Rob Oller: Silent Stroud's quarterback play speaks volumes in Ohio State spring game

Rob Oller
Buckeye Xtra
Quarterback C.J. Stroud, here running past defensive end Cormontae Hamilton, completed 16 of 22 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday's spring game.

Breaking the fourth wall — when actors engage the audience by looking directly into the camera — remains mostly taboo in Hollywood.

One exception is The Office, where Jim connects with viewers at least once an episode. 

The Fourth Estate has its own fourth wall, considering it taboo to put words in the mouth of an interview subject. But like Jim, sometimes you must break the rules.

So here we go. All three Ohio State quarterbacks have been off-limits to the media this spring, presumably because one or more might say something silly. Or worse. Such as, “I better be the starter next fall, or else.” None of the three — C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller and Kyle McCord — likely would say something so flammable. But since we can’t ask, we don’t know.

It is Ryan Day’s prerogative to shelter his QBs as he brings them up to speed. None of the three has thrown a pass in a college game, so the coach wants them to learn to walk before running their mouths. Makes some sense, although maybe better to break them in now than in the fall, when media ammunition goes live? Either way, muting the quarterbacks leaves no choice but to read their minds. Or in this case their lips.

Quarterback Kyle McCord completed 12 of 17 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns Saturday. His first pass was a 55-yard completion to Garrett Wilson.

The following is what we THINK the QBs would have said after Saturday’s spring game in Ohio Stadium. Don’t take it as gospel, but with an impish wink-wink.

C.J. Stroud: “Let me begin by thanking Chris Olave, who would make any quarterback look good. I may not be Justin Fields just yet, but would Fields have been Fields without Olave running his NFL-caliber routes and Garrett Wilson making acrobatic catches?”

Stroud isn’t all wrong. Not sure about the Fields stuff, but with Olave and the rest of the Buckeyes’ high-caliber receivers, the three quarterbacks need only get the ball in the general vicinity to complete passes. If there is an overarching takeaway from Saturday it is that Ohio State has so much elite talent on the outside that the main requirement of the quarterback is just to not screw things up.

Day confirmed as much, explaining that in the spring the quarterbacks need to make the smart, safe play. There will come a time when the starter needs to go win a game, but now is not the time. 

Quarterback Jack Miller gains yardage around defensive lineman Jacolbe Cowan on Saturday. Miller completed 17of 30 passes for 128 yards and an interception.

“You can’t go out and win the job on one play,” Day said. 

But can you lose it? Miller hurt his resume by throwing an interception on his first series, locking on Wilson from the snap and forcing a throw into coverage, where redshirt freshman Ryan Watts made the pick.

Miller: “Dumb mistake. Didn’t go through my progressions, but otherwise thought I managed the offense pretty well.”

Miller made some nice throws, finishing 17-of-30 passing for 128 yards. But while his arm is at least as strong as Stroud’s, and perhaps slightly stronger than McCord’s, he also has a slight hitch in his throwing motion that leads to a slower release. Miller managed the offense well, knowing when to check down to open receivers underneath, but he also had several passes batted down at the line.

McCord? He didn't win the job coming out of the controlled scrimmage but also did not lose it.

McCord: “First throw — 55-yard completion to Wilson. I thought, ‘Nothing to this.’ Then ...”

Then he overthrew Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the end zone on his second attempt and on the next play got sacked and fumbled.

McCord finished 12-of-17 passing (.706) for 184 yards and two touchdowns and showed a strong arm. His sideline throws lacked the zip of Stroud's and Miller's, but still arrived on time. 

Day assessed the performance of his quarterbacks the same way he has all spring, as a mix of “Oh wow" and “Oh no.”

“When first starting, you (shouldn’t) do anything out of the ordinary,” he said. “Make the routine plays routinely … but somewhere along the line, when the game is coming down to the fourth quarter, they’re going to have to make plays.”

From this perch it appears Stroud is best suited to make them.

Stroud: “I felt super comfortable out there. A couple poor throws but overall I didn’t do anything to fall behind Jack and Kyle.”

Stroud did more than that. His numbers were about the same as McCord’s — 16 of 22 (.727) for 185 yards and two touchdowns — but he looked more in charge of the offense. 

Statistically, senior quarterback Jagger LaRoe fared the best, completing 5 of 6 for 75 yards and a touchdown, but don’t expect a four-way competition to break out, even if LaRoe possibly thinks it will. Because the walk-on from Texas A&M also was not made available, we just don’t know.

Or do we?

LaRoe: “I got my chance and made the most of it. If you want a guy who has been around, taken his lumps and become stronger for it, you could do worse than hand me the ball.”

The Buckeyes hope it doesn’t come to that, but they also have to be happy that their back-up to the back-up to the back-up has enough confidence to speak his mind.

Even when someone is forced to speak it for him.

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD