Rob Oller | Justin Fields completes what Buckeyes started
Justin Fields threw an incompletion.
It feels strange even typing that. Every time Fields drops to pass, the assumption is the throw will be completed. The Ohio State quarterback is Tiger Woods in his prime, standing over an 8-foot par putt. It’s going in. Fields is Rafael Nadal on clay. A sure thing.
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It doesn’t matter if Fields rolls out and stumbles forward like a man catching his foot on the edge of a rug. The result is a 13-yard completion to tight end Jake Hausmann. Chris Olave is covered? No problem. Fields lays it in almost perfect position and Olave comes down with it.
At Penn State on Saturday, Fields completed his first six passes, tying J.T. Barrett’s school record for consecutive completions at 16. On his seventh attempt, the ball flew just off the fingertips of Garrett Wilson. It wasn’t a bad throw. It wasn’t a drop. It was just … surprising. No need to apologize if you rubbed your eyes in disbelief, because at this point a ball bouncing off the turf is the rarest of sights.
Incompletions happen. It’s not like Fields is perfect. Last week against Nebraska he was 20 of 21. See? Not perfect. In Saturday’s 38-25 win in State College, where a near-empty Beaver Stadium led to a loss of electricity “Brown Out,” Fields finished 28 of 34 passing for 318 yards and four touchdowns. In two games, the Heisman Trophy contender -- more on that in a moment -- is 48 of 55 for 594 yards and six touchdown passes. Without an interception. That will preach.
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Fields has help, of course. Elite talent is everywhere. The Buckeyes at times resemble a middle school team lining up against fourth-graders. That wasn’t always the case against the Nittany Lions, who put up a fight, but mostly it was a talent mismatch.
To wit: Olave and Wilson became the first pair of Ohio State receivers to go over 100 yards in back-to-back games, while tight end Jeremy Ruckert gives Fields a legitimate threat as the occasional No. 1 option. The offensive line protects Fields like a 10-legged bodyguard, and coach Ryan Day and the offensive assistants take an aggressive approach to play calling that puts Fields in the best possible position to succeed. Tailbacks Master Teague and Trey Sermon are the football version of “Moneyball;” neither is as talented as J.K. Dobbins but together they fairly resemble last year’s 2,000-yard rusher.
But mostly the OSU offense hums because of Fields, whose poise in the pocket has improved from a year ago, and whose accuracy is more pinpoint than ever.
I asked Day if he ever catches himself expecting Fields to complete every pass. He wouldn’t go there, exactly, but his answer shed light on why his quarterback is on such a roll.
“He was really on it in the meeting room this week,” Day said, praising Fields’ preparation for Penn State. “When you can start to take the meeting room to the field quickly, that’s when you really become special.”
For his part, Fields is realistic.
“I’m not blind to the fact that quarterbacks are going to have incompletions during a game,” he said.
But knowing that and accepting it are two different animals. Clearly, every incompletion irks him.
“When I do have an incompletion, it’s important to move on to the next play,” he said.
Translated: Incompletions are of the devil.
Now, about the Heisman. Fields has closed the gap on Trevor Lawrence, the Clemson quarterback who entered the season with the best odds of hoisting the bronze trophy. For at least another week Fields will continue to gain on Lawrence, who tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss his second consecutive game on Saturday at Notre Dame.
But the virus may actually help Lawrence’s Heisman chances. If he returns from illness and puts up gaudy numbers like he did in his first six games, well, hand him the hardware for beating the virus.
Fields can’t do anything about that. He just needs to keep throwing darts and hope Heisman voters forgive the incredibly rare incompletion.