Rarely is there a time when Ohio State fans need extra motivation to be juiced about the upcoming football season. But with the Justin Fields news coming on Friday night, it feels like a giant mushroom cloud of hype consumed Columbus.
The NCAA granted Fields a hardship waiver this weekend, permitting the former five-star quarterback to earn immediate eligibility and step under center for the Buckeyes in 2019. It’s a ruling that Ohio State and first-year head coach Ryan Day desperately needed considering the lack of depth at the position.
Ohio State also became a legitimate national title contender with the Fields ruling. According to Bovada, the Buckeyes’ odds jumped from 12/1 to 8/1 following the decision. That’s a sizable increase for someone who hasn’t yet taken a single snap in the scarlet and grey and played a limited role at Georgia.
It’s a credit to the level of excitement and expectation Fields brings with him to Columbus.
As Ohio State starts winter workouts and prepares for spring practice, Fields is saying all the right things as he fits in with his new teammates, even if they might be a bit modest.
“Coach Day didn’t promise me anything,” Fields said on Wednesday about his role with the team this season. “He told me I would have to come here and work for it.”
Spoiler alert: Justin Fields is going to be Ohio State’s starter in 2019.
Fields’ arrival in Columbus and immediate eligibility gives Buckeye fans plenty of reason to be excited about the upcoming season. He’s the highest-rated player ever to land at Ohio State. He’s a dynamic athlete and has dual-threat capabilities. Even though we saw him in a limited role at UGA, Fields scored eight touchdowns — four with his arm and four more with his legs. In Day’s offense, he can blossom into a superstar.
Just don’t expect Dwayne Haskins-like numbers from Fields this year. You probably shouldn’t expect them anytime in his career, actually. Even the head coach isn’t concerned with Fields reaching that level.
“What happened last year with Dwayne Haskins is an anomaly. Someone to step in 14 games, projected to be maybe the first quarterback taken in the draft, third in the Heisman – that just doesn’t happen,” Day said Wednesday. “For me to sit back and look at what happened last year, it’s really amazing. I think Dwayne may be one of those once-in-a-lifetime (quarterbacks).”
Haskins threw for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns in his first and only season as the starter, leading college football in both categories. To add icing to that cake, he did all that while completing passes at a 70 percent clip.
Yeah, that’s going to be difficult to replicate.
Fields doesn’t have to put up those ridiculous numbers to etch his name in Ohio State lore, though. And, quite frankly, Buckeye fans may not want him to have the opportunity to collect those kind of stats.
As tremendous as Haskins was last season, Ohio State’s offense relied way too heavily on his ability. That might seem like an odd comment about a team that averaged a B1G-best 42.4 points and 535.6 yards per game, but Haskins was a bell cow for the Buckeyes last fall. A hit-or-miss rushing attack forced him to shoulder a large portion of the offense.
Restructuring the rushing attack to build a more balanced offensive unit will likely be at the forefront of Day’s agenda. To put it mildly, if Fields has to throw 73 passes like Haskins did last October against Purdue, there’s a problem in Columbus.
Fields will probably shoulder a good portion of the offensive workload in 2019 — which wouldn’t be unusual for Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. And with his rushing ability, Ohio State can utilize Fields much like it used J.T. Barrett on the ground.
That weapon, alone, should help Ohio State in the run game, especially in the run-pass option era. It’s an aspect of Fields’ game that Haskins just didn’t possess.
With Fields’ dual-threat ability and an increased focus on establishing a solid rushing attack, it’s unlikely that the former five-star gunslinger will have the opportunity to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in his first year in Columbus, if ever. That’s not a bad thing for the Buckeyes.
Fields can still be a Heisman-caliber quarterback and secure a legacy at Ohio State. Considering Day’s experience with quarterbacks, it would be shocking if he doesn’t. But don’t let Haskins’ numbers dictate the expectations for Fields.
In this case for Ohio State, less is more.