Rob Oller | Backup quarterback Chris Chugunov could buy Ohio State time in a big game

Rob Oller
Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Chris Chugunov (4) hands the ball off to Ohio State Buckeyes running back Master Teague III (33) during the fourth quarter of a NCAA Division I football game between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, September 28, 2019 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

Your job is tethered to failure, which is to say you become necessary only when things go wrong. As such, you are the fire alarm that hopefully never needs to be pulled. In that way, you exist only for emergency purposes, but you are essential to the collective peace of mind.

You are the backup quarterback. You are Chris Chugunov.

Admit it, Buckeye Nation. You worried about Chugs at first. Maybe still do, but I'm here to tell you the Ohio State backup QB is a steel piton that can save OSU from falling — as long as he doesn't have to hold for too long.

What's too long? Depends on the opponent. Against Rutgers on Saturday, Chugunov could play the entire game and the Buckeyes would still win by at least 30. Against Penn State in two weeks and at Michigan on Nov. 30, I'd put the fifth-year graduate transfer's staying power at one quarter, maybe two. Anything longer than that, and Ohio State's defense is on the hook to secure a win.

Think of it as Chugunov providing safe cover more than safe passage. If starting quarterback Justin Fields gets the wind knocked out of him or rolls an ankle slightly, Chugs has proved steady in the boat. Maybe that was always the case, but no one knew for sure. Now we do. He won't win you a playoff game, but he won't lose you Maryland.

Why mention this now? Because for 30 minutes — and two interview sessions — the world has gotten to see what life would be like without Fields. Ohio State assured me on Tuesday that Fields is fine and that sitting him the entire second half of Saturday's 73-14 rout against Maryland — the first time the sophomore Heisman Trophy candidate has not played past halftime — was to give Chugunov valuable game reps.

Additionally, Fields was not available for interviews after the game, or on Tuesday, which also was the first time that has happened. An athletic department media spokesman explained it was time to give Fields a media breather, while giving Chugunov an opportunity in the spotlight as he prepares for a game in his home state, New Jersey.

Makes sense. So what did we learn from Chugunov that we didn't already know? Well, he comes off as one cool cat. Not an uptight bone in that body. That doesn't mean he is guaranteed not to flinch if required, as Dwayne Haskins was two years ago, to come in and win the Michigan game. But my sense is the moment would not be too big for him.

“I've always been pretty confident in my throwing ability,” he said Tuesday. “I'm happy I was able to sling it around some on Saturday (he completed 8 of 11 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown on a perfectly thrown ball to Garrett Wilson). Earlier in the season, when I go in the game, I'm just trying to kill the clock.”

His season totals: 20 of 27 passing for 214 yards and four touchdowns.

Chugunov arrived in the fall of 2018 from West Virginia, where he mostly backed up Will Grier. Once he was in Columbus, it appeared playing time would be slim to none, but then Tate Martell transferred out, followed by Matthew Baldwin. Suddenly, the backup job was between Chugunov and Gunnar Hoak, a Dublin Coffman graduate who transferred from Kentucky. Chugs, with a year in the program, won the job.

“He's a guy that's been around a lot of football, smart. He's a guy you can count on, know what I mean?” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “He throws a good ball. Has good touch. Very intelligent. He can handle a lot without getting a ton of reps. That's hard to do.”

Entering the season, the biggest fear for Ohio State fans — and maybe coaches? — was losing Fields to injury. The concern remains, but at least the emergency plan is in working order.


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