Fields, Ohio State show quality of team in challenging victory
There was a lot of talk this week about adversity.
As No. 4 Ohio State entered its game against Michigan State Saturday, everyone knew the Buckeyes would be without some key players. Everyone knew it would be their first time taking the field since their less-than-spectacular second half against Indiana. Everyone knew it would be Justin Fields‘ first time out since he showed some pretty poor decision-making against the Hoosiers.
But I’m not sure anyone knew just how much adversity the Buckeyes would face. Gone were three out of five starting offensive linemen. Gone was the heart-and-soul defensive leader Tuf Borland. Gone was head coach Ryan Day, along with 23 total players, all out because of COVID-19 restrictions.
It quickly became the story of the game. How would the Buckeyes respond to all of this? What kind of team are they — really?
Well I think the verdict is in: They’re good, to the tune of a 52-12 victory over Michigan State.
In many ways, the Buckeyes played a perfect first half against the Spartans, though they were shorthanded on offense, defense and on the sidelines. Kudos go to a patchwork offensive line as the unit blocked as well as it needed to. The defense stood tall and interim coach Larry Johnson who earned a victory.
But it all started with Fields at quarterback.
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Before the game, ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky wondered which Fields we would see in this game. Would it be the Fields who seemed to be the frontrunner in the Heisman race in November? Or would it be the Fields who looked shaky and indecisive in the Buckeyes victory over Indiana?
Early on against the Spartans, it was clear that Fields was back to his old self.
After Tommy Togiai forced a punt with a big stop on Michigan State’s first drive of the game, the defense gave the ball to Fields. The quarterback made quick work of the Michigan State defense, taking advantage of opportunities and making difficult plays look amazingly simple. On the first drive it became evident that Harry Miller — who started the season’s first four games at left guard but moved to center for this game with starter Josh Myers out — was having a bit of trouble snapping to Fields in shotgun formation. At least three snaps came off high and right, while another went low and left.
Just more adversity to overcome, right? And Fields handled it masterfully.
Each time he was able to calmly reel in the snap and make something happen. Twice he used his feet to pick up big yards. Orlovsky said before the game how Fields needed to be special in this game.
“Sometimes special looks different,” he said. And he was right. Fields’ calming influence helped Ohio State come out like gangbusters and put this one away early.
The first time Ohio State moved into the Michigan State red zone, on third and goal, Fields looked for a screen pass. It wasn’t there, so he stepped up into the pocket, hesitated, then took off to the right, where he ran into the end zone for a 7-0 lead. These runs happened again and again throughout the afternoon.
I wondered when we would see this version of Fields again. Not since the Nebraska game (the first contest of the year) have we seen him use his feet so well. So many times this year, Fields has been criticized for holding the ball too long, for not throwing it away and being plagued with indecision.
But here’s the deal: Over his short career, he just keeps getting better, and Saturday was another example of that. So many times against Michigan State, Fields used his athleticism and instinct to run for first downs, to the tune of a career-high 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns. One of those runs was a 44-yard backbreaking scamper down the sideline where he looked more like a tailback. And on top of all of this, his passing game didn’t suffer at all. The evidence: He was 17-24 for 199 yards and 2 more touchdowns.
So many times Fields makes throws that are so pinpoint, and they display so much touch, they kind of take your breath away. One example of that Saturday was when he rolled out to the right, bought time, and — on the run — found Garrett Wilson with just a flip over the head of the defender. Wilson caught the pass and ran in for a 28-yard touchdown.
It looked effortless. And that’s the way Fields seemed to play Saturday. When some said it was one of the biggest games of his career, he acted like he didn’t have a care in the world. In fact, I wonder if the Indiana game took some of the pressure off the quarterback. As he now seems to be out of the running for college football’s most famous award, Fields now doesn’t really have to worry about the Heisman Trophy talk anymore.
All he has to do is worry about winning — getting first downs and putting touchdowns on the board.
And when he had a lot of adversity this past weekend, that’s all he did.