Young QBs need help from receivers to shine

Rob Oller
OSU football player Justin Fields run the ball in the first half during The Ohio State Spring Game at the Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on April 13, 2019. [ Dispatch ]

Justin Fields and Matthew Baldwin could have been primping for their senior proms this time last year. Think about that. Last April, the two quarterbacks vying to start for Ohio State this fall were delicate as emerging daffodils.

One football season later, Fields and Baldwin remain spring shoots with little experience running the show. It doesn’t matter how many stars follow your name as a prized recruit. It doesn’t matter if you enroll early in college, as Baldwin did with the Buckeyes and Fields did at Georgia before transferring in January. When facing a filled Horseshoe for the first time in September, each will have a limited body of work to draw upon to help smooth the path to success.

And make no mistake, whichever one wins the starting job, instant results will be expected. This is Ohio State, not college football kindergarten. How will they survive it? With the help of their best friends — the wide receivers.

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A right-handed quarterback’s most-trusted friend is his left tackle, who protects his blind side. But a QB’s favorite friend is the wide receiver who makes him look good.

Ohio State seniors K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor make you look good. Freshman Garrett Wilson makes you look good. Without them, and other receivers such as Austin Mack, Chris Olave and C.J. Saunders, the young quarterbacks would be in trouble.

And they know it. After Saturday’s spring game, Fields fawned over the guys catching his passes.

“If I grade myself out today it would be like a C-plus,” said Fields, allowing himself only a tiny smile even when a reporter brought up his 98-yard touchdown pass to Victor.

“It felt good,” Fields said. “Ben is a great receiver.”

Victor needs to be if the Buckeyes are going to win the Big Ten next season, because one of the main takeaways from Saturday was that both Fields and Baldwin still need a lot of work.

“Both flashed at times,” coach Ryan Day said of Fields and Baldwin. “(But) it’s a work in progress.”

Fields, the expected starter, completed 4 of 13 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown, but was “sacked” four times in the nontackling scrimmage — a defensive touch equaled a tackle — two of which occurred because he held the ball too long.

>> Read more: Garrett Wilson flashes his potential with touchdown catch

>> Photo gallery: Ohio State's spring football game

Baldwin, who sat out last season while recovering from a knee injury that occurred late in his high school senior season, completed 20 of 36 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions and was sacked twice.

Neither quarterback wowed, although Fields revealed snippets of above-average running ability. And both were helped immensely by receivers making big plays. Wilson went up and over cornerback Sevyn Banks for the Scarlet’s first touchdown — the Gray won the glorified scrimmage 35-17 — on a throw by Baldwin, and Victor made a nifty catch along the sideline on his 98-yard score.

“The receivers make us look good,” Fields said. “Our job is easy, just play pitch-and-catch with them. Just throw them the ball.”

It is normal for fans to think a quarterback makes his receivers look good, but for the Buckeyes in 2019 it will be up to the receivers to bail out the QBs. At least early in the season.

“If they throw a bad ball, it’s ‘Nah, I have to catch that,’” Hill said, explaining his responsibility in helping the quarterbacks. “All you ask the quarterback to do is throw the ball up and let us make a play. It’s on us to be on our spot, be on time and execute.”

Fields and Baldwin are going to need friends like that.


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