The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and backup quarterbacks like Gunnar Hoak? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
Who will win the backup QB spot and why?
— Jeff Ward (@Knowmadz) February 19, 2020
Sometimes the message comes off as a threat. Sometimes it’s genuine advice about the difficulty of learning to play quarterback at Ohio State.
Either way, don’t ever underestimate the importance of experience in the Buckeyes system or how challenging it can be to learn it.
Gunnar Hoak wasn’t the first guy to struggle a bit in the transition, and he won’t be the last. Sure, Justin Fields made it look pretty easy, but he’s much more the exception than the rule when it comes that position. And while early enrollees C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller will both have the benefit of going through spring practice like Fields did a year ago, Hoak does have a meaningful head start heading into camp next week. That could make the Kentucky graduate transfer more valuable than he tends to get credit for heading into his second campaign with the Buckeyes.
“Every day, you have to go in and do your job,” Hoak said in December. “That’s how I’ve always gone about football: You have to go in and do your job. You go in and you help the team do whatever you can. You go in every day and have a great attitude, help the guys in front of you and everyone around you.
“That’s the main goal for us, help us win.”
The Buckeyes did plenty of that last season, of course, but Hoak’s role in that didn’t pan out exactly as envisioned. Based purely on physical tools, recruiting rankings and his stint in the SEC, it seemed a foregone conclusion last summer that Hoak would eventually leapfrog Chris Chugunov to claim the backup role once the offense clicked for him.
Instead, though, Chugunov used his knowledge of the playbook, an extra year of physical development and his familiarity with Day’s approach to stick in the critical No. 2 spot on the depth chart. Rather than an indictment of Hoak, it’s probably more fair to give the credit to Chugunov — and use last season as a reminder that Ohio State isn’t going to rush all that responsibility at quarterback onto the shoulders of a passer before he’s ready.
“I think for the situation that we have, it’s unbelievable because you have Justin and you have Gunnar,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “But other than that, there’s nobody in the program other than some of the other walk-ons who are still developing, and we hope [Stroud and Miller] become candidates to win a backup job or whatever.
“But in terms of scholarship guys, that’s it, because we had the hole in there with Matt [Baldwin] and when Tate [Martell] left. So I think that was exciting to them, and they want to get in here and get developed, and I think they see what we’re doing on offense and it’s exciting to them.”
That opportunity is certainly enticing for the freshmen, and there’s no reason to rule out Stroud or Miller claiming that spot by the time the season rolls around — particularly because they’ll have the benefit of the 15 spring practices that Hoak wasn’t afforded last year. But in the short term, it’s a safe bet that their heads will be swimming in March and April, while Hoak should be much more comfortable and ready to take a step forward for Ohio State.
It’s obviously way too early to nail down a depth chart. But one way or another, Gunnar Hoak should be ready to give the Buckeyes a safety net at quarterback.
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