Fields extends OSU's line of star QBs

Rob Oller
Justin Fields' combination of running and passing talent makes him scary for defensive coordinators. [Barbara J. Perenic/Dispatch]

Help me. Ohio State’s previous quarterback? The guy who set all those passing records? His name again? Haskers? Harkins?

Justin Fields. I know him. Sophomore stud. Heisman Trophy candidate. Sterling 9-0 record as the Buckeyes’ starter. The most indispensable player — sorry, Chase — on the field. But before him? Dang it, the thing about Ohio State quarterbacks over the past decade is they cause memory loss. The “next” quarterback plays so well he makes you forget about the previous one.

Terrelle Pryor to Braxton Miller to J.T. Barrett (toss Cardale Jones in there) to Dwayne Haskins — ah, there it is — to Fields. Just when you think a drop-off is bound to happen, the new QB lifts off instead.

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Ohio State may not be Quarterback U — Mike Tomczak remains the best of the bunch among NFL quarterbacks who played at Ohio State — but the Buckeyes are closer to what Miami or Purdue used to be than what those schools are now. Fields is simply the latest to mesmerize the Horseshoe. He did it again Saturday, playing catch with six receivers in a 73-14 wasting of Maryland.

“A big factor in my decision (to sign with the Buckeyes) was just knowing the way Ohio State had played previously,” said freshman wide receiver Garrett Wilson, a five-star recruit who left Texas for Ohio. “I don’t know if I could have said I would have been here, but when I saw them throw the ball like they did … I knew I wanted to be here.”

Let’s revisit Ohio State’s recent quarterback history. People tend to forget Pryor; on purpose in some cases, because of Tattoogate. But the five-star recruit who at his signing announced he was going to “The University of Ohio State” was a physical specimen who went 19-3 as a starter, and that does not count the 12-1 record in the vacated 2010 season that the NCAA says never happened.

Miller came next. Terrelle who? The speed. The spin moves. I defy anyone to name a better OSU running quarterback. Miller wasn’t a great passer, but plenty good enough.

“Braxton Miller is my favorite Buckeye of all time,” Wilson said. “I was a quarterback growing up. He was my idol. One of the shiftiest dudes I’ve ever seen.”

After a shoulder injury, Miller gave way to Barrett. Braxton who? All J.T. did was lead Ohio State to an 11-1 record as an emergency starter in 2014 before suffering a broken ankle against Michigan. Jones came on in relief and went 3-0 to secure a national championship.

True, 2015 was messy — the Jones/Barrett back-and-forth was poorly handled — but then Haskins came along last season and broke every major school season passing record and nearly every Big Ten season passing record. J.T. who?

And now Fields, who is the Frankenstein of OSU quarterbacks — a collection of body parts making him scary to defensive coordinators. He is a more dangerous runner than Barrett if not quite as gifted a thrower as Haskins.

In only one half against Maryland — for the first time this season he rested the entire second half — the Buckeyes’ MVP completed 16 of 25 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns. His season totals: 144 of 211 (68.2 percent) for 1,859 yards and 27 passing TDs with one interception.

A comparison between Haskins and Fields in two specific statistical categories shows the pair are closer as passers than one might expect. Nearly 27 percent of Haskins’ completions last season occurred behind the line of scrimmage, many on shovel passes to Parris Campbell, which amount to a “pass” of about 14 inches. Campbell turned plenty of those shorties into dashes.

Fields’ completions behind the line total just 12.4 percent of his catalog. Fields is stretching the field — 60 percent of his completions cover 10 yards or more — more than Haskins did (25 percent).

Haskins was an exceptional passer, but Fields is finding receivers downfield at a higher rate. Plus he is a natural runner. Against Maryland, he averaged 5.6 yards on five carries and scored on a broken play.

Fields is making fans forget about the talent that preceded him. Except maybe for Joe Burrow. But that (playoff) day may be coming.


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