I think there were times that he did.”
McCord wasn’t the only quarterback to see the field on Saturday, as redshirt freshman Jack Miller also made his first appearance of the season midway through the third quarter. He completed 5-of-8 passes for 66 yards and led Ohio State on a pair of scoring drives to reach the final score.
Those were notably the first passes of his career after he played just 10 snaps for the Buckeyes last season.
“I thought Jack came in and had some poise in there and made some nice throws, as well,” Day said. “I thought he did some positive things.”
Asked if either quarterback performance would change anything behind center when Stroud – who is dealing with a lingering shoulder injury – is healthy, Day said he didn’t want to make any rash decisions and noted they’ll reevaluate Stroud on Sunday.
If Stroud is able to participate in practice this week, it’s likely he'll start when Ohio State resumes Big Ten play at Rutgers next Saturday. But if not, the Buckeyes now know they have three quarterbacks capable of playing in a game – something they couldn’t say heading into the game against Akron.
“From the beginning, I’ve said that we’re going to need all three (quarterbacks),” Day said. “If we have one guy that we feel like or two guys that we feel like or three guys that we feel like can play and we can win a championship with, then we’re in pretty good shape.
“I think we’re still working toward that, but this was an opportunity to get those guys some reps, get them in the game, get a real evaluation, which is really going help them because, in practice, you see things a certain way, but when it’s coming live and you get hit, it hurts. I think this is a huge learning experience and, in the long run, this was great to have these guys get these reps.
“Do I think everything went perfectly? No, absolutely not. But the fact that they both played in the game and got some series under their belt I think was good. At least you have an idea of what you have when you get into the game, because you don’t know until you actually play, and now we have some things that we can build on and try to grow from, for sure.”
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