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Ohio State freshman quarterback Kyle McCord (6) takes a snap during the Ohio State-Akron game. Ohio State won 59-7. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

No. 10 Ohio State entered Saturday’s contest with Akron without its starting quarterback, redshirt freshman C.J. Stroud. 

The Buckeyes turned to a true freshman for just the fourth time in program history, putting the ball in former five-star recruit Kyle McCord’s hands. The 6-foot-3 gunslinger showed promise in his first career start, and head coach Ryan Day pointed to McCord’s work ethic as a key reason for his success against the Zips. 

“With Kyle, he does a really good job preparing. He puts a lot of work into this thing. It’s the first time he’s ever played in a college football game. He’s a true freshman, so I think the game was moving pretty fast for him early on,” Day said. “One of the things we talk about with young quarterbacks is finding the speed of the game. I think there were times where he did.”

The Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, native pummeled the Zips, completing 13-of-18 passes for 319 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. 

Although McCord’s final numbers looked stellar, his introduction to Buckeye Nation was anything but impressive. 

In his opening drive at the helm of the Ohio State offense, McCord went 0-for-2 with two overthrows and an errant screen that, luckily for him, rolled out of bounds. 

While McCord struggled right out of the gate, Day said he tried to calm down his young quarterback and make him comfortable. 

“Just take a deep breath and find the speed of the game. Just trust your eyes, trust your reads,” Day said. “You’ve done a lot of preparation to get here. I thought he settled down a little bit.”

After that disastrous opening drive, McCord was nearly perfect and picked up the pace quickly. 

McCord started his second drive at quarterback with a seven-point deficit, but began to find his rhythm immediately — connecting with sophomore wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba for 22 yards on the opening play of the possession. 

The true freshman capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass off a forward pitch on a jet sweep to senior wideout Chris Olave. 

After that touchdown connection with Olave, McCord completed 10 of his next 11 attempts, prompting praise from Smith-Njigba. 

“I thought he stepped up in a big way. I thought he was very confident,” Smith-Njigba said. “[He] had a slow first drive, but everything came to him and I thought he responded well.”

Smith-Njigba proved to be McCord’s favorite target Saturday, hauling in five receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown. 

Sophomore guard Paris Johnson Jr. emphasized that McCord’s calm aura helped his offensive line form trust with him. 

“I would say that he did not get fluttered and he was showing his confidence,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t worried about it at all. Nobody up front was worried about it.”

McCord’s one blemish came on an interception during Ohio State’s opening drive of the second half, when he overthrew redshirt sophomore tight end Cade Stover and the ball landed in the hands of Akron junior defensive back Charles Amankwaa. 

After that setback, McCord threw his last pass of the night — an 85-yard connection with fellow freshman and wideout Emeka Egbuka. 

Redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Miller III relieved McCord midway through the third quarter and turned in a solid outing. 

The Scottsdale, Arizona, native went 5-for-8 for 66 yards. Miller turned to his tight ends on his first two completions, finding Stover and sophomore Gee Scott Jr. for completions of 25 and 12 yards. 

Day said he was pleased with the way his quarterbacks played. 

“I’ll watch the film and see. I thought there were some things that were OK. I thought there were some things that we need to certainly clean up. I got to find out where their eyes were at times,” Day said. “We’ll look at it. Probably not going to make any hard decisions here, but it’s part of the puzzle.”