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Ohio State Quarterback C.J. Stroud Kept Swinging In First Career Start Against Minnesota

Stroud rebounded from a second-quarter interception to throw four touchdown passes in the victory.

After redshirt freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud threw an interception midway through the second quarter of Ohio State’s season opener at Minnesota on Thursday evening, head coach Ryan Day pulled him to the side.

But rather than be upset with Stroud for his errant pass – which was well behind senior wide receiver Chris Olave – Day expressed confidence in his first-year signal-caller to get the job done on the very next drive.

“It took a little while for us to get into a rhythm there with C.J.,” Day said after the game. “But, you know, that was his first game ever. That was his first pass on the first play of the game. There’s a lot going on there. When you go into situations like that, you know it might be a little murky early on.

“You have to give him a lot of credit, though. There were a couple times when things weren’t really going well, he missed a couple passes, but he fought through it. He and I had a conversation early on that we’re going to keep swinging no matter what happens. We’re not going to play it close to the vest. That’s not the way we do it here. And he responded.”

That he did.

With Ohio State trailing 14-10 coming out of the half, the former four-star prospect from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., threw touchdown passes of 38, 56, 70 and 61 yards to lead the fourth-ranked Buckeyes to a 45-31 win over the Golden Gophers.

“Coach Day told me that no matter how I’m playing, good or bad, he has trust in me,” Stroud said during his postgame presser. “Just having a head coach like that, it’s a blessing from God. He’s a great man for that.

“In the first half, my mind wasn’t right. I was kind of all over the place a little bit. I talked to my teammates, praying a lot and just trying to lock back in. I don’t think I did terrible, but I definitely didn't do as best as I could in the first half."

Day didn’t want to place any expectations on Stroud heading into Thursday night’s game, especially given his lack of playing time last season behind first-round pick Justin Fields. Not to mention, it was the first game the Buckeyes played in front of a packed stadium in almost two years.

“I told him, ‘You might throw four interceptions, you might throw four touchdowns. I don’t know what’s going to happen,’” Day said. “I know everyone thinks you just walk out there and you’re going to throw for 300 yards and a bunch of touchdowns. It doesn’t work that way. There’s a lot of things for a young quarterback to process.

“I wish last year that we had those seven games that we didn’t play where he played 150-200 snaps and thrown the ball. He didn’t have any of that. Just a couple plays here and there. It’s a very unique situation for someone who has zero experience to go into a conference game on the road like this against a good team. I’m very, very impressed with the way he kept swinging.”

Stroud, who finished the game 13-of-22 passing for 294 yards with four touchdowns compared to the one interception, admitted the first-game jitters got to him early on. He also wasn’t able to get into any sort of rhythm as Minnesota controlled the time of possession (38:41-21:19) behind running back Mohamed Ibrahim.

“Everything we called was great, it’s just some things don’t go the way you want them to,” Stroud said. “That’s kind of how it was in the first half. The time of possession was kind of crazy. They held the ball, so I felt like we were off the field for a while. It kind of got cold in there, it’s raining sideways. I felt like that had a little bit to do with it, but we got the win.”

That, of course, is the key. But now Stroud must shift his focus to the next game, as Ohio State returns to Columbus for its home opener against No. 11 Oregon in what will certainly be another test for the young signal-caller.

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“Opening up with a tough opponent in a conference game, we kind of knew that we might have adversity, but that’s why we all came together and call each other a brotherhood,” Stroud said. “It’s a great learning experience. (The coaches) are happy with how I played and how I handled my adversity. I feel like I kept my head up and stayed positive. It’s all about what you do when you get punched in the mouth.”

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