The hit was hard, a shot delivered by Nebraska linebacker Jojo Domann that knocked Justin Fields back a couple of yards onto the turf late in the third quarter of Ohio State’s blowout win in Lincoln in late September.
Fields had been left unprotected in the backfield after handing the ball off to running back J.K. Dobbins when Domann arrived.
“A chance for old Jojo to take out some frustration,” observed play-by-play broadcaster Chris Fowler during the ABC telecast.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
On the next play, Fields lofted a pass toward the back corner of the end zone, where receiver Garrett Wilson, who was running a fade route, made for 6-yard touchdown reception. The response left an impression with Buckeyes coach Ryan Day. It was one of the early signs of toughness from the sophomore quarterback.
While Fields had transferred with much acclaim from Georgia earlier in the year, it was difficult for Day to ascertain certain traits such as toughness. In practices, Ohio State’s quarterbacks wear black no-contact jerseys, preventing them from being hit by teammates. It’s a common practice, but it means coaches must wait until games before truly taking stock of their quarterbacks’ resolve.
“You don't know competitively how tough guys are until you get into those situations,” Day said.
One of the real tests of toughness for Big Ten quarterbacks, though, comes in November, when the briskness of autumn can give way to a more piercing cold. As the Buckeyes prepare for their first game this month — against Maryland on Saturday — Fields said he doesn't think weather conditions will present much of an obstacle.
“I don't think the weather does much,” Fields said. “We have so many things on the sideline that we didn't have in high school, like heated benches, stuff like that, so I don't think it'll be a huge factor.”
Fields grew up in suburban Atlanta, which ordinarily is warmer than the Midwest. But he recalled that during several of his high school football games at Harrison in Kennesaw, Georgia, the temperature dipped below 30 degrees late in the season.
The experiences serve as most of his preparation.
“The weather is going to be an element we can't control,” quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich said. “We talk about things that are under our control. Our preparation, our effort, our toughness, our ability to recognize defenses, communicate. All the things we can control, weather is not one of them, so we don't focus on that.
“We practice in the elements, we break out the wet-ball drill when we anticipate rain. But we block out the things we can't control and focus on the things that we can. I think that's what his mindset is.”
The forecast for Saturday’s noon game against Maryland is 39 degrees at kickoff with 11 mph winds and a slight overcast, according to Weather.com.
Coaches are largely confident about how Fields might handle the elements during the final weeks of the season, optimism that grew after his gutsy performance in a 38-7 win over Wisconsin on Oct. 26, one amid rainy conditions.
Fields fought through a back injury in the second half as he ran a season-high 13 times. In his postgame news conference, Day called the effort as “really gritty.” Fields also remained turnover-free, handling the wet football. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns against the Badgers.
“He's got good-sized hands; he's got really good strength in his grip,” Yurcich said. “I don't think the wet ball will affect him as much as other quarterbacks. Will it affect him? Yeah, I think the wet ball and cold weather will affect any passer to a degree. To what degree is that? I think we'll find out as it gets more chilly. But he's shown signs that he can effectively still be productive.”