Several weeks into spring practice, there’s a sense that Carson Beck is the frontrunner for Georgia’s QB1 spot, though Brock Vandagriff continues to turn enough heads that the battle could go well into the fall. At Alabama, there’s been little separation between Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson, and the Crimson Tide have plenty of other questions around the quarterback position with a new offensive coordinator and a slew of young, green playmakers.
And then there’s Ohio State, the other national title hopeful going through a legitimate QB showdown this spring. The search to find CJ Stroud’s replacement is down to junior Kyle McCord and redshirt freshman Devin Brown, and thus far, neither has emerged as a frontrunner for the job.
“I’d like to see one of the two really step out,” OSU head coach Ryan Day said earlier this week, adding that he wants to name a starter by the end of spring.
“I don’t think we’ve seen that yet. It’d be nice to see one of them kind of separate from the other. But that takes a few practices in a row of consistent play.”
“You have to stay consistent with that because we take the body of work as a whole, and that is comparable. When you start to lean one way or another, then it’s not really fair. We’ll keep doing that. There are some days where we’ll get one of them a bunch of reps with the ones, and then it kind of offsets the next day.”
Ohio State holds its spring game next Saturday, so perhaps between now and then, Day will have a clearer picture of who should be the guy for the Buckeyes in the fall.
But here’s an open question: Does it even matter who Ohio State picks as its starting quarterback?
Both McCord, who was high school teammates with All-American wideout Marvin Harrison Jr., and Brown, who boldly switched his jersey number to 33 this offseason in homage of Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh, are former blue-chip recruits who have split first-team reps all spring. While their skill sets are a bit different, both seem plenty capable of running Ryan Day’s system that’s loaded with skill talent.
Whether Day or Brian Hartline calls plays this fall, the tenants of OSU’s offense will remain the same. The expectations for the quarterback will, too: Don’t turn the ball over, and get the ball to our playmakers in space.
The Buckeyes have the best receiver room in America, and with TreVeyon Henderson healthy, and Miyan Williams, Dallan Hayden and Evan Pryor all back, they have one of the deepest tailback depth charts in the country, too. They must replace both starting offensive tackles, but they have some capable options.
Sure, the quarterback job is the most important position on the field, but since Ryan Day has come to Ohio State in 2017, he’s made it work with J.T. Barrett (35 TDs to nine picks), Dwayne Haskins (50 TDs to eight picks), Justin Fields (No. 11 overall pick after two seasons as the starter) and Stroud (85 TDs to 12 picks).
All four quarterbacks offer a different flavor, but they all excelled at OSU. I expect the same to happen with either McCord or Brown, regardless of who wins the job. Aside from Lincoln Riley, no coach in America is better at designing layups for their quarterbacks.
The more pressing concern for the Buckeyes is whether or not Day has truly changed the attitude within his program, and solved OSU’s recent defensive struggles.
The Buckeyes nearly upset the Bulldogs in the CFP Semifinals by ‘coming out swinging,’ and they need to take that same mindset to the field each Saturday in the fall.
Day can’t afford to lose to Michigan for a third-straight autumn, which means his program must become the Big Ten bully again. That won’t start with more awesome QB play. It’s about a defense that has allowed too many explosive plays the last few seasons shoring up the issue and becoming a truly scary unit requisite to all its 5-star talent.
Last year, first-year DC Jim Knowles solved some of OSU’s structural issues, but against both the Wolverines and Bulldogs, the Buckeyes were still gashed for way too many home runs. They allowed five plays over 65 yards against the Wolverines, and then in their very next game, Georgia had 10 plays over 20 yards.
Too often, defensive backs were left on islands. The linebackers were out of position. A lack of game-changing DL pressure — outside of J.T. Tuimolau — was a problem, too.
The good news is the returns so far this spring suggest Ohio State may field a much more complete and dynamic defense in the fall.
In its latest scrimmage last week, both McCord and Brown weren’t at their best because they were hounded by the Buckeyes’ defensive line.
We know Tuimolau is a stud, but Jack Sawyer, Caden Curry, Kenyatta Jackson, Tyleik Williams and Mike Hall headline a unit that has teased elite playmaking talent this spring. OSU’s linebackers are solid, and the secondary looks much improved as well with the natural growth of guys like former 5-star Sonny Styles and several plug-and-play additions from the transfer portal.
So while McCord versus Brown is an intriguing battle, who becomes QB1 probably matters less for Ohio State’s championship hopes than the Buckeyes addressing their recent defensive flaws.