Rob Oller | Justin Fields deserves to fly up Heisman charts
The bronze sculpture faked a handoff, cut to his left and juked a defender before heading down the Ohio State sideline. At the end of his 44-yard run the sculpture assumed his classic pose — the stiff arm — before being forced out of bounds.
Watching the Heisman Trophy come to life on Saturday was pretty cool. I didn’t know such things actually happened outside of fairy tales and chick-flick holiday movies. But there he was, the famous statuette running, throwing and blocking, like something out of “Toy Story.”
Oh, and leading. Don’t forget that. The Buckeyes, crippled on the offensive line and coaching staff by COVID-19, needed their best player to take charge on Saturday against Michigan State. And did he ever.
I don’t have a Heisman vote. But if I did I would have handed the trophy to a stiff-arming Justin Fields right then and there. Why wait until Jan. 5? I mean, a quarterback opting to take on a cornerback instead of sliding to the turf like a splayed giraffe?
Sure, there are times when playing it safe is the smarter option. Like when a 245-pound head-hunting linebacker is about to go all French Revolution on you. But this wasn’t that. Fields is 6 feet 3, 228 pounds. The stiff-arm recipient, Spartans cornerback Shakur Brown, is 5-10, 190. Hammer, meet nail.
Most impressively, this was a Heisman-worthy forearm shiver in the heat of conflict, not some show-off Desmond Howard pose in the end zone. The most emotion Fields ever shows during games is when he’s caught on camera bee-boppin' with buddies. (That’s right, Mr. Hip-hop, we saw you). Otherwise, the Ohio State quarterback puts his head down and goes to work.
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Speaking of which, did you see Fields lower his helmet into cornerback Angelo Grose to pick up the first down on a third-and-5 early in the second quarter? And what about the downfield block on tailback Trey Sermon's 64-yard touchdown run? That was the stuff of Orlando Pace.
“I don’t know if I enjoy initiating contact but I’m going to do it if I need to,” said Fields, who rushed for a career-high 104 yards and passed for 199 and two scores without an interception.
After the Buckeyes’ 52-12 win in East Lansing, Grose wants no more part of Fields, who also lofted a perfect touch pass over the corner’s head that Garrett Wilson turned into a 28-yard touchdown.
And that wasn’t all. The Bronze opened the Buckeyes’ scoring with a nifty 2-yard run that covered about 15 yards and added a one-yard touchdown run that together with Sermon’s long TD run gave Ohio State a 35-0 lead that even the 1998 Nick Saban Spartans could not have come back from. (Google it, if you dare).
“If you’re going to be a head coach for one day, you want Justin Fields with you,” said Larry Johnson, who served as interim coach with Ryan Day out after testing positive for COVID-19.
Simply put, Fields was a marvel. And he needed to be, because starting offensive linemen Josh Myers, Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere missed the game (Ohio State does not release status report details but presumably some of the linemen tested positive for COVID). With backups filling in — and with Day and quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis among those out with the virus — Fields needed to be his best both on the field and behind the scenes.
“He stood in front of the team and was encouraging the offensive line guys,” Johnson said of Fields’ leadership.
All of which is why Fields should be rocketing up the Heisman charts faster than “My Sharona.”
It is one thing to wow Heisman voters when everything is going swimmingly, but Ohio State’s offensive line entered the day gulping water. Backup center Harry Miller’s shotgun snaps appeared to be going down — and up and sideways — for the third time. (At one point I wondered if the classic backyard “side hike” might make an appearance.)
But no worries, Fields handled most of the errant snaps without incident. And when they did get away from him he turned nothing into something.
“I thought (Fields) played really gutsy,” Day said via Zoom from Columbus.
Was Fields perfect? No. He overthrew Chris Olave on a deep ball and took an intentional grounding penalty that could have been avoided. But with his feet, mostly, he showed why he is the main reason defensive coordinators fear this offense. When things break down, Fields bucks up.
Give him the Heisman now or later. Just make sure he gets it.