Ohio State landed Kansas State transfer quarterback Will Howard from the portal on Thursday, putting an end to weeks of speculation after incumbent Kyle McCord transferred from the program. After years of pinpoint drop-back passers running the show for the Buckeyes offense, coach Ryan Day opted to go in a different direction with Howard. 

Howard's experience ranks among the best in the portal. The senior comes to Columbus, Ohio, with a Big 12 title under his belt and nearly 800 career throws. But while Howard should provide a much-needed senior leader in an Ohio State locker room searching for confidence, he also adds major questions to an Ohio State offense searching for identity under Day. 

Since taking over as offensive coordinator in 2017, Day has produced some of the best quarterbacks in college football. Dwayne Haskins, Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud all developed into top-15 NFL Draft picks and terrorized defenses with their downfield attack. That chain stopped with McCord, who left Ohio State for Syracuse after failing to live up to Day's quarterback pedigree. But if Day wants to get back to an aerial assault, Howard hardly fits the profile. 

Howard is one of the great developmental success stories for coach Chris Klieman at Kansas State. Over his first two seasons at KSU, Howard did not look like a future starting quarterback, completing fewer than 55% of his passes and notching nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions. One year later, he entered the starting lineup for the injured Adrian Martinez and threw 15 touchdowns to four interceptions. 

While Howard has developed tremendously as a passer, with his offensive grade rising every year per Pro Football Focus, he is not a true downfield passer. Among 92 players to attempt at least 40 passes of 20-plus yards downfield, Howard ranks No. 77 in adjusted completion percentage. For comparison, Kyle McCord ranked No. 4. 

Granted, Howard is shifting from a passing offense led by tight end Ben Sinnott to one filled with dynamic receivers. One year earlier, Howard was throwing to now-Vikings receiver Malik Knowles, who cleared 15 yards per reception. Howard's adjusted completion percentage on deep throws was approximately 13% higher in that unit, though still far from elite. Blue-chip wideouts Carnell Tate, Jeremiah Smith and Brandon Inniss could make Howard's life easier, and Day could believe that Howard has the potential to become a downfield passer in this offense. 

If the deep passing game never develops, Howard still has plenty of outs. He ranked No. 38 among 73 qualified passers in intermediate (10-20) adjusted completion percentage. In the middle of the field between the line of scrimmage and the 20-yard line, Howard completed 70.4% of his passes for 8.3 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns to two interceptions. McCord's efficiency was slightly better, but he threw four interceptions. Howard's recognition pays off. 

Howard told ESPN that he received projections anywhere from Round 2 to 4 of the 2024 NFL Draft. Going to Ohio State gives him a chance to develop into a first-round pick and compete for a national championship. But for Ohio State to maximize his effectiveness, Day's offense will have to make a choice. 

Bring back the run?

Each year since Day first lost to Michigan, Ohio State has slowly tweaked its identity back towards the Urban Meyer era. Whether revamping the defense or leaning more heavily on physical running backs, Day wants to prove a point about the physicality of his teams. Howard is perfectly built to bring that back. 

Don't get confused, Howard is by no means Collin Klein or Michael Bishop -- K-State greats known for their work on the ground. Kansas State has steadily moved back towards the passing game under Klieman, who developed Carson Wentz, Easton Stick and Trey Lance into NFL Draft picks at North Dakota State. But to maximize Howard, Day needs to use his legs. 

As a senior, Howard rushed 71 times for 351 yards and nine touchdowns, the best rushing performance of his career. Out of 62 structured plays, 43 came on gap runs and 55 came on zone runs. Only seven came on scrambles. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds, Howard boasts a massive frame with the ability to punish opposing blockers. He doesn't make players miss often, but as a straight line runner, he can reach a high speed. 

Day has been hesitant to use the run as part of his arsenal as a playcaller at Ohio State. Fields was the lone exception, and even one of the most athletic signal-callers in recent memory only had 76 called runs in 738 snaps with the Buckeyes. 

With all the turnover across the roster, Howard's legs will have to be a chief weapon. Top receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka are expected to leave for the NFL. So, too, could Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson at running back. Ohio State has already gone shopping in the transfer portal to try and fix a troubled offensive line. With so few assurances on the roster, Howard's role grows bigger. 

There is some precedent for Howard. J.T. Barrett was recruited for the power spread before Day took over in 2017. There were growing pains, but Day ultimately schemed ways for Barrett to use his running talent during a Big Ten title season. The passing game also stayed far closer to the line as 60% of Barrett's passes came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, leaving 53% of his passing yards to come after the catch. In every other Day season combined, only 44% of yards have come after the catch. It's a schematic choice. 

Day is about to face the biggest season of his coaching career. The Buckeyes have lost three straight against rival Michigan. Ohio State's last Big Ten Championship and only College Football Playoff win came during the pandemic. The CFP field will open up in 2024, but so will the Big Ten schedule after adding USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington

Ohio State can't afford for Howard to be a stopgap. The Buckeyes need to win. And to win with Howard, Day has to adjust.