Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was shell-shocked after the Buckeyes' 45-23 loss to Michigan.
"Honestly, I just don't know how to feel right now," he said. "It happened so fast."
Stroud's numbers against the Wolverines – 31-for-48 passing, 349 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions – were decent, but opposing signal caller J.J. McCarthy was arguably more impactful with 263 yards and three touchdowns on 12-for-24 passing and plus an additional rushing TD.
So, how did Stroud think he performed?
"That's a great question," he said. "I think that I definitely played with as much heart as I could. I definitely tried to do anything I possibly could to win this game. But at the end of the day, man, it's on me. I'm the quarterback."
SPORTS NEWSLETTER: Sign up now to get daily updates in your inbox
He's keenly aware that he was also the quarterback during last season's 42-27 drubbing in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when he completed 34 of his 49 attempts for 394 yards and two touchdowns. That's especially true given the very real possibility this was Stroud's last go-round against the Wolverines. During his postgame media availability, the third-year quarterback in his second year as OSU's starter certainly made that sound like the case.
"People are going to say I never won The Game, and I understand," Stroud said. "People are going to say I never won a Big Ten championship. I understand. When it comes to that, I just have to eat it."
Still, he believes he has come a long way since his "first game playing in The Shoe being booed, people not saying very nice things about me."
Indeed this season, he has posted a completion percentage (66% on 235-for-355 passing) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (37:6) that has him in the Heisman conversation. His 3,340 yards are down from last year's total of 4,435, when he also tossed 44 touchdown passes, but in 2021 he had Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave to throw to before they went in the first round of the NFL draft. And Stroud has played the majority of this season without star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
That's why Stroud is still listed as one of the top, if not the top, draft-eligible quarterbacks among those who make such projections.
Count coach Ryan Day among Stroud's believers.
"I thought he competed," Day said. "I thought he played hard all the way to the end, made some good throws, and there's nobody who wanted to win more than C.J. Stroud today."
That's not to say the coach and quarterback were on the same page all afternoon. At one point, OSU's Donovan Jackson was called for holding, and after the play, Gee Scott Jr. was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, leaving the Buckeyes in a first-and-35 situation in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes battled to the Michigan 43-yard line, facing fourth-and-5. When Day sent on the punt team, Stroud lingered on the field looking toward the sideline, seeming disappointed.
"I wanted it," Stroud said. "I wanted to go for it really bad. I think I'm still one of the best players in the country, and I think that I can make that play. In those types of moments, I want the ball."
It's unlikely that any more of those moments will be happening in Columbus. Ohio State now waits its postseason fate, and Stroud's final words at the podium Saturday sounded very much like a goodbye.
"It's been a blessing," he said. "Love y'all."
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State's loss to Michigan complicates QB C.J. Stroud's legacy