Justin Fields failed nearly perfectly in Ohio State’s season opener against Florida Atlantic.
The sophomore quarterback took a sack when he should have thrown the ball away. Fired a backward pass to Garrett Wilson that became a lost fumble. Zigged when he should have zagged.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
And coach Ryan Day couldn’t have been happier.
“Overall, a lot to learn from,” Day said.
Let’s rewind the tape. Overall, Fields was borderline fantastic for a first-time starter. Having never played a game at Ohio Stadium — the spring game does not count — my big question for the Georgia transfer was whether he would throw the ball to the right team. Physical skill was never going to be the issue. Fields proved that on the fourth play from scrimmage when he ran 51 yards to give Ohio State a 7-0 lead on the way to a 45-21 win.
True, the hole Fields hit on his TD run was wide enough that even I could have gained 2 yards (maybe), but you know a dude is fast when it looks like he’s jogging as he pulls away from his closest pursuer. Does he have Braxton Miller speed? No. Neither did he flash Miller moves. But who does? The point is that Fields is plenty fast enough to make defensive coordinators mumble to themselves.
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Arm strength was never going to be a problem, either. Fields proved that on most of his throws, including a slingshot sideline pass to K.J. Hill that won’t win fantasy league points but showed an ability to get the ball to a moving target in a hurry.
Accuracy? That was the great unknown. Could Fields pick scarlet and gray jerseys out of a crowd? Could he get his receivers the ball without also giving it to cornerbacks and safeties? Also, could he command the huddle and show poise in the pocket?
Answers: Yes, yes and mostly yes.
“I thought he performed well,” Day said. “Playing with great energy, making good decisions but more importantly managing the game, taking care of the ball.”
Fields’ numbers were more than solid, if not spectacular. He was 18-of-25 passing for 234 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Dwayne Haskins Jr. threw a school-record five touchdowns as a first-time starter against Oregon State last season, so Fields is in good company.
As a runner, the message was mixed. Besides the long touchdown sprint — “When I was running it I was thinking to myself, ‘That was kind of easy.’ It definitely surprised me a little bit,” he said — he was good but not great. Then again, it was the first time he had faced live-action tackling since arriving at OSU in January, so some of the apprehension could be attributed to self-preservation.
At least two players — receiver Austin Mack and right tackle Branden Bowen — said Fields was calm and in control in the huddle.
“For a first start, it was well done,” Day said.
Ah, but not well done enough, which is exactly what Day and the offensive staff wanted. Fields made enough mistakes for the coaches to harp on, which they thoroughly enjoy, because coaches are teachers/fixers.
Day likes to say, “You don’t learn if you don’t fail.”
From that standpoint, Fields is accumulating knowledge at a breakneck pace.
“As you look at the film, sitting there for 74 plays, you’re going to be able to teach off those 74,” Day said. “A ton to learn from.”
Saturday was a science experiment, a petri dish into which Fields was placed for the first time. The results were mostly good, with some shaky moments. Now comes Cincinnati. The laboratory heats up.