COLUMBUS — One Heisman Trophy candidacy took off and another one fizzled during Ohio State’s 56-7 win over Michigan State last Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud completed 32 of 35 passes for 432 yards and 6 touchdowns, which acted like a second stage booster rocket to push him to an even higher level of consideration for college football’s biggest individual award.
Meanwhile, Ohio State’s defense, the circumstances of the game and the fact Michigan State lost decisively drained much of the fuel out of Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker’s chances to win the Heisman.
Walker had been brilliant in MSU’s first 10 games when he led the nation in rushing with 1,473 yards. But he gained only 25 yards on 6 carries on Saturday and played only a minimal role in the Spartans’ offense after they fell behind 28-0 in the first minute of the second quarter.
Stroud’s ascent to Heisman contender as a redshirt freshman in his first season as a starter says a lot about his talent.
But it also shows how there has been no clear favorite for the Heisman this season. And the fact he plays for an elite program which is having a very good season certainly plays a role.
The Heisman talk was coming from fans and the media, not Stroud or OSU coach Ryan Day on Saturday, though.
They said their attention was focused on this Saturday’s game at Michigan.
“The level of play he (Stroud) is playing at right now is very high. But our focus is on the the Team Up North and getting ready to go play those guys,” Day said.
“I just feel like there is so much more here. We’ve got a huge game, we’ve got everything riding on this game coming up. The game wasn’t even over and I was already thinking about it. I’m very proud of how our team played today but all the focus goes to the Wolverines,” he said.
“Obviously everything gets ramped up this week because of what it is. It’s all on the line but even more so this year – the opportunity to go to Indy (for the Big Ten championship game) and everything is on the line. We knew it was going to be like this. It’s the battle of the fittest. You have to be strong, you have to bring it every week.”
Stroud’s numbers justify the Heisman talk. Throwing to perhaps the best group of receivers in college football, he has passed for 3,468 yards and 36 touchdowns in 10 games. He missed the Akron game to allow a sore non-throwing shoulder to heal.
He has completed 71 percent of his passes this season and in OSU’s last two games against Purdue and Michigan State he is 63 of 73 (86 percent).
After he struggled in the first half of the Buckeyes’ season-opening win at Minnesota and they suffered their only loss of the season against Oregon in their second game, there were some voices in OSU’s fan base calling for a different starting quarterback or at least more playing time for another QB.
It wouldn’t be surprising if some of his critics back then are talking up his Heisman chances now.
As one former Ohio State quarterback used to say about criticism from fans, “It goes with the territory.”
And beating Michigan has also gone with the territory for Ohio State recently. The Buckeyes have won eight in a row over their rival and 15 of the last 16 times they’ve played.