Unfazed by Early Miscue, CJ Stroud And Ohio State’s Passing Offense Goes Off In Resounding Return To Form At Michigan State


CJ Stroud and Michigan State cornerback Charles Brantley were thinking the same thing on an ill-fated first-quarter pass by the Buckeye quarterback. Stroud and Emeka Egbuka, the intended target on Stroud’s first career pick-6, were not.

While Egbuka stepped to the outside of his defender and sprinted straight upfield to the Ohio State 40-yard-line, Stroud had already thrown a pass back to the Buckeye 32, expecting Egbuka to break off his route and come back to the ball. Instead, Brantley read the play perfectly, picked off the pass and ran it straight back to the end zone untouched.

That play could’ve been crucial in an upset effort for the Spartans, who answered Ohio State’s first score of the afternoon with a defensive touchdown that tied things up in East Lansing after the extra point. On the heels of his lowest passing yardage output as a college starter last week, Stroud’s interception was his third in as many games, as the Buckeye signal-caller has now thrown one in each Big Ten matchup of the season.

Perhaps Stroud’s confidence might have been shaken on hostile territory in Ohio State’s first road game of the season, and Michigan State could rise to the occasion and give the Buckeyes a closer contest than anyone expected.

But that simply didn’t happen.

“Well, it was a little bit of a miscommunication there. I gotta do a better job helping the two of them,” Ryan Day said after the game. “But I thought the best thing was, it was like nothing ever happened. We just kept rolling. And that shows confidence and I’m proud of those guys and the way that they played.”

Stroud played some of the finest football of his career following the interception, dropping four touchdowns on the Spartans in the first half and finishing with six for the game – becoming the first player in Buckeye history to throw that many on three separate occasions. Stroud threw more touchdowns than incompletions in the 49-20 win, hitting the mark on 21 of 26 attempts to leave the game early in the fourth quarter with 361 passing yards.

Potentially on the verge of losing ground in the Heisman Trophy conversation with another uncharacteristic performance, Stroud actually gained traction by the end of the game, leading the Ohio State offense to a 614-yard performance in its third straight blowout against a Big Ten opponent.

“At the end of the day, mistakes happen. So miscommunication between me and Emeka, I thought he was gonna slam it down. But he did the smart thing by taking off and just gotta be better at that. (Brantley) made a hell of a play,” Stroud said. “But that’s why I love Coach Day so much and my offense is that they always have my back no matter what. And at the end of the day, plays happen and you just got to bounce back. It’s always about the answer, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

“So I think that maybe last year taught us that a lot, and then maybe just my life growing up. Just perseverance, just working through tough times in tough plays. So that’s probably why we ended up playing good after that.”

Following the early turnover, Stroud connected on 15 of his next 16 pass attempts, and that stretch included four touchdown passes. In fact, Stroud’s first throw after the interception went 69 yards for a score, and it was only fitting that he hooked up with Egbuka to reconcile their previous miscommunication.

Even before the pick, Stroud found Marvin Harrison Jr. in the end zone on Ohio State’s opening drive, leading the Buckeye offense to a seven-play, 80-yard possession that was capped off with an acrobatic 19-yard touchdown that saw Harrison snatch the ball away from a Michigan State defender in midair.

And that was only a sign of things to come for the star sophomore.

With 1:20 remaining in the first half, Harrison pulled in a 28-yard touchdown pass from Stroud that put the Buckeyes up 35-13 after the extra point. Harrison also made the first scoring play of the second half, hauling in another one for the highlight reel with another 19-yard score that put things even further out of reach for the Spartans.

“It’s scary to me, so I can only imagine what (the Ohio State offense) is to the rest of the country.– Marvin Harrison Jr.

Harrison finished with 131 yards and three touchdowns on seven catches for Ohio State. Harrison became the first Buckeye to record three separate games with at least three touchdown catches, and all have come within the past seven contests dating back to last season’s Rose Bowl.

“When you see Marvin, the work he puts in during the week, I think that’s definitely what builds confidence. And then staying after practice, the summer workouts, summer routes that we’ve thrown – just give them a chance. I mean, they’re so dynamic out there,” Stroud said. “And they always have a 50/50 chance, which I think is more like 70/30. Just because he’s so big, strong, and I definitely think it’s the work ethic that he has.”

But Harrison didn’t even lead the Buckeyes in receiving yardage on Saturday. That distinction went to Egbuka, whose 69-yard score helped him rack up 143 yards for the day on just five catches. Egbuka had 83 yards in yards after the catch and made three plays of at least 20 yards before all was said and done.

Without Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury Saturday, Stroud’s two top wideouts have continued to step up and make spectators forget there’s anything missing from Brian Hartline’s receiving corps. Stroud also tossed touchdowns to two other Buckeye pass-catchers in East Lansing.

On a 51-yard downfield bomb in the second quarter, Julian Fleming continued his four-game touchdown streak, recording his fifth score since making his season debut against Toledo in the final nonconference game of the season.

It was only fitting that Stroud’s final pass of the day was also a touchdown. With 3:40 to go in the third quarter, Stroud rolled to his right on a red zone possession and found third-year tight end Gee Scott Jr. open in the end zone. Scott caught the two-yard strike, the first of his college career, and Stroud tied Ohio State’s single-game passing touchdowns record.

“It’s scary to me, so I can only imagine what (the OSU offense) is to the rest of the country. But we just like to go out there and have fun,” Harrison said. “We put a lot of work in during the week to be able to succeed come Saturday. So that’s really all it is. Seeing your hard work pay off, getting to have fun on Saturdays.”

He didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter, and he had no need to. Stroud’s connection with Scott gave the Buckeyes a 36-point lead, which far exceeded the 26.5-point spread which Ohio State had given entering the weekend.

Michigan State’s passing defense may have ranked 115th in the country entering the day, but anyone concerned about Stroud after his Rutgers performance and an early interception against the Spartans quickly saw their doubts silenced Saturday.

“What can you say about somebody who’s throwing the ball like that in a 20-mile-an-hour wind, at least it seemed like it was. … And for him to throw it that accurately, that was really well done,” Day said. “On the road and it just clicked. You can see the timing, he was able to step in the pocket, a big part of that is the protection. Our offensive line did a good job of giving him a good pocket. And when you do that, he can do some damage.

“And I thought he embraced the game plan, worked it, had a good thought process the whole game, had a good look in his eyes. … That’s one heck of a day on the road. Especially a program as proud as Michigan State and coming in here for our first road game. Big day for CJ.”

Stroud and the Buckeye pass attack remain the leader of the pack in the Big Ten, and perhaps the country in general, as Ohio State heads into its bye week with an unblemished record through the first half of the regular season.

“I don’t really think we have a limit. I’m super excited,” Stroud said. “I’m super excited to get Jaxon back, and of course with Miyan (Williams), just to see when we’re at full strength.”

Ohio State Game Coverage


Source link

Leave a Comment