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Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is avoiding interceptions. Can he against Indiana?

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
With 11 touchdown passes and only the same number of incompletions, Justin Fields' play as Ohio State quarterback has been worthy of a thumb's up.

Thirteen months ago, Justin Fields threw his first interception against a Big Ten team.

The Ohio State quarterback rolled outside the pocket and lofted a pass toward the sideline that was picked off by Michigan State cornerback Josiah Scott. The throw had sailed too far into coverage.

In the 10 conference games that have followed, Fields has avoided a similar experience, throwing his only other interceptions – two of them – in a College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson last December. He has not been picked off this fall.

But a challenge awaits Saturday with the Buckeyes' top-10 matchup against Indiana.  

The Hoosiers (4-0) bring a defense to Ohio Stadium that has been deft in forcing turnovers. They lead the Big Ten with 12 takeaways and have intercepted 10 passes, a total that ranks near the top of the Football Bowl Subdivision despite playing in half as many games as some of the other opportunistic defenses.

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Fields sees much of Indiana’s success as stemming from the pressure it puts on quarterbacks. It’s hard for any passer to remain mistake-free without time in the pocket to survey receivers down the field. He reasons that some of the picks have been the result of quarterbacks becoming hasty in the face blitzing from the Hoosiers, noting they have many top athletes on defense. It led to poor decisions.

“So my job is not panicking, stay calm in the pocket and deliver the ball to my receivers,” Fields said. “It's pretty simple.”

Since taking over as the starter for the Buckeyes last season, Fields has largely impressed observers with a steady stream of highlight plays, from touchdown tosses to elusive runs that pick up first downs or reach the end zone.

But he’s also been remarkably efficient in his passing, maintaining a 56:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his Ohio State career.

Along with a desire for making big plays, Fields said one of his highest priorities is also avoiding bad ones.

“I've always looked at the quarterback position as pretty simple in terms of not throwing interceptions,” Fields said. “That's just not throwing the ball to the other team. Of course, it sounds easier than it is playing the game. But that just comes with reps, knowing where your guys are going to be, trusting your teammates and doing that stuff. I feel like all of that goes into making my decisions and having success on the field.”

Fields has had a couple of near-misses this season, such as a short out route intended for Chris Olave just before halftime at Penn State three weeks ago that was broken up by cornerback Joey Porter Jr. It was close enough to an interception that Porter winced in frustration.

Justin Fields lets a pass fly against Penn State on Oct. 31, when he completed 28 of 34 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns.

But only 11 of Fields’ 83 pass attempts this season have even fallen incomplete.

When Buckeyes coach Ryan Day first brought in Fields as a transfer following his freshman season at Georgia in 2018, he was unsure how he might fare in certain areas such as game management.

Fields’ physical traits were obvious, but it was a brief recruitment with little time for delving deep into any philosophy for playing the position.

Like the recruitment of most young quarterbacks, Day called it a crapshoot. But once on campus, he noticed Fields was a quick learner, something that has continued into this season.

“He understands our plan to win and how important turnovers are, and that if we turn the ball over, we put ourselves at major risk to lose the game,” Day said. “That's the first thing. But then at the same time, you have to understand the situation.

“There’s so many things that go into play, understanding, spacing and timing and the situation in the game. When you need to take a chance, when you not need to take a chance. Do you throw where maybe only the receiver can catch it? All those things come into play. You can talk about it until you're blue in the face, but it's another thing to actually go execute it. So you got to give him credit in that area.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

Next game

No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Indiana

When: Noon Saturday

TV: Fox (Ch. 28)

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)