Coming in and filling Justin Fields’ shoes for the 2021 season was not an easy task. Expectations were set extremely high for the new Ohio State quarterback, redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud. As Stroud now heads into his second year as a starter, the skills he has can make him the top quarterback in the nation.
The first three games of the 2021 season for Stroud were good but not great. He passed for 963 yards during that time with eight touchdowns and three interceptions but struggled to be consistent with his throws. Later on, it was revealed that Stroud was dealing with a separated AC joint that he suffered in the first game of the season against Minnesota. This injury led to him being inactive for the fourth game of the season against Akron.
When he returned in game five against Rutgers, Stroud finally started to show why he was named the starter. Between that game and the next seven games of the regular season, Stroud ended up completing 217 passes for 2,899 yards, 30 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. Stroud did a great job of improving his accuracy and throwing with anticipation as the season progressed. As Stroud gained more experience, his composure in the pocket became more evident allowing him to survey the field more naturally.
This performance over the rest of the season led to Stroud being a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He did all this though with two star wide receivers in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. How Stroud would do without these two playmakers was unknown. That was until the Rose Bowl game against Utah when both Olave and Wilson sat out to begin preparing for the NFL Draft. Stroud would go on to have one of his best games of the year completing 80.4% of his passes for 573 yards, six touchdowns, and only one interception. The offensive line performed well to give Stroud enough time to display his accuracy, arm strength, and improved ability to go through his progressions.
During spring practice the Buckeyes offensive coordinator, Kevin Wilson was asked about the plan for Stroud in 2022. He followed it up by saying “He’s extremely gifted and talented, but he’s equally as smart and equally aware of the field. His ability to see and put it all together is uniquely high, so I think we can put a little more on his plate.” This means Stroud will be able to call his own audibles and protections at the line of scrimmage and truly elevate his game in 2022. Of course, as a first-year starter Stroud was still learning how to take command on the field and show his leadership qualities. As the year went on he became more vocal and his leadership characteristics started to shine. This will be an important area as Stroud heads into the 2022 season.
What will help Stroud even more is that he gets to go up against Jim Knowles’ defense in practice. Knowles is known for having a difficult defense to figure out with the variety of schemes he installs. During the 2021 season as Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator, Knowles led the unit to finish top-five in the nation. This will help Stroud evolve even further with his ability to diagnose defenses and improve on how to change the play when he sees a certain scheme.
In Ohio State’s spring game, Stroud picked up where he left off. He played only five series but completed 14-of-22 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown to Jaxon Smith-Njigba on the first drive of the game.
With a year now in the system, as well as a great supporting cast around him there is no reason Stroud can’t take a step forward in his production for 2022. From reading the field better, to even showing he has improved his pocket awareness by running, Stroud has already shown tremendous growth during the spring. If he can continue to grow Stroud should be well on his way to being the top quarterback in the nation for 2022.