Almost Perfect: Justin Fields Begins 2020 Heisman Trophy Campaign With Standout Performance In Season-Opening Win

By Colin Hass-Hill on October 24, 2020 at 6:20 pm
Justin Fields
Joseph Maiorana – USA TODAY Sports

Justin Fields threw 21 passes. He completed 20 of them.

Justin Fields scored three touchdowns – two through the air and one on the ground – without turning it over at all.

Justin Fields attempted a quarterback sneak twice. He converted first downs with ease both times.

Justin Fields ran the ball 12 times – not accounting for three sacks – and picked up a team-high 75 sack-adjusted yards.

Just about everything Ohio State’s star quarterback did on the field went his team’s way while rolling over Nebraska for a 52-17 victory

“I thought Justin played well,” Day said afterward. “He didn't force anything. Did a good job with his feet. Was accurate. I think the only incompletion he had, someone told me, was just on the post to Chris (Olave). We did have a couple sacks in there that maybe we can throw the ball away. But the good news overall is we have something to work on.”

The Buckeyes’ pair of starting running backs struggled to find holes. The offensive line had what Wyatt Davis described as “unacceptable” pass protection and struggled early with some of the Cornhuskers’ fronts. Their defense allowed touchdowns to cap off four-play, 75-yard and 11-play, 78-yard drives on two of the first two times Nebraska had the ball. Not all was perfect for Ohio State on Saturday.

But Fields? Fields came remarkably close to deserving that tag. 

“I think I'm better in all aspects – throwing the ball, running the ball and just knowing the offense and kind of knowing what the defense is doing. But I still have room to improve, and that's what I'm going to do from week to week.”– Justin Fields

Heck, he had a three-to-one touchdown-to-incompletion ratio. The only time one of his passes hit the ground was when he launched an on-the-money deep ball to the end zone for Olave who secured it with both hands but got his feet taken out by cornerback Dicaprio Bootle, leading to a jarring collision with the ground that knocked it loose. 

Fields nearly completed every single pass. Instead, he’ll have to settle for a 20-for-21 performance that featured 276 passing yards, two touchdowns through the air, 54 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. 

“It was great to see Justin in his second year look so comfortable back there today,” Day said.

On Saturday, Fields’ Heisman Trophy campaign commenced. Of course, it began at the same time as the Buckeyes’ national championship chase kicked off. For the next couple of months, they will be inextricably linked. They exist because of each other. As long as the team’s going strong, Fields will probably be in contention for the award, and vice versa.

Throughout the week, however, Day harped on how neither his team nor Fields can’t win a trophy against Nebraska. He didn’t want them to feel as though they needed to do too much to accomplish their goal of coming out of this weekend with a 1-0 record. 

Evidently, Fields listened to his coach. 

He played under control. He was as accurate as ever before. He hit receivers in stride and delivered picturesque passes down the field. He made plays with his legs when necessary. He didn’t turn the ball over. He did almost everything right. 

In assessing the team’s overall performance, he said it was “pretty good for Week 1.” That description would’ve worked to evaluate himself, too.

“I think I'm better from last year to this year,” Fields said. “That's what the offseason's for. That's what practice is for. I think I'm better in all aspects – throwing the ball, running the ball and just knowing the offense and kind of knowing what the defense is doing. But I still have room to improve, and that's what I'm going to do from week to week.”

Even without a steady running game, which Day correctly noted afterward will need improvement, Fields lit up the Cornhuskers through the air. Primarily, he did so by heavily featuring Garrett Wilson (seven catches, 129 yards, one touchdown) and Chris Olave (six catches, 104 yards). 

Those in Columbus already spent a year watching Fields deliver dimes to Olave, and with Wilson moving inside to the slot, he further unlocks an aspect of the offenses that proved challenging for the Cornhuskers to slow down. With Day at the helm of the Fields-powered offense, this aerial attack has a chance to be one of the nation’s best, as evidenced in the season opener.

To Day, Saturday’s passing game was a “good start.”

“I think we can be really good, and of course I said earlier we have a lot of stuff to work on,” said Fields, explaining this aerial attack’s potential. “We're just going to go look at the film and just see what we have to fix out there. I think we can be a great team offensively and defensively. We just have to get back out there. Like I said, it's the first game of the season. We still have a lot of work to do. I think we can be really good.”

Even when called passing plays didn’t go exactly as Ohio State drew them up, Fields reminded those watching that he can make special things happen with his legs. 

That was more apparent than ever when he dropped back on 1st-and-10 from Nebraska’s 17-yard line, looked down a covered Olave in the middle of the field, decided to take off, used his speed to find the edge, then did his best Braxton Miller impersonation with a spin into the end zone. He barely even got touched on the scramble for six points.

Yes, he got sacked a few times. But that’s the risk and reward with Fields. While he has such a tendency to extend plays that it gets him into trouble at times, he also can make special things happen without much help when he gets enough time. It’s part of what makes him so special and will have him in the Heisman Trophy race and his team going after a national championship for the next couple of months.

By the end of the game, he accounted for 15 rushes – including three sacks and several other scrambles for positive yards – that went for 54 yards and a score. For comparison, he rushed that many times only once a year ago when he recorded 21 carries versus Penn State.

“It just happens,” Fields said. “I just get the calls and run the plays. I wasn't thinking about running. I was just trying to go out there and compete.”

Whatever works, huh?

On Saturday, it all worked for Fields.

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