ATLANTA, Georgia (WCMH) — Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud knew the narrative about him going into the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff semifinal against Georgia on Saturday.
“People are going to say I never won ‘The Game,’ and I understand. People are going to say I never won a Big Ten championship, and I understand,” Stroud said immediately after OSU’s 45-23 loss to Michigan. “I don’t think one game defines us.”
Stroud and the Buckeyes lost a heartbreaker 42-41 to the Bulldogs, and even though Stroud didn’t want one game defining him, that’s exactly what happened inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Being the quarterback at Ohio State means constantly being under a microscope. The college football world was watching how Stroud would bounce back from that loss to Michigan and he responded with one of the greatest performances by a Buckeyes QB.
“I tried my hardest. I think I left my heart out on that field and of course it’s something that is heavy on the heart,” Stroud said. “I wouldn’t regret anything. I wouldn’t take anything back. I’m blessed to have a coach like Coach [Ryan] Day, I’m blessed to have my teammates and I wouldn’t want to go out there to do it with anybody else.”
His numbers against UGA speak for themselves: 23-of-34 for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers are a microcosm of his illustrious career. The California quarterback who had one scholarship offer after his junior year at Rancho Cucamonga broke 13 OSU passing records and threw for 7,775 yards and 81 touchdowns, second only to J.T. Barrett.
What those numbers don’t say is how Stroud led OSU this season and on Saturday. He played virtually all season without soon-to-be first round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba and starting running back TreVeyon Henderson. And then against Georgia, he lost starting tight end Cade Stover in the first quarter to a back injury and arguably the nation’s top receiver, Marvin Harrison Jr., to a concussion in the third quarter. Despite all that, he put Ohio State in a position to beat the defending national champs.
“What this guy did and the way he competed in the second half, with all those things coming at him, I just can’t say enough. I’m so proud of the way he played,” Day said. “The way he attacked this game, I couldn’t be any prouder . . . we were missing some guys out there. We were trying to figure it out and on the biggest stage he played one of his best games.”
One of Stroud’s best attributes has nothing to do with his natural talent. The 21-year-old QB is mature beyond his years, a situation he was forced into when his father, Coleridge Bernard Stroud III, was sentenced to 38 years in prison after pleading guilty in 2015 to charges of carjacking, kidnapping, robbery and misdemeanor sexual battery.
He brought that maturity to Ohio State and remained confident in himself through all the criticism, which started his very first game against Minnesota Sept. 2, 2021 and lasted all the way through his two-year career as OSU’s starter.
“I don’t want to prove anybody wrong. I just want to prove the people who believe in me and the people who love me right,” Stroud said at OSU’s media day Thursday. “And of course, I want to prove myself right because I believe in myself.”
In a few short months, Stroud will hear his name called in the first round of the NFL Draft. Those who don’t believe he’ll succeed in the NFL don’t bother him at all. He’s used to proving people wrong. And proving himself right.