Ohio State wasn’t perfect, but Justin Fields nearly was and that’s the most important thing
Ohio State is not the dominant force and complete team that it was last season—at least not yet. There were some moments—especially early—that Ohio State did not look like a team ready to win it all.
Here’s the thing: The most important takeaway for Ohio State in its opener was always going to be that Justin Fields looks healthy and dang near unstoppable. Check and check.
Fields was simply magnificent in leading Ohio State to a 52-17 win over Nebraska on Saturday afternoon. He looked like every bit the Heisman contender that he was projected to be this season. Give him a few weeks to accumulate some more stats, and he may be at the top of the list.
The 2nd-year starter was one of the driving forces behind the Big Ten’s return to football, as you know by now. When the season finally started Saturday, he played with that same desperation. He displayed pinpoint accuracy all game, throwing darts to Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. By my count, he made 1 questionable throw, the one down the seam with less than 2 minutes left in the 1st half—and he still got a pass interference call on the play.
This was Fields’ finest passing game of his career, and that’s saying something for a guy who came into Saturday having completed 67.4 percent of his passes and coming off a season in which he had a 41-3 TD-INT ratio. Fields went 20 of 21 for 276 yards and 2 TDs, with his lone incompletion being a really nice deep ball to the end zone that Chris Olave couldn’t quite come down with.
Fields has been open about going vegan, and it seems like it’s working for him. He still had the same power as a runner, including one play where he ran right over a Nebraska defender to avoid a sack.
If Fields can develop chemistry with 5-star freshman wideouts Jaxon Smith-Njigba (who made an outstanding TD catch late) and Julian Fleming, it’s going to be scary. There is so much talent on that Buckeyes offense, and their leader is at the top of his game.
When Fields came out of the game and the clock wound down, he put on his mask. I’m not the mask police or anything, but to me, that gives off the vibe that he has decided that nothing is going to stop him this season.
As for what could derail Ohio State, there were definitely some things to clean up. But to Buckeyes fans overreacting to a Chase Young-less defense or a JK Dobbins-less rushing attack, remember this—the Buckeyes will go as far as Fields takes them. If he plays like he did Saturday all season, Ohio State will obviously be in the mix to win it all again.
Alabama coach Nick Saban made a ton of headlines this week when he admitted that defense was no longer the key to victory. “It used to be that good defense beats good offense,” Saban told reporters. “Good defense doesn’t beat good offense anymore.”
Fields was so in control of the offense that I almost forgot that Ohio State really didn’t run the ball well at all. In fact, Fields led the way with 54 yards on 15 carries. Trey Sermon (11 carries, 48 yards) and Master Teague (12 carries, 41 yards) in no way solidified themselves as the lead back. Steele Chambers even got some run in the 3rd quarter. And by the way, 15 rushing attempts for Fields is probably OK in a game against the likes of Penn State, but probably not Nebraska. Fields had rushed more than 13 times just once in his 26 career games. We’ll see if this trend continues.
I also almost forgot that Ohio State’s defense often looked a little slow and did not have that same pass rush that it had with Young. To Nebraska’s credit, it did a good job neutralizing that with runs from Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey.
Since this is the first game of the season and we’ve waited so long for it to actually start, there will probably be plenty of overreactions, but let’s keep in mind that it’s going to take some time for these teams to get in midseason form—even with as much talent as Ohio State has.
Ohio State allowed 370 yards, something it did only 3 times last season. I’m not saying that Ohio State doesn’t have to eventually find its way defensively, as there’s a reason that no one picks Oklahoma to win it all. You need balance. But let’s give the Buckeyes some time. It was weird offseason, and they really seemed to settle in during the 2nd half.
The Buckeyes weren’t perfect, but as long as Fields is performing like he did Saturday, they have plenty of time to get there.