Not everything that happened Saturday night in Ohio Stadium was particularly pretty.
Whenever Justin Fields touched the ball, though, that description would have been apt.
Fields continued his Heisman Trophy campaign, perhaps making himself the frontrunner, by completing 24-of-28 passes for 314 yards and five touchdowns in the 49-27 victory versus Rutgers. He added a score on the ground, too.
Through three games, he still has scored more total touchdowns than incompletions, and he has thrown as many passing touchdowns as incompletions. Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano who left Ohio State after Dwayne Haskins first and only year as the starting quarterback got a close-up look at Fields for the first time. He, along with Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, lived up to all of his expectations.
“He's really good,” Schiano said. “I think he will probably win the Heisman. He's that good. When he starts to running around, he's so dangerous. But let’s remember who's catching the ball. Those are two elite receivers. Elite, elite. And Chris I knew. I got to coach him and I knew how good of a player he (is). And he's just gotten better and better. He's a legitimate big-time pro player. Some of that's that. Their tight ends are good. They have a lot of weapons. We made some mistakes, as well. But as I always say, sometimes the quality of your opponent can force you to make mistakes. That may have happened, too.”
“Down the field, as good as I've been around,” said Day, describing how Fields compares as a passer to other quarterbacks he’s coached. “He's really accurate down the field. I thought the last throw to Chris, he made that look like it was a 12-yard out. I've got to look back on film to see where it was, but that thing had gas and it was in the hole. It was one heck of a throw.”
Olave and Wilson combined for three touchdown catches from balls tossed by Fields.
Early in the fourth quarter, Olave snagged a 33-yard touchdown reception for the Buckeyes’ last points. His 6-yard score coming across the field in the back of the end zone might have been even more impressive, though.
“It was just a naked play,” Fields said. “It worked out kind of like a scramble drill. We just work on it in practice, and it just happened like that in the game. We try to practice how we play, and that's how it turned out.”
That, though, wasn’t the best connection of the season – at least, in Olave’s opinion.
“Probably the one last week,” Olave said. “Penn State on the out and up. It was a perfect ball, but it was a tough catch at the same time.”
Wilson’s one touchdown came from 8 yards out in the second quarter. And, of course, it was on third down when he has become Fields’ go-to target.
He has now racked up more than 100 receiving yards in three straight games. Only three other Buckeye wide receivers have ever accomplished that feat. Cris Carter is the only one who’s cracked the 100-yard mark more than three times in a row.
“He's doing what he's always done, and that's just ball out,” Fields said. “From the second he got here at Ohio State, he's been balling out. The first spring he came in, I remember he was making crazy plays. The coaches saw his potential. I know the players saw what he could do on the field. I mean, he does it all the time in practice. Y'all are just seeing what he does all the time.”
With three games down and five to go, Ohio State’s nearing the midpoint of its shortened regular season schedule. This offense, Fields believes, will continue to grow.
“I think we can get better in all aspects, to be honest with you,” Fields said. “That's what the film's for. So we're just going to watch the film on tonight and come in tomorrow and see what aspects we need to improve on.”
Some areas of concern unrelated to Fields arose in the second half. Penalties and missed tackles were on display.
“I think that just comes back to practice habits,” Borland said. “Stuff we do in day in and day out shows on the field. Getting that corrected and just being more conscious of all the steps to tackle in practice.”
“That's something we're really going to strive for is trying to become an even better practice team in all three phases,” Day said. “I think the better we practice, the better we're going to play.”
Day was more than pleased with the first half but not particularly happy with the second half.
“Sometimes I go into a game and I'm like, 'OK, if we can just win this game, don't worry about what it looks like. Let's just win it.' And then you get in it and you're competitive, so you want everything perfect,” Day said. “But like you said, with so many different things that went on this year, but that's no excuse. We're not making excuses at all. We've got to figure that out. We've got to get it fixed. We've got to clean up the penalties. We did have a turnover. There's just some things that shouldn't have happened in that game, and that's where we grow. We don't have the non-conference games early on to kind of build off of that. The first time that some of these guys are in the game is right now in a conference game.”
Still, even though the Buckeyes see spots they need to improve, they now have a 3-0 record and are ranked as a top-three team in the nation. Through three weeks, just one other team in the division – Indiana – remains unbeaten.
Ohio State remains the school by which others compare themselves to.
“Well, we played the measuring stick in our league, the Big Ten Conference, and we didn't quite measure up,” Schiano said. “But I thought we did some good things. Unfortunately in the first half, we made some mistakes that are hard to overcome against a team like that. But I thought our kids continued to chop the whole game. I thought our coaches did. We didn't perform or coach very well in the first half. In the second half, they continued to chop and didn't get discouraged and kept playing. Some things went our way. We know we've got a lot of work to do, but they fought and they continued to chop the whole game. That's a good place to be building from. We've just got to go.”
“I know many people didn't expect us to win, but we did,” Schiano said. “We expected to win. And we didn't win. So we're mourning this right now. It's hard. You've got to learn from it.”
Ohio State plans to learn from what transpired, as well. It’ll aim to hold on to an unvarnished when it travels to face Maryland on Saturday.
“It's a strange season,” Day said. “It was a strange week. There's so many things at play. We've talked about this before is you spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the testing and avoiding exposing yourself to other people and the virus. It's a different year. We're just going to try to do everything we can to stay healthy again this week and then go beat Maryland.”