Ohio State football quarterback C.J. Stroud finding success in throwing out of pocket

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch

Two of Ohio State’s receivers converged on a corner of the end zone as quarterback C.J. Stroud rolled to his right.

It was third-and-goal late in the first quarter in last week’s rout of Toledo when Stroud was flushed out of the pocket.

Looking for an open target, he settled on two of them.

Stroud threaded a throw to Julian Fleming, who was running a step ahead of Nate Bauer, a safety for the Rockets. Tucked further behind Fleming toward the back pylon was Marvin Harrison Jr.

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“If it didn’t go to Julian,” Stroud said, “Marvin was going to catch it.”

The pass ended up in the grasp of Fleming, who held onto the ball and kept his left foot inbounds, tapping it on the turf, for a 5-yard touchdown. The placement was just right. It was bound for the receivers or headed out of bounds.

“I put it to where only my offensive players could get it,” Stroud said. “Whenever you do that, I feel like it’s a recipe for success.”

Sep 17, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) throws a pass over Toledo Rockets defensive tackle Desjuan Johnson (1) during the first half of the NCAA Division I football game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

The sequence offers a snapshot of one of the biggest areas of Stroud’s development through three games. Early in his second season as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback, he has shown to be more adept throwing on the run, part of his evolution as one of the nation's top-passers and as he picks on the back end of defenses.

According to data from Pro Football Focus, Stroud has completed 13 of 17 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown outside the pocket. The 76.4% completion percentage is nearly 17 percentage points higher than last season, when he went 46 of 77 for 518 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in such situations.

“He can do it left, he can do it right,” coach Ryan Day said. “He’s been doing a nice job. Any time you can extend plays and allow your receivers more time to get open, that’s an advantage, and he’s shown he can do that.”

Stroud first flashed some of his newfound escapability in the season-opening win over Notre Dame. Facing a third-and-3 on the Buckeyes’ go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter, Stroud hurried left.

Rylie Mills, one of the Irish’s defensive ends, split a block by left tackle Paris Johnson and left guard Donovan Jackson to break into the backfield and chase after Stroud. As he evaded Mills, it was then that Stroud threw a pass down the sideline to running back Miyan Williams for a 12-yard gain to move the chains.

Part of Stroud’s poise when throwing on the move is owed to another offseason spent going through Ohio State’s strength and conditioning program. He said earlier this month that he has felt faster and quicker moving outside the pocket.

“I feel more comfortable with my body and how it works now,” he said.

It’s unlikely he’ll use his legs as much as Justin Fields. When Fields was behind center for the Buckeyes in 2020 and 2019, he carried the ball an average of 10 times per game, often keeping it to scramble.

Sep 17, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) throws a pass during the second half of the NCAA Division I football game against the Toledo Rockets at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won 77-21. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

But Stroud could continue to follow his predecessor in being mobile to break the pocket to extend plays.

Day considers the trait a product of athleticism, but also a presence in the pocket.

“You have to have the confidence physically to be able to extend and get away from the rush,” Day said, “but also just the speed of the game and understanding where the bodies are, I think that there's a feel. You don't look at the rush, you feel the rush, and there's an art to finding the escape hatch.”

It was in spring practice when Stroud began showing glimpses. The Buckeyes went through 7-on-9 passing drills, leaving extra defenders in coverage and creating tighter windows for Stroud to place passes.  

The situation required him to move around to find openings downfield.

“Sometimes you have to hang onto the ball,” Day said.

He kept showing improvement and stressed the Buckeyes’ defense.   

“I’m glad he’s on my team,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “Every day in practice since I’ve been here, it’s just been incredible to watch some of the throws he makes, where he places the ball.”

That now extends to throws outside the pocket, a looming challenge for defenses across the Big Ten, including Wisconsin, which travels to Columbus to face the Buckeyes on Saturday night.

“It changes the game,” Knowles said. “Once the pocket is broken, all routes have changed, all schemes have changed, because everybody is now converting routes, and defenses have to find a guy and take them. It’s freeform football.

Sep 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) runs out of the pocket during the NCAA football game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

“And that’s a lot different than what I try to do, which is to control and uncontrollable game. Once it breaks loose, it’s every man for himself.”

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman

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