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C.J. Stroud vs. Georgia — the film that solidified his draft status

Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) runs the ball against Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Javon Bullard (22) and linebacker Jalon Walker (11) in the fourth quarter during the Peach Bowl in the College Football Playoff semifinal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Osu22uga Kwr 54

Heading into the 2022 college football season, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was regarded as one of the top prospects in the class. He recorded an elite 91.5 passing grade in 2021, his first year as a starter, so the expectations for him the following year were even higher. If he had as good of a season or better, a No. 1 overall selection was realistic.

Though Stroud threw an impressive 44 touchdowns with just six interceptions in 2021 (27 big-time throws and 12 turnover-worthy plays) while recording an impressive 78.1% adjusted completion percentage, one area of his game stuck out as a cause for concern: his play under pressure.

Every quarterback’s passing grade and efficiency drops when they are pressured, but for Stroud, it was more drastic. In 2021, his passing grade with no pressure was 93.0, but his grade under pressure plummeted to 65.3. Generally, a number in the 60s is fine for quarterbacks under pressure. But things got worse in 2022. This past season, his passing grade from a clean pocket was still elite at 92.6, but his play under pressure dropped further to 43.2. 

As the 2022 college football season wore on, that became the talking point around Stroud. When things were going as planned, he looked textbook in his fundamentals, his progressions, his ball placement and his execution of an elite offense. When he was forced to go off script, his instincts were worrisome. That was almost the whole book on Stroud as a prospect, as that became the theme for him throughout the season.

But in his final two games of the season, he gave people reason to believe that might not be the player he’ll always be. Against Michigan, he recorded a 55.6 passing grade under pressure — an improvement from previous games. And in his final game of the year, the College Football Playoff semifinal against the best defense in college football, the Georgia Bulldogs, he recorded a career-high 82.6 passing grade under duress. That became the game that revived his potential as a No. 1 overall pick, eventually playing out with him being selected No. 2 overall as QB2 by the Houston Texans.

Stroud's 19 dropbacks with pressure against Georgia were the second most he had ever seen in a single game. It started early. The play above, the fourth of the game, was the first third down Stroud faced. A little slant blitz to the strong side by the linebacker head-up with the center opened the middle of the trench for a delayed blitz from the second looping linebacker, which ended up giving him a clean path to Stroud.

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