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Connection between Justin Fields, Chris Olave clicking for Ohio State offense

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State's Chris Olave comes down with Justin Fields' pass in the end zone to complete a 26-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of the Buckeyes' victory last week at Penn State. Joey Porter Jr. is defending.

Justin Fields fit the pass in a precise spot.

It was Ohio State’s second drive in its win at Penn State last week, a second-and-3 play from the Nittany Lions’ 26-yard line, when Fields hurled a throw in the direction of receiver Chris Olave.

Running along the sideline, Olave had a step on cornerback Joey Porter Jr. as the ball arrived on his outside shoulder. Because of the placement, Porter had little chance to bat it away and cause an incompletion. Instead, Olave caught it in stride to land in the end zone and push the Buckeyes ahead by a pair of touchdowns early in the 38-25 victory.

Through only two weeks, the timing between Fields and Olave has appeared in midseason form, requiring little period for adjustment early in this season.

Fields has fired 15 passes in the direction of Olave, who has caught 13 of them for 224 yards and two touchdowns.

The tandem was big for the Buckeyes last fall. A favorite target for Fields as a sophomore, Olave finished with team-highs with his 849 receiving yards and 12 touchdown catches.

But he feels they’re even more on the same page now, refining their timing in recent months.

“I feel like it’s way better,” Olave said. “I know when the ball is going to come out. He knows my language. He knows where I’m going to be. We’ve built this chemistry all offseason.”

Buckeyes coach Ryan Day observed their effort in the aftermath of the crushing loss to Clemson in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff last December, when a mix-up between Fields and Olave was costly in the final seconds.

Down by six points and driving deep into the Tigers’ territory, Fields threw toward the end zone for a potential game-winning score, while Olave broke off his route in the opposite direction in an uncharacteristic sequence.

“I know the way last season ended really bothered the two of them, especially that last play,” Day said. “So they were hungry. Both of them.”

Olave said they spent most of the offseason working out together and looking to build on their connection.

While they often clicked last fall, it was still their first season together after Fields transferred from Georgia. They didn’t have the benefit of earlier passing repetitions while freshmen.

But they made up for the lost time.

“They spent a lot of time in the offseason getting their rhythm down, getting their timing down,” Day said. “They're off to a good start. But they got to keep going on it, building on it.”

Day expects they will. He added they have kept “their eyes on the prize” for this season.

The connection has paid off for the Buckeyes in their early games, leading a prolific passing attack that can provide a boost for an offense that has seen some inconsistency in the running game without J.K. Dobbins in the backfield.

Sophomore Garrett Wilson has 18 catches for 224 yards and a touchdown, giving Fields a similarly consistent target.

But last week at Penn State, Fields and Olave showed off their months-long work for some of the biggest plays.

Along with catching a 26-yard pass from Fields in the first quarter, Olave also snagged a 49-yard pass to cap OSU's first drive in the third quarter. Their timing has been particularly evident on some of the deep throws.

“It all comes together at the end,” Olave said. “I feel like he trusts me, and I trust him. When he sees me one-on-one, he could trust me with throwing that ball up and putting it in a good spot for me to make play on it.”

At one point, Olave's status for the Penn State game appeared in some question. He departed the second half of a season-opening win over Nebraska after absorbing a hit to the head. But he said there was never a doubt he was going to take the field at Beaver Stadium.

"It was just a good little hit,” he said, “a good football play.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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