Statement game from Stroud, Buckeyes

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud drops back to pass against Michigan State during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio.

COLUMBUS — There was a time back in September when Ohio State football fans may have wanted to see anyone at quarterback other than C.J. Stroud.

There was legitimacy with that concern.

The Buckeyes had just lost to Oregon 35-28 in Columbus in Week 2.

Stroud passed for 484 yards and threw three touchdowns, but the offense was out of sync and points were left on the field. 

The defense was also a mess in that game.

Nine wins later and Stroud has vaulted himself into contention for the Heisman Trophy after a nearly flawless performance against Michigan State on Saturday.

“I’ve told him all along that praise and criticism are all the same,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said after the game on Saturday. 

“You have to treat it the same way. The same people who thought maybe he shouldn’t have been playing are the same people who are telling him he should be the Heisman trophy winner. You can’t listen to either of those people.”

The Buckeyes (10-1) put together one of the most dominant first halves in some time, and eventually handed the Spartans a lopsided 56-7 loss at Ohio Stadium.

Remember, this was a game between No. 5 OSU (in the Associated Press poll and fourth in the College Football Playoffs rankings) and No. 7 MSU (AP poll and CFP) at the time.

Stroud has been trending upward as the season has progressed.

There’s been some hiccups, like two interceptions in a hard-fought 26-17 win at Nebraska on Nov. 6.

But one can’t argue with the 3,408 yards passing and 36 touchdowns with five picks in 10 games.

November is when championships are won in the Big Ten.

On Saturday, Stroud went 32 of 35 for 432 yards, including a school-record 17 completions, and six touchdowns — all in the first half. T

he six TD passes tied a school mark.

For his efforts, Stroud was named the Walter Camp National Player of the Week on offense.

Stroud now has three 400-yard games in 10 career starts and four with at least five TDs passes.

He didn’t play much in the second half as Day used reserves to complete the win.

Stroud has a wealth of talent around him, from an offensive line to receivers to running backs.

But, the quarterback has to make the calls, pivot when needed, checkdown and coordinate other responsibilities in a short period of time per play.

In the win over the Spartans, receivers Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba each posted 100 or more receiving yards and five TDs combined. Julian Fleming, the team’s fourth receiver, also hauled in a TD.

As the Buckeyes are picking up momentum (OSU is now ranked second in the latest AP poll), an even bigger challenge awaits on Saturday against another Michigan school.

The Wolverines, who are currently ranked sixth, are also 10-1, and should be angry and motivated since they haven’t beaten OSU since 2011.

But there other factors on the line, namely the right to play in the Big Ten championship game, and the winner will continue its quest to reach the College Football Playoff semifinals.

The Big House is unlike any environment Stroud will face this season.

Stroud has proven to be one of the top QBs in the nation, but can he take the next step and lead his team to a championship.

We’ll find out on Saturday.

Michael Greco can be reached at mgreco@starbeacon.com

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