BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Speaking with the kind of rasp in his voice that a coach only suffers during a game that was closer than it was supposed to be, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day’s quarterback conundrum wrote its first chapter in the Buckeyes’ 23-3 win at Indiana on Saturday.
Junior Kyle McCord got the start and played 61 of the 67 snaps for the Ohio State offense. Redshirt freshman Devin Brown got the other six snaps, handing the ball off twice, running once for a loss of three yards, and completing 1 of 3 passes for a loss of two yards.
McCord completed 20-of-33 passes for 239 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He also ran the ball twice for eight yards. His long completion of the day was a 49-yarder down the seam to senior tight end Cade Stover.
Brown and McCord competed throughout fall camp to earn the starting job. At times it was back and forth, but over the final two weeks McCord surged forward, as evidenced by the number of snaps that he got in a close game against the Hoosiers.
Still, Day had a plan to play Brown several times during the game, but the tight nature of the scoreboard just never allowed that to materialize. Brown didn’t get into the game until a little past midway throughout the second quarter. He went into the game following a McCord interception on the previous possession.
Brown handed the ball off twice to running back Miyan Williams, who picked up nine total yards. On third and one, a designed run for Brown was stopped in the backfield. Brown wouldn’t return until the final drive of the game, which came with 1:44 left on the clock and the Buckeyes no longer in any kind of danger.
The original plan was for Brown to get into the game on the third and fifth possessions, but as Day said during the week, that could change due to the game situation.
The second possession for the Buckeyes was a three-and-out, and Day didn’t want to pull McCord after a drive like that.
“I would have liked to have seen Devin play a little bit more, but I just felt like we went three and out there, and then I was worried that we weren’t gonna be able to get into a rhythm,” Day said after the game. “We already felt a little clunky early on. Missed some short-yardage situations, didn’t convert on some third downs. And so I didn’t want to run the risk of putting ourselves in a bad spot by continually moving those guys in and out. But going in, really wanted to play Devin some more. Would like to do that moving forward. But like I said, from the beginning, we’ve got to make sure we’re doing what’s right for the team, what’s right for Ohio State, and I felt like that was the right call at the time.”
The lack of rhythm is oftentimes a first-week staple. After driving 80 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown on their opening drive, the Buckeyes managed just 97 yards of offense the rest of the half. After a three-and-out to start the third quarter, however, McCord led the Buckeyes on scoring drives of 76, 88, and 54 yards, respectively. Two of those drives ended in field goals, however.
“I thought in the third quarter during those couple of drives, we got into a rhythm, he made some nice throws,” Day said of McCord. “Made the nice throw to Marvin [Harrison] that the refs told me that he got pushed out of bounds or he put himself out of bounds. I’d like to see the film. I thought that was a nice throw, but then we came right back and scored right after that, which is good.
“That’s a good sign because it can be deflating when you throw a touchdown and you’ve got to come back and do it again. And that was good. I thought the throw down the middle to Cade was a really nice throw. That was big. Yeah, there were some plays certainly we want to have back. We’ll have to again look at the film and see. I think it was a mixed bag overall. Gotta see if it was a mixed bag with a positive or negative. That’s part of watching the film.”
McCord’s interception came on a fourth-and-two play where intended receiver Chip Trayanum was taken off of his feet. McCord bought time and had to improvise. It led to him throwing a pass back across the middle that was intercepted by safety Phillip Dunham.
What did McCord learn from that situation?
“I think you just have to have a plan,” he said after the game. “Obviously, you know, that’s not how exactly we drew it up. So I think I have to be better and just understand that and grow from that.”
Devin Brown came in on the next series, but then Day went back to McCord following Brown’s three-and-out series. McCord responded in the second half by completing 10-of-16 passes for 145 yards.
“Yeah, I think that means a lot, showing his trust in me,” McCord said of Day reinserting him into the lineup. “And I think it’s my job to continue to grow, continue to learn, continue to get better.”
Overall, there was some stuff that Day liked, as well as some things that can’t continue to happen. But the eye in the sky will tell the full tale.
“I mean, some good things. Yeah, some good things in there,” he said of McCord’s performance. “I mean, the pick was on fourth down, so it didn’t draw up the way we’d like to. I’m not gonna blame him for that. If it went back the other way it would have been a disaster, but we got him on the ground. So that was a fourth down deal. He did make a play with his feet on one of the play actions, I thought that was good. I know he wants to have a couple of reads back, couple things back. But until we really watch the film, it’s hard to evaluate exactly how the overall body of work was in the game.”
Quarterbacks aren’t expected to play their best game in their first start of the year, but they are expected to lead their teams to a win. Improvements will be needed across the board, not just quarterback. The offensive line needs to get much better. The secondary will eventually be tested, as will the rest of the Buckeye defense.
While it wasn’t the best day the Ohio State offense will have this year, the Buckeyes still went out and accomplished their main goal.
“Yeah, it’s a good feeling for sure. Our goal coming here was to be 1-0, and we are 1-0,” McCord said. “But, you know, I think another exciting piece is that we have so much to build and grow on. I mean, we won by 20 points, but offensively speaking we have a lot more we can improve on. I definitely feel like we left some points out there on the field, and I know I could be better.”