Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord took a third-down snap from the Purdue 4-yard line with six minutes left in the second quarter. His dropback was intentionally short, as the Buckeyes were running a red zone concept. Dallan Hayden ran out of the backfield and swung to McCord’s right, open as a safety valve. But McCord saw tight end Cade Stover.
Stover ran a short curl route and sat at the goal line. Surrounded by five defenders, with two in a position to make a play on the ball, Stover opened himself up in a tight window and McCord didn’t hesitate. He ripped the ball to Stover on a line for the Buckeyes’ third touchdown of the day.
Matt Simms loved what he saw from McCord there. Simms, a former NFL quarterback and now a quarterback tutor, has been training McCord with his father Phil Simms, the CBS analyst and two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, since McCord was in high school. Phil worked with him early, but Matt has been training McCord over the past few years.
“Early on, we didn’t see a lot of those, but it’s cool to see he’s gaining the confidence to make those types of throws in the first place and now has the ability to complete them,” Matt Simms said.
That wasn’t the first time they saw McCord use the things they worked on this offseason to his advantage. He’s always had a strong arm and a Division I frame. That’s something Matt Simms saw right away, even when McCord was in high school at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia.
But the intangibles of his footwork have gotten better, his ability to throw the ball on a line with power has improved and Simms has watched as McCord has gained confidence with more reps this season.
As Simms observes McCord’s play through his first year starting at Ohio State, he gets excited because he can see all of their work coming out in separate moments. And with No. 7 Penn State set to come to town on Saturday, he’s looking forward to seeing McCord in the spotlight again in a duel with Ohio native quarterback Drew Allar.
“Every time he’s been pressed to do more, he has done more,” Simms said. “That’s why I’m really excited about Penn State because he’s got no choice. He’s going to have to cut it loose a few times if they’re going to win. So far we’ve seen he’s done a good job of doing that.”
Much of the offseason was spent preparing McCord for moments like this. Though McCord was in a months-long battle with Devin Brown for the starting job to replace C.J. Stroud, winning the competition itself didn’t dictate training plans.
“I really just thought over time it was going to work itself out for Kyle,” Simms said. “The plan never changed. It wasn’t that we were doing certain things to win a quarterback battle. It was focusing on: How do we make this individual the best version of himself each rep?”
McCord has long possessed the accuracy and touch on his passes to make any throw on the field. What they wanted to see was the ability to utilize his arm strength and rip a pass into tight windows with consistency. That was his next step.
The last time McCord played in a top-10 matchup, the Simms family watched with pride as McCord led Ohio State on a 15-play, 65-yard winning touchdown drive in the final minutes at Notre Dame. He most memorably delivered a tight-window third-and-19 throw to Emeka Egbuka in the final seconds to set up the game-winning touchdown run by Chip Trayanum.
Has Kyle McCord arrived? Why winning drive at Notre Dame shouldn’t be a surprise
Beyond that throw, there were others where the Simms family thought McCord got into his correct form and let it rip.
“One thing we stressed to him was that if you want to be one of these guys who is a dominant presence on the field, you have to make dynamic power throws,” Simms said. “You have to make throws like Josh Allen and some of those other guys where it’s 6 feet off the ground 40 yards downfield.”
Simms and McCord worked on technique, like where his feet should be and how McCord needed to turn his body to create torque and power to drive the ball. Simms compares it to throwing a spear to kill your prey.
“You are trying to drive the spear of the football as aggressively as you can through your target,” Simms said.
Until that drive, McCord showed flashes but had been up-and-down. Since then, many people are seeing a more confident McCord. In the past two games against Maryland and Purdue, McCord totaled 596 yards and five touchdowns. He hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 1. McCord enters Saturday ranked second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency rating, completing 64.1 percent of his passes for 1,651 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception.
“Every week it improves and gets better,” Day said. “There’s certain things you see for the first time each time you’re out there.”
Simms can sense it too. McCord has never lacked confidence, but incremental improvement translating to results on the field is creating additional belief. The hope is that Ohio State can open up the playbook more for McCord and give him more responsibility.
Day said McCord is on the right track, following a progression similar to previous quarterbacks when it comes to getting more of the playbook. Those conversations just come down to trust and confidence, he added.
“You’re trying to build the confidence up and challenge Kyle to grow in certain areas,” Day said. “He’s responded well to that. The challenge we have this week is going to be a big one.”
The Penn State defense that leads the nation in yards per play, has allowed just one touchdown pass and generates more pressure than any team in the country, according to TruMedia. As McCord prepares for his second top-10 matchup, Simms reflected back on the Notre Dame game.
He often jokes with the quarterbacks he coaches that they’re like captains on a ship. He did so with McCord, through text messages, after the win.
“I said, ‘Captain Kyle McCord you have now been promoted to the rank of major.’ And I saluted him,’” Simms said with a laugh. “That was the one time, he had no choice. If he wanted to win the game he had to play like that, and now you see bits and pieces of that since Notre Dame where that has shown up.”
Now, McCord has another chance to show just how much he has grown.
(Top photo: Justin Casterline / Getty Images)