Rob Oller | Ryan Day's reputation as Buckeyes 'Quarterback Whisperer' being put to test

Rob Oller
Buckeye Xtra

Ryan Day is doing a lot of breathing exercises these days, which is advisable when giving birth to a new starting quarterback who has never thrown a pass in a college game. 

“You just have to take a deep breath,” Day said of the Ohio State QB birthing process. “A lot of deep breaths.”

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Hee-hee-who will lead the offense when the Buckeyes open on Sept. 2 at Minnesota? That’s what Day plans to find out over the next five months. Sophomores C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller saw limited game action behind Justin Fields last season. True freshman Kyle McCord is still learning his way around campus, much less a playbook. 

A daunting decision, but here’s betting Day gets it right. The coach has a track record of developing inexperienced quarterbacks into Heisman Trophy candidates.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day watches quarterback C.J. Stroud warm up before last season's Big Ten championship game against Northwestern. Stroud is competing with Jack Miller and Kyle McCord for the starting job.

But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Day must muster all his know-how, mix it with what quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis sees and pick a starter. Preferably sooner than later, so the chosen one can get as many reps before going on the road against the Golden Gophers. 

As the process of replacing Fields unfolds, it is worth remembering the last time Ohio State entered a season without any quarterback on the roster having ever attempted a pass. It was … checks old Ohio State media guides … calls OSU historian Jack Park, who ponders and admits,  “That’s a tough one.” 

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Looks like it was 1952. The Buckeyes opened that season with sophomore John Borton after returning starter Tony Curcillo switched to fullback and focused on playing linebacker. Ohio State finished 6-3.

No wonder Day paused when asked about having a blank canvas on which to design three quarterbacks how he wants.

Quarterback C.J. Stroud, here at practice on Friday, is believed to be the early front-runner in the quarterback battle.

“I get excited about that sometimes, when I’m by myself in my office,” he said. “But when I’m on the field and they’re going through growing pains, I’m not that excited about it.”

Kind of like going through labor. So I am told. Breathe and push, gently at first.

“As much as I just want to jump down their throat, they’re doing it for the first time,” Day said. “They’ve never physically seen a blitz off the edge and had to react that way.”

But then it can get ugly in a “You did this to me” kind of way.

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“If they see it again and make the same mistake, now we have a problem,” Day said. “So a lot of deep breaths.”

Ohio State fans might want to follow Day’s lead, considering Buckeye Nation tends to hold its breath under duress. Exhale, people. Day turned Dwayne Haskins Jr. into a first-round NFL draft pick and groomed Justin Fields to be the same. What could go wrong? 

“We’re still looking for more consistency with (their) throwing,” Day said. 

Jack Miller throws a pass at Friday's practice.

OK, so there’s that.

“There’s not a lot of practice experience. There’s not a lot of snaps. Because of that, it’s like when you ride a bike,” Day said. “You don’t just jump on a bike and start riding. You fall down some. There’s going to be growing pains along the way and you just have to be willing to work through those.”

OK, so that, too. 

But this is Day’s strength, right? If anyone can toss three quarterbacks into the deep end and teach them to swim while avoiding sharks, it’s the former University of New Hampshire quarterback.

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Do not underestimate the importance of Day having played the position in college. When ranking quarterback whisperers, begin there. So says Matt D’Orazio, the former Arena Football League quarterback out of Otterbein and DeSales who works national quarterback camps and still coaches middle school and high school quarterbacks in the Columbus area.   

“With coach Day, he has the advantage of having played quarterback,” D’Orazio said. “He was a good quarterback at New Hampshire, but humble enough where he doesn’t think he was Joe Montana or Tom Brady. Looking back, he can see his shortcomings, things he wishes he had done better, and convey them.”

Kyle McCord, here passing at Friday's practice, is the only of the three quarterback candidates who hasn't played in a college game.

Beyond that, D’Orazio pinpointed what ultimately will separate Stroud, Miller and McCord. Hint: it won’t be arm strength.

“The No. 1 characteristic you’re looking for is your quarterback has to be able to win over the locker room,” D’Orazio said. “You’ve got to get down and dirty in that foxhole with your guys, which gives them confidence. That’s when the defense believes in you. That stuff adds up.”

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Where it gets tricky is the foxhole quarterback also better be able to throw the 18-yard out into tight coverage. Team-first QBs without NFL talent end up making a nice living selling insurance in Columbus.

Luckily for Day, he already has two insurance policies. The only question is whether their names are Stroud, Miller or McCord.

Whomever Ryan Day picks as his starting quarterback, it'll be the first time since 1952 that no Ohio State QB on the roster has thrown a pass in a college game.