Ohio State football: Are Buckeyes too cautious with Justin Fields?
If you just go by the numbers, Justin Fields has gotten off to a spectacular start as the quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Fields has thrown for nine touchdowns and no interceptions through three games and is completing 70 percent of his passes. He is averaging 219 passing yards per game and OSU has been far enough ahead every week that he hasn’t had to go a full 60 minutes. As a runner, the dual-threat quarterback has accounted for 146 yards and four more touchdowns.
But are the Buckeyes getting all they can out of their sophomore transfer wunderkind? Let’s take a look.
Case for OSU being too conservative with Fields
An examination of Fields’ passes so far shows a reflection of the modern game, especially for a new quarterback: Lots of safe, short passes. Lots of times where he gets rid of the ball quickly.
But you get a 5-star talent like Fields, the highest-rated recruit OSU has ever had at quarterback, for a reason. Actually, a lot of reasons, because you want to have him display all of his talents.
His mobility, his size, his arm, his decision-making — it’s all there, especially for a kid with three college starts to his credit. And when he is allowed, he can hit an absolute beauty of a deep ball, as he did to Chris Olave for a 37-yard touchdown against Indiana.
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But Fields has very rarely thrown any deep passes.
At 8.34 yards per attempt, OSU ranks sixth in the B1G. That’s decent, and it’s early in the season. But between J.K. Dobbins coming out of the backfield, a deep bunch of tight ends and a veteran group of receivers who can do damage after the catch, the Buckeyes are capable of more.
Case for OSU being correctly cautious with Fields
The Buckeyes coaching staff has had to navigate one negative tendency with Fields, and it is one clear to anyone watching, including Fox TV analyst Joel Klatt, who pointed it out in last week’s victory against Indiana: Overthrows. Even Fields said he “missed way too many throws” against the Hoosiers.
At this stage, having Fields throw a ton of balls long, especially outside the numbers, could be an invitation for opposing defensive backs to make big plays. And OSU has only given away three turnovers in 2019, a trend the coaching staff will certainly want to continue.
There is something to be said for giving both Fields and an almost completely new starting offensive line time to settle in. OSU has done a terrific job in the run game — at 6.0 yards a rush the team leads the Big Ten and is 14th in the nation — but Fields has faced a fair bit of pressure on dropbacks.
Besides, it’s tempting to keep running the ball. It’s safer, it eats up more clock, and again it’s something OSU is doing really well. Fields is mobile and fast and has shown an ability to pick his spots when to run. Oh yeah, and star running back J.K. Dobbins has looked as good as he ever has in an Ohio State uniform in 2019.
So, is OSU being too conservative with Fields?
Yes. A little.
Having Fields roll out to escape pressure and take advantage of his athleticism is smart. But OSU is bordering on the predictable by calling plays where he rolls to the right almost exclusively. Some different looks would give opposing defensive coordinators a lot to think about in terms of deploying their front seven. Rolling left is more difficult for a right-handed passer, but Fields could do it more.
And having Fields only throw a couple of deep balls per game means some explosive athletes at receiver, especially Olave, lack chances to make big plays. Letting Fields throw deep a bit more often, even at the expense of him making a few mistakes, would give opposing defenses nightmares.
What OSU has done under new coach Ryan Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has worked so far. But what has worked so far might not work as well as the level of competition rises when the Buckeyes get deep into the B1G conference schedule.
Letting Fields truly run loose — in every way — could make Ohio State’s offense not just really good, but almost unstoppable.