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ATLANTA – Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud did consider the Red and Black over the Scarlet and Grey.
Stroud, the nation’s leader in passing efficiency, visited Georgia and thought about it before signing with Ohio State in December of 2019. With a turn of fate, he could be the quarterback for the No. 1 Bulldogs (13-0) when they play No. 4 Ohio State (11-1) in the College Football Playoff national semifinal Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I was so upset in my assistant when I had to fly all the way out to California to go out there,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Friday. “I was like, ‘Are you sure we’re going to have a chance?'”
Stroud (6-foot-2, 194 punds) was the No. 2 pro style quarterback in the nation by 247 Sports out of Rancho Cucamonga High in the Los Angeles area. And Smart did have a chance.
“Georgia was honestly my second school right after Ohio State. It was really close,” Stroud said early this month just before finishing third in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
“It wasn’t my favorite travel trip when you have to go all the way to Cali,” Smart said. “But it was worth it when you got to sit down with that young man and his mom. He was very impressive.”
C.J. Stroud Visited Georgia
And Stroud returned the visit to Athens, Georgia. But he chose Ohio State.
“Usually, when you get him on your campus, that means you have a shot,” Smart said. “I certainly enjoyed getting to know him and the relationship with him because of the young man he is.”
After backing up Justin Fields (a transfer from Georgia) and red-shirting in 2020, Stroud became the starter for 2021 and again in 2022. The sophomore is 235-of-355 passing for 3,340 yards and 37 touchdowns against six interceptions for a 176.2 rating.
Senior Stetson Bennett became Georgia’s full-time starter last season and helped direct the Bulldogs to the national championship. He is No. 23 in efficiency at 159.6 on 269-of-395 passing for 20 touchdowns and six picks.
“It was close, but I’m glad where I went, and I’ll ride with it until I die,” Stroud said this week. “So, yeah, they were second, but I feel like I made the right decision coming to Ohio State.”
As 2019 came to a close, Ohio State’s offense was significantly more pass oriented. This was before Smart hired offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who updated the attack.
“Honestly, I just thought Ohio State fit me a little more offensive-wise,” Stroud said. “I don’t think that Georgia was doing anything bad on the offensive side of the ball. But I don’t think they had ever seen a player like me on that side. So I wasn’t really sure about where to go when it came to that. They were explaining to me that they would have changed the offense a little bit, because they’ve always had dynamic receivers and tight ends and running back.”
Stroud will have better wide receivers at Ohio State than Georgia to work with Saturday in sophomores Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. Harrison is eighth in the nation with 1,157 receiving yards on 72 catches with 12 touchdowns. Egbuka is No. 21 with 1,039 yards on 66 receptions with nine touchdowns.
C.J. Stroud May Have Made The Right Decision
Georgia’s top receiver is tight end Brock Bowers, who is No. 99 in the nation with 726 receiving yards on 52 catches with eight touchdowns.
“When you look at them on tape, you certainly see the talent,” Smart said. “It kind of oozes off the tape, especially the wideout, quarterback position. They’ve got talented players across the board.”
Georgia is No. 49 in the nation against the pass with 215 yards allowed a game.
“There’s going to be one-on-one matchups all over the field,” Smart said. “You’ve got to win those matchups.”
Georgia will likely need to pressure Stroud significantly to win. But the Bulldogs are tied for just 78th in the nation in sacks with 26.
“When you’re playing Ohio State, you’ve got to be disruptive,” Smart said. “You’ve got to affect the quarterback some kind of way. Because, if you don’t, he’s very accurate.”
Smart knows very well what Stroud can do.
“He’s a very accurate passer who knows where he’s going with the ball,” he said. “When you give them free access with a quarterback like that, they can wear you out.”