Coach sees Fields as Buckeyes' X-factor

Adam Jardy,Bill Rabinowitz,Joey Kaufman
Ohio State's Damon Arnette jumps up to grab the football after teammate Chase Young blocked a 32-yard field goal try by Cincinnati's Sam Crosa in the second quarter. [Fred Squillante/Dispatch]

Coach Ryan Day’s favorite play by Justin Fields in Ohio State’s season opener was an incompletion in which the sophomore threw the ball away rather than risk an interception.

The Fields play that caught Day’s eye on Saturday was his 7-yard touchdown run that started the scoring in the Buckeyes’ 42-0 rout of Cincinnati. Ohio State dialed up a play it calls a flash and pass, expecting man-to-man coverage. Instead, Cincinnati played zone.

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“There was nowhere for him to go,” Day said of Fields. “He put his foot in the ground and scored a touchdown on the run. His ability to do that is kind of the X-factor because if it’s there, we take it. And we’re pretty efficient throwing the ball, which is good.”

Efficient is an apt description. Fields completed 20 of 25 against UC after going 18 of 25 a week ago. The transfer from Georgia has passed for six touchdowns and run for three this season.

“I felt really comfortable before the game,” Fields said. “That confidence from last week that I gained, I felt like it was a big help in today’s game.”

Occasionally, such as when he held on to the ball too long and took a sack when his receivers were covered, he showed his inexperience. But, overall, he doesn’t look like a quarterback making his second career start.

“I feel like the receivers and I are getting a better feel (for) each other,” he said.

Most important, he hasn’t even come close to committing a turnover.

“Coach Day emphasized me taking care of the football and just being smart,” Fields said. “Having him in my ear here after every drive just reminds me to do that.”

Young finally a prophet

Every day in practice, Chase Young said, he tells special teams coordinator Matt Barnes that he’s going to block a kick during a game.

But until Saturday, he never had, not even in high school. But Young finally got what he’d sought with a block of Sam Crosa’s 32-yard field goal attempt.

Young was between linebacker Teradja Mitchell and 6-foot-8, 360-pound freshman offensive tackle Dawand Jones on the left side of the line. Mitchell and Jones each got penetration, particularly Jones.

“I thank those two that they opened that little crease up, and I could edge in there and get my hand on it,” Young said.

Damon Arnette leaped to grab the block for the Buckeyes.

Scary collapse

Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said sophomore safety Kyriq McDonald has been “cleared with everything” after collapsing during the second quarter.

As McDonald was pursuing Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins four minutes into the quarter, he suddenly went down untouched on the Cincinnati 48-yard line. After being attended to by the medical staff on the field, he got to his feet, was carted off and taken to Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center as a precaution.

“I couldn’t tell you exactly what the situation was,” said Fickell, who said he had spoken with McDonald’s mother. “I know he was not hit. I was actually watching him and he went straight (down). I actually thought he tore an Achilles or something when he went straight to the ground. Really scary situation.”

At the time, Ohio State led 7-0. Dobbins picked up 24 yards on the play and later capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.

“We just wanted to play for him after that,” senior linebacker Perry Young said. “The entire sideline came out and made sure he was OK because we didn’t know what happened. That’s why the long run happened, because he collapsed. We were behind him and wanted to play for him and unfortunately we gave up too many points.”

A transfer from Alabama, McDonald collapsed on the sideline of the 2018 national championship. During the game, ESPN sideline reporter Allison Williams said McDonald’s mother told her that her son had a history of seizures.

Freshman shows flash

Freshman Garrett Wilson scored the first touchdown of his Buckeyes career with a nifty catch of a 9-yard pass in the second quarter. Wilson, a five-star recruit from Austin, Texas, after spending his early childhood in Dublin, made his reputation with acrobatic catches.

Saturday’s fit that description. Cincinnati cornerback Coby Bryant had good coverage, but Wilson made a leaping catch and held onto the ball when he hit the turf.

“That’s pretty much routine for him,” Fields said. “He definitely has my trust. He gained all that in the spring and just this summer. So when I saw that (coverage), I already knew he was going to catch the ball.”

Emotional week for Ferguson

Chris Ferguson, a graduate student and key member of the Cincinnati offensive line, was paying close attention to Hurricane Dorian and its destruction. Ferguson is from Nassau, Bahamas, and had never played football until moving to Florida in 2013.

The destruction on his home island was almost too much for him to bear.

“It was tough, man,” he said, fighting back tears. “I came here today to play for my country, and I feel like I let them down. That’s all I’ve got.”

Ohio State length gets to Cincinnati

Fickell has seen plenty of elite talent come through Ohio State during his years as a player and then coach here. Now, after a 42-0 Buckeyes win, he said Ohio State's team length is what makes it such a tough matchup.

“They’re long across the board, whether you’re looking at the D-line, you’re looking at the back end, you’re looking at the wide receivers,” he said. “They’re a really good football team. I think they’ve got some really good players and they’ll grow, but their length across the board is not just intimidating but it’s hard to deal with.”

That includes Young.

“They just made it really hard for us to run the ball up front,” quarterback Desmond Ridder said. “Usually we’re a run-first offense. Today we had to be a pass-first offense, and we couldn’t really get it going in the passing game.”

Fickell said it wasn’t just Young that affected the Bearcats, and that the Buckeyes didn’t do much that surprised him.

“We were trying to do some things, but it’s not easy when they’ve got guys on both sides and they can blitz the other way,” he said. “It looked like on sacks it was more than one or two guys, a slew of guys. We planned for him, but he’s tough. I don’t think they changed (who they are). They were pretty true to form for what we saw in the first game. They lined up and said, ‘Hey, you guys do what you do’ and challenged us and, quite honestly, we couldn’t do it.”

Wrapping up

Sophomore defensive end Tyreke Smith was unavailable for the Florida Atlantic game. Against Cincinnati, he sacked Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder late in the second quarter. Smith, who backed up Chase Young, also had another tackle for loss. … Senior Chris Chugunov was the first quarterback to take over for Justin Fields in mop-up duty in the fourth quarter. Chugunov went 2-of-2 passing for 14 yards before he was replaced by Gunnar Hoak. Day said this week that Chugunov and Hoak were still competing for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Fields. … Receiver C.J. Saunders missed his second straight game because of injury. Saunders, who was using a crutch to walk last week, was moving without assistance Saturday. … Defensive tackle Taron Vincent, who has been listed as unavailable on the team’s status report for the first two games, had his arm in a sling.

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