When Dwayne Haskins announced that he would be foregoing his final two years of collegiate eligibility to enter the NFL Draft, the Ohio State Buckeyes’ quarterback room went into an immediate disarray that would last until just shortly after the team’s spring game. In that time one quarterback transferred into the room, while two others transferred out.
After very publicly warning any potential transfers about coming to Columbus and having to compete with him, Tate Martell announced that he would be transferring almost as soon as it was confirmed that former Georgia backup Justin Fields would be joining the Buckeyes.
Matthew Baldwin hung with the Scarlet and Gray until following spring camp, when it became obvious that he would not beat out Fields. While this is obviously simplifying the very disparate situations, ostensibly Martell left Columbus because of the hype surrounding Fields, while Baldwin left Columbus because of what Fields could do on the field.
Hype and potential are two very intoxicating and influencing factors. Combine these defections with the historic nature of his initial recruiting ranking, and Fields’ stature rose to near mythic proportions before he ever played an actual game for the Buckeyes.
Expectations are always high when it comes to Ohio State football, but with the excitement of a uniquely talented dual-threat quarterback set to “save the program” after two “also-ran” options chose to leave, expectations rose to a fevered, and perhaps unrealistic, pitch as the season opener against Florida Atlantic approached.
All of Buckeye Nation was shivering with anticipation in the build up to Week 1, anxious to see just what type of godlike capabilities this savior from the south actually possessed. However, somehow, the first 8:10 of the FAU game seemed to indicate that perhaps, despite the hitherto unforeseen excitement, in reality OSU fans had actually under-hyped Fields. On his literal first rushing attempt as a Buckeyes, the transfer QB ran practically untouched for a 51-yard score. Not to be pigeonholed as only a run-threat, Fields threw touchdown passes on three of his first six passing attempts.
The dizzying opening left many (myself included) completely bemused at how our fandom could be so fortunate as to go from the most prolific passer in the history of the Big Ten Conference directly to the superhuman force that was now running the offense for the Buckeyes.
Things changed, however, as OSU — either by scheme or competition — would not score again for the next 34:13 of game time, and despite racing out to a 28-0 lead, would only win by a score of 45-21. From there, the giddy excitement turned to confusion and questions amongst most of Buckeye Nation (including from here), as fans wrestled with exactly how they should process the performance of both the team and of Fields in particular.
On social media and message boards, a vocal minority of fans were ready to write off Fields as overhyped and ill-equipped for the task of leading the Buckeyes on a Big Ten and/or National Championship run. Others rationalized that after rushing out to a four-score lead head coach Ryan Day and company put the brakes on putting anything of consequence on film for either Cincinnati or other future opponents, and that the true Fields was the one seen in the game’s opening minutes.
Knowing that college coaches are fond of saying that the most improvement a team will make in a season comes following Week 1, I decided to look back at how some of the more recent Ohio State quarterbacks — Terrelle Pryor Sr., Braxton Miller, and J.T. Barrett — have done in their first career starts.
Now, I recognize that none of these are apples-to-apples comparisons, for any number of reasons. First, out of this group, Fields is the only sophomore. The Georgia transfer does have a season of experience as a backup in the SEC, so in terms of time on a campus, he is similar to Barrett, but when it comes to operating OSU’s specific offense, he is in a somewhat similar position to the two true freshmen.
I also decided not to include Haskins or Cardale Jones, because both of those QBs were in their third years on campus — and in Urban Meyer’s offense — by the time that they got their first starts. It also helps that when taking these two out, it leaves a set of quarterbacks with similar, dual-threat skill sets.
Another added variable is that Pryor and Miller both got the job in the fourth week of the season, as opposed to Barrett and Fields, who started in their respective season openers. So, like I said, not apples-to-apples, but a good reminder nonetheless.
I don’t know that there is a clear picture that can be immediately drawn from looking at the numbers below; all four of these QBs were playing in unique situations with different teammates, circumstances, and competition. But, I do think that it is important to recognize that a quarterback’s first career start, no matter how good or bad, is not necessarily indicative of their second start, the rest of their season, or their eventual career as a whole.
Terrelle Pryor Sr.
Class: True Freshman
First Start: Week 4, Sept. 20, 2008
Opponent: Troy (W, 28-10)
Passing: 10-16, 139 yards, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception
Rushing: 14 carries, 66 yards
Second Start: Week 5, Sept. 27, 2008
Opponent: Minnesota (W, 34-21)
Passing: 8-13, 70 yards, 1 touchdown
Rushing: 8 carries, 97 yards, 2 touchdowns
Season Record as Starter: 8-2
Passing: 100-165, 1,311 yards, 12 touchdowns, 4 interception
Rushing: 139 carries, 631 yards, 6 touchdowns
Class: True Freshman
First Start: Week 4, Sept. 24, 2011
Opponent: Colorado (W, 37-17)
Passing: 5-13, 83 yards, 2 touchdowns
Rushing: 17 carries, 83 yards
Second Start: Week 5, Oct. 1, 2011
Opponent: Michigan State (L, 10-7)
Passing: 5-10, 56 yards, 1 interception
Rushing: 9 carries, -27 yards
Season Record as Starter: 4-6
Passing: 85-157, 1,159 yards, 13 touchdowns, 4 interception
Rushing: 159 carries, 715 yards, 7 touchdowns
Class: Redshirt Freshman
First Start: Week 1, Aug. 30, 2014
Opponent: Navy (W, 34-17)
Passing: 12-15, 226 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception
Rushing: 9 carries, 50 yards
Second Start: Week 2, Sept. 6, 2014
Opponent: Virginia Tech (L, 29-9)
Passing: 9-29, 215 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions
Rushing: 24 carries, 70 yards, 1 touchdown
Season Record as Starter: 11-1
Passing: 203-314, 2,834 yards, 34 touchdowns, 10 interception
Rushing: 171 carries, 938 yards, 11 touchdowns
First Start: Week 1, Aug. 31, 2019
Opponent: Florida Atlantic (W, 45-21)
Passing: 18-25, 224 yards, 4 touchdowns
Rushing: 12 carries, 61 yards, 1 touchdown
Second Start: Week 2, Sept. 7, 2019
After looking at these numbers, it would be difficult to say that Fields didn’t have the best first day of the bunch, at least from a statistical perspective, despite the uneventful second and third quarters. His numbers are eerily similar to those of Barrett, but hopefully he fares better in his second start than #16 did; although, that worked out well for the team eventually.
Either way, it is important for all of us to remember that one game — especially a season-opening win — does not a season make; so measure your reactions accordingly.