Ryan Day, offering his opening comments on No. 3 Ohio State’s 42-35 win against No. 9 Indiana, took a bit of a step back to look at the big picture.
He noted his excitement to be 4-0 after four games and maintain sole control of the Big Ten East. He referenced all of the sacrifices the players and coaches on his roster have made, giving up free time and minimizing contact with family members to stay coronavirus-free, and mentioned how big of a deal it is to see the fruits of their decisions. But Day also said he was a “long way from pleased” with with everything about the Buckeyes’ performance on Saturday.
Junior quarterback Justin Fields, who’d shimmied his way back to the locker room after talking to the media about 10 minutes beforehand, took nearly the exact same tact when evaluating his own performance.
“Of course I made bad decisions. I ended up with three picks,” Fields said. “But, I mean, we got a dub at the end of the day. That's all that matters. I'm just glad we got the dub, we're 4-0. Just going to go in and watch film tomorrow and continue to get better.”
Fields, who entered the weekend as a Heisman Trophy frontrunner, completed 18-of-30 passes for 300 yards with two touchdowns. But he doubled his career interception total with Indiana picking him off three times.
Fields added 78 rushing yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, but he got sacked on five instances.
“I didn't play well at all,” Fields said. “I have to improve. I have to get better. That's all I really have to say.”
The trio of interceptions were completely out of character for the star quarterback, but they were exactly what Indiana both needed and sought. The Hoosiers came into Saturday’s game leading the Big Ten with 12 turnovers and a plus-eight turnover margin.
Their plan to constantly get after Fields and make him as uncomfortable as anybody has ever done evidently worked.
Jamar Johnson came up with the first interception less than five minutes into the game. Fields thought Indiana was playing a two-high-safety defense but was incorrect since one of the safeties had rolled into the box. He had to decide between throwing the seam or the dig and, because of the error, chose wrong.
“That's not the read, so I just got the read wrong,” Fields said. “It's more of a quarters look, two-high look. I threw it to the seam when I clearly was supposed to throw it to the dig, so that's on me.”
Day added: “I know he wants to have that one back.”
The following two picks were examples, as Day said, of when Fields “tried to force it a little bit too much.”
Late in the first quarter, he tossed a floater as he got hit toward Chris Olave that, after multiple bounces and players from both teams touching it, fell into the arms of 6-foot-3, 304-pound defensive lineman Jerome Johnson. Then, instead of taking a sack early in the third quarter, he attempted to loft a pass toward Julian Fleming that again got caught by Jamar Johnson.
“The second one, I tried to throw it away but it got batted down, came up short before the sideline,” Fields said. “The third one, I just tried to force it in there. I was just trying to do too much. I saw Julian across the middle and I thought he was going to sit there for me. I guess the ball sailed on me when I got tackled. So I just have to improve on that and continue to get better.”
1. The worst throw of Justin Fields career.— Eleven Warriors (@11W) November 21, 2020
2. Heck of a play by Julian Fleming. pic.twitter.com/3tT3KJtNnb
After the game, Fields showed more displeasure than after any of his prior wins at Ohio State. Quite clearly, he didn’t feel pleased with his performance, and he didn’t mince words about it.
Day, however, didn’t share the same thoughts as his quarterback. He wasn’t nearly as harsh.
Rather, Day said he thought Fields played a “really tough” game amid constant pressure.
“Overall, I thought he played really gutsy, made some big-time throws,” Day said. “They were blitzing. We knew they were going to. They were blitzing every snap – I mean, literally every snap. So there was going to be negative plays. There was going to be some big plays. That's kind of how it played out. We did have 607 yards of total offense. Three-hundred yards rushing.
“Justin, he went for 300 yards passing and 78 yards rushing. Just amazing,” Day said. “Certainly want to have those plays back and those interceptions back. But at the same time, you have to be aggressive and you have to go at them. You can't be on your heels when you play against a defense like this. So a lot to learn from, but overall the production was really good. But we've got to clean up those turnovers.”