Quarterback Justin Fields is ready to run when Ohio State needs him
Early in the third quarter of Ohio State’s season-opening win over Nebraska on Saturday, quarterback Justin Fields was sprinting inside the 5-yard line.
Approached by a defensive back, he spun 360 degrees and fell forward across the goal line.
The 17-yard touchdown run stood out as one of the highlight-reel plays from the game, mirroring the moves of Braxton Miller from several years ago, while also providing a glimpse of his willingness to run.
Fields logged 15 carries against the Cornhuskers, the second most in one game in his college career.
But the workload is not seen as a sign that Fields will assume a larger role in the ground game this season, which continues this week with a Halloween night tilt at Penn State.
Most of his rush attempts Saturday came only after passing plays broke down.
“That’s part of his game,” coach Ryan Day said.
The touchdown run came on such a circumstance. Facing first-and-10 at Nebraska's 17, Fields stared at three receivers and a tight end running their routes downfield. After three seconds ticked off the clock, he slid forward in the pocket and took off running, angling toward the sideline in search of open turf.
It was an instance in which Fields felt it was right to run.
“There's a lot of scenarios where I look to scramble,” he said. “Maybe if I see open green grass, and it was third down, and we need the first down. That's one scenario where I might choose to scramble.
“Another is when nobody's open, and I think I can give us some extra yards rather than throwing the ball away. It might as well make it like second-and-6, second-and-5, rather than second-and-10. I think it's different for a lot of situations in the game.”
Because a majority of carries come during called pass plays, Fields said there is rarely a set target number for his rush attempts in a game.
It hinges on the looks presented by defenses and how play calls unfold.
“I feel like it varies from game to game, what situation I’m put in,” Fields said. “I think it differentiates between each game.”
Last season, Fields averaged 10 carries per game, including sacks. A late November game against Penn State was the only instance in which he finished with more than 15 carries – he ran 21 times against the Nittany Lions for 68 yards.
His 15 carries against Nebraska on Saturday resulted in 54 yards.
There were also games last season in which Fields had as few as three, four or six carries. He’ll take off running as needed.
“I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win,” Fields said. “Whether that’s not scrambling at all. Whether that’s scrambling every play. It doesn’t really matter to me.”
Day trusts Fields to make the right play, giving him some leeway once the ball is snapped. As they enter their second season together, he’s become more confident in the quarterback.
“If you tell him to throw it away, he doesn't scramble for a touchdown,” Day said, “so there's a give and take. And I think as the year progressed last year and into this year, he's done a good job of taking care of the football and making the decision at the right time.
"There are times maybe to keep his eyes downfield a little longer. But overall, I thought it was a really good game for him.”
Ohio State at Penn State
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
TV: Ch. 6
Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)