Regardless of the sport, any coach will tell you that there is no substitute for game reps. Practice is important, but game reps are where the ascension truly takes place.
Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord is seeing that in his own play, now with 10 starts under his belt this season.
Last week against Michigan State, McCord had his best game as a Buckeye, throwing for 335 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He completed 24-of-31 passes, giving him two-consecutive Big Ten games where he completed over 70% of his passes.
(CJ Stroud didn’t even accomplish that feat last year in his second season as the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes.)
Two touchdown passes in particular stood out against the Spartans. The first was a 26-yard completion to receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr. that McCord dropped into the end zone over Harrison’s shoulder like he was controlling a claw machine. The second was an 18-yard completion to tight end Cade Stover that was thrown away from a defender into a small window that only Stover could handle.
Both were indicative of high-level quarterback play, but it was much more than a one-man job.
“I think it’s all the reps that we put in, and I think that allows you to go out there and have confidence and play with anticipation, play with timing,” McCord said this week. “I think a few of those throws, even though they were well guarded, I feel like the receivers did a good job of making contested catches and trusted where I was gonna put the ball.”
But even with all of the practice reps, it still comes down to the experience that only a game can bring. It’s the difference between the training grounds and the proving grounds.
“Practice definitely helps. With all the reps that we get in, whether it’s spring ball, fall camp, and now into the season, obviously you got a big bank of reps with each other, but at the same time you can’t really substitute game reps,” McCord said.
“I think game reps are extremely valuable, and I feel like there were times earlier in the year where there were opportunities to have those type of throws and we didn’t quite connect for whatever reason. But I think you go back, you watch the film, you grow upon it, and you take that and you go into practice and work on it and just keep growing, and I think eventually you get to a point like Saturday where we’re able to make those throws.”
Through 10 games, McCord has thrown for 2,687 yards with 20 touchdowns and four interceptions. He is 12th nationally in pass efficiency (164.83) and sixth in ESPN’s QBR quarterback metric (84.9).
It hasn’t always been perfect, but the trajectory continues in an upward manner for the Ohio State passing game.
Head coach Ryan Day has remarked throughout the season that when there have been early-game struggles for McCord, it is often about what Day calls “finding the speed of the game.” The rhythm of the game is important, which can be tough to find for an inexperienced quarterback.
But when McCord has the speed of the game down, it makes a sizable difference.
“I think it just allows you to play a step ahead,” he said. “When you can anticipate throws, when you can see what coverages are rolling to, I think it just allows you to play with confidence and a step ahead. I don’t think you’re trying to guess what they’re doing. I think you see it. You put the film study to work and you can play with anticipation.”
The results are proof of concept. The hard work has produced results, and it also produces confidence. McCord is dealing with fewer questions and providing more answers.
And last Saturday may have been just the beginning.
“Yeah, anytime you can hit those type of throws, I think that’s just a big momentum boost not only for myself, but I think for the offense,” McCord said.
“I think that’s the biggest thing, knowing that you put a lot of work in to get to that point, and then when you see it come to life, it’s pretty sweet.”