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Kyle McCord handles early adversity well in Ohio State football's rout of Western Kentucky

Kyle McCord faced an early setback against Western Kentucky on Saturday.

Midway through the first quarter of Ohio State’s 63-10 rout of the Hilltoppers, defensive tackle Hosea Wheeler closed in on him in the pocket and jarred the ball out of his grasp.

The strip-sack ended a promising drive as the Buckeyes had just surpassed midfield and threatened the resolve of an inexperienced quarterback who had only been named their full-time starter four days earlier.

“One of the things you want to watch in a quarterback is how they're going to respond,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “Are they going to go into their shell or just keep pushing forward?”

McCord’s response proved revealing. Handling the adversity with ease, he led the Buckeyes into the end zone on their next five possessions and finished with a near-perfect passing performance.

He completed 19 of 23 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns, posting a career-high 241.8 efficiency rating.

When Day and McCord met on the sideline at Ohio Stadium after the fumble, they shared their perspectives on the sequence.

The immediate consensus to form was that McCord held on for too long after he missed his first target.

McCord said he needed to make a quicker decision or take a sack as the rush closed in on him in order to protect the ball.

“Second-and-15 isn’t ideal,” he said, “but it’s better than a turnover.”

After conferring with each other, Day gave him a few words of encouragement.

More: Ohio State realizes need for speed, fuels big win against Western Kentucky

Sep 16, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Kyle McCord (6) throws the ball to Ohio State Buckeyes tight end Cade Stover (8) against Western Kentucky Hilltoppers during the first quarter of their game at Ohio Stadium.
Sep 16, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Kyle McCord (6) throws the ball to Ohio State Buckeyes tight end Cade Stover (8) against Western Kentucky Hilltoppers during the first quarter of their game at Ohio Stadium.

“Didn’t get upset,” Day said. “Just said, ‘Alright, we've got to go play now.’ ”

Day said he admired McCord’s composure in the aftermath.

“He’s poised,” Day said. “He doesn’t really ride the roller coaster, and that’s one of his strengths.”

It was the type of demeanor that left Day confident to continue pushing the ball down the field rather than dial things back in his play-calling.

Ten of McCord’s 19 completions went for at least 15 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown to wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. in the second quarter that marked his season-long.

“I wasn’t going to be conservative,” Day said. “I wanted to really push the envelope. We have to turn it up based on where we’re going. And he responded. He wasn’t fazed.

More: Here are 4 things we learned from the Ohio State Buckeyes' 63-10 win over Western Kentucky

Sep 16, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Kyle McCord (6) signs a football for a fan after beating Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 63-10 in their game at Ohio Stadium.
Sep 16, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Kyle McCord (6) signs a football for a fan after beating Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 63-10 in their game at Ohio Stadium.

“That’s important, because there are going to be plays that don’t go exactly the way we designed them. There are going to be tough moments and you have to respond. That’s what being competitive and tough is all about.”

McCord started for the Buckeyes in their wins over Indiana and Youngstown State, but his spot at the top of the depth chart had not been solidified over Devin Brown, who rotated in for the fourth series in each of the first two weeks.

That changed on Tuesday when Day announced that McCord had won the starting job on a permanent basis, setting the stage for him to take another step forward in his development against Western Kentucky.

“He had his best week of practice,” Day said. “Whether that was coincidental, I don’t know. But he had his best week of practice.”

McCord said he appreciated the declaration.

“It was definitely nice getting the official nod from him,” he said. “But at the same time, the more experience I could get, the more opportunity, the more reps, the better I feel like I’ll be. I just had that mindset.

An obvious benefit for McCord was that he saw an even greater share of the reps with the first-team offense in practices. There was greater clarity at the high-profile position.

“It does help,” McCord said, “when you have an understanding of how the game is going to go, that you’re going to be getting all the reps and you’re going with the 1’s.”

The evolving circumstances allowed him to respond to some difficulty against Western Kentucky.

When he threw an interception at Indiana in the season-opening win, Brown rotated for the following series.

McCord had to wait to bounce back.

He was ready against the Hilltoppers.

“The biggest thing is to just have that next-play mentality,” he said. "Forget about it and focus on the next drive.

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Follow him on Facebook and X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. He can also be contacted at jkaufman@dispatch.com.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State football quarterback Kyle McCord bounces back from fumble