Buckeyes big winners in QB sweepstakes

Rob Oller
Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields (1) throws the ball against Michigan State Spartans during the 4th quarter of their game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on October 5, 2019. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

A few takeaways from the game of quarterback musical chairs that has played out over the past two seasons. But first, a spoiler alert: Ohio State wins the game and Georgia ends up without a seat.

Why does OSU win and not Oklahoma, LSU or Missouri, all of whom benefited from quarterbacks transferring in over the past 15 months? Because the Buckeyes get sophomore Justin Fields for two seasons. True, Joe Burrow is playing his second season at LSU, but the former Ohio State QB from Athens, who joined the Tigers as a graduate transfer in May 2018, was merely very good last season. He did not become exceptional until this year, leading LSU to a 6-0 start and No. 2 ranking in his final season in Baton Rouge.

Oklahoma caught a break when Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts picked the Sooners (6-0), but the grad transfer is one and done with them. Ditto for Kelly Bryant, who left Clemson after four games last season and is now a one-year starter at Missouri (5-1).

Few at OU or Mizzou are complaining about having Hurts and Bryant for only one season. Something is better than nothing. But having Fields for two seasons, and possibly three in the unlikelihood he does not turn pro after next season, means Ohio State gets the winner’s seat.

As for Georgia, the Bulldogs still have Jake Fromm, a junior who led them to the national championship game as a true freshman in the 2017 season. Fromm is very good. But is he better than Fields? Some Georgia fans have to be asking the question this week after the Bulldogs lost Saturday to South Carolina. Fromm threw three interceptions in the 20-17 double overtime loss.

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Fields wanted out from between the hedges because looking ahead to this season he saw his game experience further stifled. The Georgia native completed 27 of 39 pass attempts for 328 yards and four touchdowns last season as a true freshman. He also rushed for 266 yards and four TDs. He played in 12 of 13 games without a start.

There also was the ugly incident involving a Georgia baseball player yelling racial slurs at Fields from the stands during the Tennessee game, a scene that likely played a part in the NCAA’s decision to grant Fields immediate eligibility at Ohio State.

Georgia starting Fromm last season was the right decision. The Bulldogs repeated as SEC East champions and finished 11-2. Fromm threw for 27 touchdowns with five interceptions.

But that was then. This season, Fromm has thrown nine touchdown passes to three interceptions and owns a 156.1 quarterback rating. He is completing 65 percent of his passes against three conference opponents.

Fields, meanwhile, has thrown 18 touchdowns to one interception, has a 187.5 rating and 65.7 completion percentage against three Big Ten teams. Plus, he is a more productive runner than Fromm, rushing for 283 yards on 57 carries for a 5.0 average. Fromm has 23 yards on 12 rushing attempts for a 1.9 average. Clearly, he is more of a pocket passer.

Statistics can be misleading, and the point is not to dump on Fromm but to show that quarterback musical chairs is a game of skill and chance. The skill comes in evaluating the player, but there’s always the chance of making a mistake, of choosing the wrong QB to run the show.

When losing Dwayne Haskins to the NFL became a possibility last fall, Ohio State coach Ryan Day turned his antennae to who might be available to play right away in 2019. Fields fit the bill, and Day pounced when the Georgia backup entered the transfer portal in December.

Day was not sure how quickly his new starting quarterback would get up to speed, but knew the player’s upside was tremendous.

“You can see how dynamic he is with his feet and how he changes the game,” Day said.

Ohio State offensive co-coordinator Kevin Wilson has coached several top-of-the-line quarterbacks, including Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford at Oklahoma.

“He’s as good as I’ve seen,” Wilson said of Fields. “I said in preseason he’s as talented of an athlete I’ve seen, and I’m going to stick with that statement. I’ve been impressed with the way he prepares.”

Wilson listens in when Fields talks with quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich on the headset between drives.

“He’s very calm and can articulate what he sees, what he likes and what he’d like to do,” Wilson said of Fields.

Without disparaging other quarterbacks, Wilson said he sees in Fields a special kind of player.

“What I’m talking about is a very mature young man who has a chance to show the mental toughness that all great quarterbacks have,” Wilson said. “He’s on track to have that skill at a high level, and that’s a talent you don’t put a stopwatch on it.”

Imagine the fun of watching Ohio State play LSU or Georgia in the playoff. When the music stops, who wins then?


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