On Tuesday, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day made the announcement most were expecting — that junior quarterback Kyle McCord was officially the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback this season.
McCord started the first two games for Ohio State this season, but the competition was still open with redshirt freshman Devin Brown. Brown played in each of the first two games, but the keys have now officially been handed over to McCord.
It was something that Day arrived at after Saturday’s 35-7 win over Youngstown State, but he wanted to watch the film first and confirm his thoughts.
“So, after reviewing the film, we’ve decided that Kyle is going to be the starter, and to make that distinction,” Day said on Tuesday. “We still plan on playing Devin but we feel like Kyle has really stepped up and deserves to be the starter.”
What won it for McCord?
“Just the overall consistency that I think he’s been playing with,” Day said. “He made some nice throws. He kept the offense going. He came out of the gates playing efficient football, and that’s what we’re gonna look for moving forward.”
The plan to play Brown will be the same plan for any previous Ohio State backup quarterback. For now, McCord will get every snap needed in the games, and the bulk of the first-team reps in practice.
McCord has completed 34-of-53 (64.2%) of his passes this season for 497 yards and three touchdowns. He has thrown one interception.
After seeing the improvement from the first half to the second half of the Indiana opener, and having that incremental growth carry over to the Youngstown State game, Day is confident that McCord is on the proper trajectory.
“I think it’s building, you can see,” he said. “I think, regardless of the opponent, when you play in Ohio Stadium and you get your second start, you have to see how people are going to react. I thought he was much more poised in this game than the first one. And I think that’s natural. So again, we’ll see if we can build on that.”
To this point in the season, the Ohio State offense hasn’t been as effective as it usually is. Of course, Day has also never had a quarterback competition carry into the season.
The Buckeyes currently rank eighth in the Big Ten in scoring (29 points per game), sixth in total offense (431 yards per game), 10th in red zone touchdown percentage (50%), and dead last in third-down conversions (30.4%).
Through the month of September last season, the Buckeyes led the Big Ten in converting touchdowns in the red zone. They did it 90% of the time. This year’s offense has failed to score touchdowns in the red zone in three of their six trips. Last year’s team scored touchdowns on 18 of their 20 trips through the first month of the season.
Last September, the Buckeyes were second in the conference in third-down conversions (62.5%), second in scoring (48.8 points per game), and first in total offense (558.8 yards per game).
Posting numbers that are very atypical of a Ryan Day offense in the same season where the Buckeyes carried a quarterback competition through the first two games of the year would seem to be related.
How much has been correlation versus causation will be sussed out in the coming months. Day’s not putting all of the offensive efficiency issues on the quarterback competition, but he’s also not saying it’s helped.
“I mean, the quarterback is a huge part of that because we know the quarterback really gets judged on third down and the red zone,” he said. “Opportunities to throw the ball down the field, play action. Create explosives, decision making. But yeah, that’s going to be a big part of it, the timing and all that, but I think that there’s been enough this year in that third and medium, 3 (yards), 4, 2, we haven’t converted on that. We gotta help him.”
While the Buckeyes have spent the past month making a decision on their quarterback, they have also been breaking in an offensive line with three new starters. There have been growing pains across the board, and pains where the growing should have already been done.
If you see an offense that struggles on third down, or can’t get into the end zone while in the red zone, you’ll also be seeing an offensive line that just isn’t consistent enough from play to play to be at their best when the snaps are at their most important.
Day also isn’t putting the entire issue with the offense on his offensive line. But like the impact the quarterback competition has had on the offensive issues, he’s also not saying the offensive line is innocent.
“I don’t think you can point to one thing but that’s what happens when you have some inexperience there,” he said. “It’s one thing here, one thing there, and you add those up and you’re not as efficient as you’d like to be. So we’ve met as a group, we’ve talked about it. We’re gonna try to give [McCord] a good plan and go after it again this week.”
The expectation is that with McCord no longer having to come out of a game for a drive here and there, that he’ll be able to lead a more consistent offense. The more reps he gets on third down and in the red zone, the better he will be able to maximize those situations.
Combine that with the increased reps for an offensive line still looking to become the cohesive unit that this offense needs, and it would make sense to expect the offense to finally begin looking more like the Ohio State offenses we have come to expect under Ryan Day.
The Buckeyes have Western Kentucky this week, then travel to Notre Dame next week. The time for exploration is already over.
“I think it’s important for everybody to play well this week,” Day said. “We have to keep upgrading, keep playing. Kyle’s no different. But I think we all want to have a great week of work and we all want to keep getting better. Now we’re getting into game three. So we want to keep building and growing. I think it’s a really important week for us.”