How Much Should Anyone Stress About Ohio State's Perceived Deficiencies When Justin Fields Is At Quarterback?

By Colin Hass-Hill on November 8, 2020 at 3:14 am
Justin Fields

By the time Ohio State’s players and coaches wrapped their arms around each other, facing their 600 or so friends and family members in the crowd to singing “Carmen Ohio,” the eyes of most college football fans had left Big Ten Network in favor of seeing the end of the Clemson-Notre Dame showdown.

Those who continued to break down what happened on Saturday night in the Horseshoe, however, might not have settled on exactly one thing in particular. Even head coach Ryan Day didn't quite know what to think about his team's performance in the immediate aftermath, and nor did three-time team captain linebacker Tuf Borland.

“It’s hard to comment on what exactly happened when you haven’t watched the film yet,” Borland said.

On one hand, Ohio State secured a 49-27 win, moving to 3-0 by defeating Rutgers at home. The offense again put up prolific numbers, especially through the air, to keep the Buckeyes among the highest-scoring offenses in college football. They entered halftime with a 35-3 lead, coming out of the gates with what Borland described as “the way we would want to start out a game” despite a week with a thrown-off routine due to the team not practicing on Election Day. They extended the ongoing streak of Day winning every Big Ten game by double-digits as a head coach.

Conversely, Ohio State failed to pull away in the second half from a team it was favored to beat by 38 points. Tackling issues appeared in the latter two quarters, a couple of trick plays popped for the Scarlet Knights and referees called nine penalties on the Buckeyes. Rutgers won the second half, 24-14, which included 18 fourth-quarter points. Officials whistled Harry Miller for three penalties, Shaun Wade got beat for a touchdown, Marcus Hooker missed a few tackles and Rutgers returned a punt for a touchdown.

A lot to like, sure. Plenty that went wrong, too.

But as long as Justin Fields remains healthy and taking snaps for Ohio State, how much should anybody really stress about any perceived deficiencies? Is it really worth the effort when the Buckeyes might have the best quarterback in the country leading potentially college football’s best offense?

Day, his coaching staff and players, of course, can’t afford to take that approach and nobody says they should. They’ll work on all of the little things – penalties, discipline, blocking, tackling, focus and more – so minor miscues don’t doom a promising season. They won’t rely solely on their quarterback making up for every error. 

A healthy Fields, though, is a Get Out Of Jail Free card. The guy who makes everything OK when things aren’t going flawlessly. He’s what transforms a really good, really talented group into a great one powered by a nearly unstoppable offense. 

The Buckeyes aren’t a perfect team. They’ve lacked a deadly rushing attack, and the offensive line hasn’t yet lived up to lofty preseason expectations. Unlike last year, their defense isn’t led by a pair of no-doubt top-five NFL draft picks. It clearly has some questions to answer in the secondary, and the front seven hasn’t had to defend a dangerous rushing attack, get after a stud quarterback or attack a stout offensive line.

But they just might have a perfect quarterback, and that might be enough for the Buckeyes to achieve everything they’re after even without perfection surrounding him at all times.

Fields went 24-for-28 for 318 yards and five touchdowns on Saturday, adding a score with his legs. Through three games, he has thrown 11 touchdown passes with only 11 incompletions and zero turnovers, completing 86.7 percent of his passes.

Combining him with Day’s play calling, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson at wide receiver and the rest of this offense has given Ohio State an offense nobody has even come close to stopping yet. 

“Those guys are both great receivers, but I don't think we're at our peak right now,” Fields said after the victory. “I don't think we've reached our full potential. So of course we're going to continue to get better each and every week. I just hope we do that and hopefully that'll be enough.”

It just might be.

Fields is different. Day certainly knows that to be true. He says he could tell the quarterback might be a generational talent type of a player “pretty early on.”

“I knew he had the potential to be,” Day said. “I still think he has the potential to be special. I still don't think he's there. But he's getting better every week.”

The second-year starter makes the easy throws look easy and the seemingly impossible throws, well, also look easy. Fields’ pocket presence took a step forward this year to go along with improved footwork, which has helped him turn in otherworldly efficiency numbers. He has continued to get better at taking what he learns in meetings to the field, Day has said recently, and his teammates see him as more of a leader.

Put that all together and you see why Fields has become the Heisman Trophy frontrunner and a legitimate contender to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Now add Wilson, Olave and Day to the mix, and you suddenly have a historic offense.

Wilson, a first-year starter, is just the fourth Buckeye with back-to-back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. He caught six passes for 104 yards and a touchdown versus Rutgers. Olave added five receptions for 64 yards, including two touchdowns.

“That's the connection we've got,” Olave said. “If I get open, Justin will put the ball where it's going to be.”

One of Olave’s touchdowns came on a 33-yard dime down the left sideline. It represented a response to Greg Schiano’s 93rd trick play of the evening, almost acting as a warning shot to say, “Hey, buddy, I’m still here if we need suddenly some points.” 

Fields didn’t attack Rutgers with many downfield shots in the latter two quarters. If he had? Perhaps some of the concerns leaking out of Saturday night’s matchup might not be so pervasive. Maybe the Buckeyes would’ve walked over the Scarlet Knights in a similar manner to what happened in the first half.

But that didn’t happen, so we’re all left to wonder two questions: 1) How much should those issues unsettle Ohio State and 2) What if none of those even matter because the presence of Fields will ultimately negate all of those troubles?

Every so often, a quarterback comes along and makes you wonder whether anything else is actually worth worrying about. Fields is that guy.

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