Buckeyes Aim to Settle QB Competition ‘Organically and Authentically’ After Spring

Ohio State played all five scholarship quarterbacks during the spring game on Saturday, and head coach Ryan Day isn’t yet ready to determine a starter.

Day and the Buckeyes are holding a competition for a second-straight year, and this season’s competitors include 2023 backup Devin Brown, Kansas State transfer Will Howard, redshirt freshman Lincoln Kienholz and true freshmen Air Noland and Alabama transfer Julian Sayin.

The quintet combined to go 40-for-63 passing for 373 yards, a touchdown, and four interceptions in the ‘Shoe on Saturday.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m going to make any declarations right now,” Day said afterward. “We’ll look at the film and then see what it looks like and then decide where to go from there. But I don’t have much to say about it right now.”

Day and the Buckeyes remain optimistic about the process of finding their next starting quarterback, and they can see their vision becoming clearer — it just won’t be forced.

Former UCLA head coach and new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly was brought in to help oversee and determine who the best quarterback for Ohio State will be ahead of next season. He’s been part of quarterback competitions for countless seasons, including coaching former gunslingers such as Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and five-star-recruit-turned-10th-overall-pick Josh Rosen.

Kelly said Ohio State’s coaches will look at all 15 practices this spring evaluating every rep. The spring game, he said, played a valuable part in planning the next course of action.

“I think this day is a big part of it because it was the first time I ever got to play — some of those guys ever got to play in front of a crowd. And it was an amazing crowd,” Kelly said. “You get 80,000 for a spring game. Now, you get to see some of the young guys kind of looking around like, ‘Wow, this is different than the indoor.’ But that’s what they have to get ready to play in. So we got better from practice one to practice 15. It’s still an evaluation through the whole process, but it’s not something — and the players know, too, that we’re not making a decision walking off the field today saying, ‘Hey, this is the direction that we’re going in.’ We’ll be very authentic and look through everything and make sure that we get a really good feel for what it all looks like and then who will best move this offense.”

The transfer portal opens Tuesday through April 30, and current student-athletes can transfer and be immediately eligible with their next team under recent NCAA guidelines. That can create difficult conversations for any program, and Day, Kelly and the Buckeyes want to begin discussing plans individually to avoid any confusion or sense of being misled.

When meeting with quarterbacks during position-by-position meetings, Kelly said Ohio State’s coaching staff will “give them our assessment” so they “understand where they fit in and what the picture is.”

While those decisions and conversations need to take place in the immediate, the decision about when a starter needs to be named is still well down the road.

“You always want to do it earlier, but I also believe every time I’ve been involved in this is that it kind of happens organically and authentically because the players know,” Kelly said. “And if you say, ‘Hey, we decided we’re going to be with Joe,’ and they all think it’s Tim, they know. They’re in the locker room with them every day. Players understand who they’d feel is the guy and most of the time the decision is very obvious and you just say, ‘Hey, this is where we are.’ But there’s that timetable thing. I can’t give you an exact timetable on that.”

Sayin led with 85 passing yards on 10-of-17 throwing along with an interception. Kienholz was close behind matching Sayin’s 58.8% completion and going for 71 yards with two picks, while Noland rounded out the underclassmen with 47 passing yards across 5-of-7 opportunities and an interception.

Howard took the first snaps of the game and Brown followed, and the pair didn’t play in the second half. The two have 50 combined games in their college careers along with 6,003 yards and 50 touchdowns, more than 80% of that production coming from Howard’s days with the Wildcats.

Day said Buckeye coaches planned a game strategy to establish confidence, and even though he wanted the players to “stretch the field” horizontally or vertically more than they did, he was still happy with the play-action passes and check downs that “made good yardage.”

“You try to get into a rhythm for them just to get some completions because it all is happening fast, and that’s kind of how it works,” Day said. “When you’re doing everything for the first time, there’s certain things that you’re learning and you’re growing and you just want to make things easy for them.”

One thing that may be for certain is the effort Day is pouring into making the Buckeye quarterback mobile, more than they’ve typically called in the past.

Day said the quarterback run is “going to be a weapon for us this year” since “all of our quarterbacks are athletic enough to do that.” Last season, former quarterback Kyle McCord ran 32 times for a loss of 65 yards and Brown scrambled for 23 yards on 22 carries.

Day knows the opposition plans to eliminate aspects of Ohio State’s offense, which can be explosive when firing on all cylinders, so a quarterback nimble on his legs could create avenues for the Buckeyes to exploit.

“I think that’s the thing here right now is if you feel like if you can stop the running game, you feel like you’re doing a pretty good job. If you feel like you can pass on our DBs, you’re doing a pretty good job,” Day said. “If you feel like you can cover some of our receivers, you know you’re doing a good job. So this is back and forth on a daily basis, and it’s great competition individually going against really good players but also against a great unit on defense and a great unit on offense.”

The Buckeyes have another quarterback competition on their hands, and it’s Day’s fourth in six seasons at Ohio State.

Day and the Buckeyes still have their goals of beating Michigan, winning the Big Ten Conference and capturing the national championship.

Kelly felt Ohio State distributed quarterback reps well during the spring game on Saturday, and when the Buckeye gunslingers stepped into the pocket, he said “they capitalized on them.” The longtime veteran football coach knows there’s a long summer ahead, and among five quarterbacks with Brown and Howard beginning to separate, Kelly noted “they’re all competing for it.”

“We really rolled them,” Kelly said. “If you were over at some of our spring practices, you’re watching all those guys rotate in, rotate out. And as we talk about all the time, you know the old adage is don’t count your reps — make your reps count. And we’ll put it all together and really come up with which guy do we really feel is going to help us move this offensively.”

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