COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — New Ohio State starting quarterback C.J. Stroud shook off early wobbles and tossed four second-half touchdown passes to bury Minnesota in the season opener. The sink-or-swim indoctrination for the second-year freshman continues Saturday when he leads the No. 3 Buckeyes against No. 12 Oregon.
This week he’ll have the crowd on his side, with Ohio Stadium returning to its full capacity of over 100,000 for the first time in nearly two years.
By a quirk of the schedule, Ohio State (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) won’t get its usual early tune-up games until weeks 3 and 4. That means scant room for mistakes from Stroud, who got little mop-up duty behind Justin Fields in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
In the first half against Minnesota, Stroud overthrew receivers and had a pass intercepted. In the second half, in the rain, he dominated.
“He kind of got through it on his own,” said All-American receiver Chris Olave, who caught two of Stroud’s second-half touchdowns. “I know it was tough. It was kind of loud out there. The atmosphere and environment was huge. But we kind of stood by him and told him it was going to be cool. It was all him, though, at the end of the day.”
Coach Ryan Day said he knew there would be miscues, given that Stroud had yet to throw a pass in a college football game.
“I just think going through that first game and going through some adversity opens your eyes to some things,” Day said. “And then (him) working through that was great. So it’s just the first step in a long journey for our offense, and certainly for C.J. We’ll see what this week brings us.”
Oregon (1-0), meanwhile, had its own struggles and barely got past unranked Fresno State. New starting quarterback Anthony Brown, a sixth-year senior transfer, won it with a 30-yard keeper with 2:57 left in the game.
The task will be more formidable this week for Brown and the Ducks, who come in as two-touchdown underdogs.
“If you’re a real competitor you always want to test yourself against the very best,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “Ohio State is an elite program from top to bottom, a storied program, tremendous history at a place where they’ve had tremendous success. You come to a place like Oregon to have opportunities like this.”
Ohio State played four running backs in the opener but Day said he hasn’t seen enough to make solid evaluations. Because Minnesota dominated the time of possession, the Buckeyes had just 48 offensive snaps. Freshman Miyan Williams started but none of the RBs got more than nine carries. Williams had 125 rushing yards, thanks to a 71-yard breakaway TD run in the first quarter.
Cristobal said defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux is still day-to-day heading into Saturday’s game. Thibodeaux, who has been mentioned as both a Heisman candidate and possibly one of the top picks in next year’s NFL draft, injured his left ankle in the first half against Fresno State. He tried to return, but then came out of the tunnel after halftime in street clothes and wearing a walking boot.
Ohio State had to replace its entire corps of starting linebackers from last season, and the inexperience showed in Week 1. Rotating personnel often caused confusion. (“It looked like a New York sidewalk at times,” Day said.) They often struggled just to get lined up right.
“There’s a lot of improvement to be made,” Day said. “And that has to happen, otherwise we won’t win this game.”