Fields gives Ohio State edge in red zone

Joey Kaufman
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields leaps over Miami's Mike Brown. [Barbara J. Perenic/Dispatch]

Justin Fields got the safety to bite.

With Ohio State's offense positioned at Miami's 7-yard line early in the second quarter Saturday, Fields prepared to hand off to running back J.K. Dobbins out of the shotgun formation.

Mike Brown, the safety for the RedHawks, burst into the backfield and began to approach Dobbins, who was headed straight toward the center of the line of scrimmage.

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Instead, Fields kept the football, and Brown was a step behind the quarterback.

Brown dived at Fields’ feet in desperation. He missed. Fields spurted loose, dodged another defensive back and strode into the end zone for the first of his two touchdown runs against the RedHawks. It began a barrage of points in the second quarter for the Buckeyes as they went on to 76-5 victory at Ohio Stadium.

But the sequence also underscored a new threat for the offense. Ohio State can now score in the red zone.

It was an issue last season when the Buckeyes finished with a touchdown percentage of only 61 percent inside the red zone, their lowest since 2009, stalling often when approaching the goal line.

Through four games, the Buckeyes have scored a touchdown on 85 percent of their trips inside the 20. Against the RedHawks, they reached the end zone in 7 of 8 trips, the sole misfire when running back Master Teague III fumbled at the 13 early in the third quarter.

Most reason Fields’ legs play a role, giving Ohio State an additional option near the goal line where space becomes limited, especially zone-read plays.

“It’s a great thing that I can do,” Fields said, “and I think it opens up the offense a lot. The defense doesn’t know where to go.”

The option did not fully exist last season with Dwayne Haskins Jr., who was more comfortable passing from the pocket than running downfield.

Five of Ohio State’s 17 touchdowns inside the red zone this season have come by way of Fields’ legs, and he later ran for a 6-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

Receiver K.J. Hill thought the threat of Fields’ running also forced defenses to guard against it, freeing up more pass-catching targets as well.

“It's just more things the defense has got to prepare for and think about on the field,” Hill said. “It brings a lot of confusion to the defense also, knowing you have to keep someone in the box to spy Justin, and that's leaving more 1-on-1s on the outside.”

Fields connected with sophomore receive Chris Olave for two touchdowns in the red zone.


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