Following the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes’ 45-21 season-opening victory over the Florida Atlantic Owls, Buckeye head coach Ryan Day indicated that his favorite play from quarterback Justin Fields in his first collegiate start was on a third down in which the dual-threat QB decided not to force a pass or risk injury trying to gain the yards on the ground, but instead simply threw the ball away and lived to play another down.
While Fields was pretty impressive against FAU (18-25, 234 yards, 4 TDs), he was even more so against a better defense on Saturday in Ohio State’s 42-0 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats. In his second start, Fields went 20-for-25 for 224 yards and two touchdowns through the air; adding 42 yards and two more scores on the ground.
While there will be plenty of people breaking down film from the statement win — including our own George Eisner — I decided to do a bit of my own film study, but instead of looking at the “positive” plays of the game, instead, I want to look at the five times that Fields did not successfully complete a pass.
1st Quarter, 9:40
2nd and 8
Fields’ first incompletion was actually pretty impressive. After avoiding pressure, Fields threw the ball 32 yards from inside the hash on a dime to K.J. Hill on the sideline. However, junior safety Darrick Forrest delivers a powerful shot to the normally sure-handed Hill dislodging the ball.
What makes this incompletion stand out is, obviously, that it very easily could have been a completion, but also because Fields keeps his eyes downfield while avoiding pressure and finds an open wide receiver.
As we see every Saturday across the country, when it comes to underclassman playing quarterback, there is an instinct to panic when the pocket collapses. In addition to Day’s favorite play last week, here, Fields demonstrates that he has the ability to stay level-headed with defensive linemen barring down on him.
This bodes well for his pocket presence against the better defenses in the Big Ten.
1st Quarter, 2:52
3rd and 1
While I thought that this incompletion was just a poorly thrown ball while watching the game live, on repeat viewings, I think that it was actually one of three throw-aways from Fields on the day. The QB is locked on to tight end Jeremy Ruckert from the snap. However, UC has his wheel route well covered. So, rather than looking to his wide receivers (who also appear to have been covered), Fields throws it well away.
Ruckert clearly goes out of bounds, but it would have been interesting if Fields had thrown a catchable ball, because I think an argument could have been made that he was forced out. I think OSU likely would have lost that argument, but with refs these days, you never know.
However, the biggest question on this play actually has nothing to do with Fields. In a vacuum, I don’t really have a problem with throwing on 3rd and 1 from just inside the redzone up 7-0 in the first quarter. However, when the next call is an empty-backfield quarterback keeper, it becomes a little more problematic to not use your decided size and talent advantage on two consecutive plays.
don't love that play-calling on third and fourth down. sometimes it doesn't pay to be cute. use your size and talent advantage whenever you can.— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) September 7, 2019
But, that’s a topic for another article, and one that based on the exemplary play-calling the rest of the day, probably doesn’t ever need to be written. On this play for Fields, he locks in on the tight end before throwing it away. Unless the play design specifically called for him to only throw to that route, I would have liked to have seen him look at his other options, since the pocket maintained its protection fairly well.
3rd Quarter, 9:30
2nd and 9
After not throwing an incompletion in the second quarter, the OSU QB’s only back-to-back incompletions of the game came in the third quarter. The first was Fields’ first — and only — truly bad throw of the game.
He is looking to connect with Chris Olave on the post, but it looks like the ball just gets away from him. He has plenty of time, but it is a long throw, just a bit more than 20 yards, but from the left hashmark to the right sideline, and it ends up being a wildly inaccurate throw.
Fortunately though, it happens in a part of the field in which no UC defenders have the opportunity to pick it off.
3rd Quarter, 9:25
3rd and 9
The next play is the type of decision that Day will probably get giddy over when watching film on Sunday. Up 28-0, Fields avoids the sack, and rolls out to the right. With multiple defenders approaching, the QB throws the ball away.
Despite the fact that the incompletion means that Drue Chrisman would be called upon to punt on the next down, Fields did not take the sack damaging OSU’s field position, nor did he try to force a pass potentially leading to an interception.
This is yet another sign that Fields is a far more mature quarterback than his limited experience gives him any right to be.
4th Quarter, 12:04
2nd and Goal
Ho hum, just another “good throw away to live another day” decision from Fields. Forced to roll out of the pocket with a short field, the QB made the right call to throw it away. After a defensive penalty negated (but also probably contributed to) a sack, Fields connected with Hill for the final score of the game on the subsequent third down.
Now, this is obviously not how football stats are calculated, but if we are to give Fields credit for throwing the ball away — as his head coach obviously does — then the sophomore really only had one bad throw on the game.
Granted, Fields didn’t try to force the ball downfield too often, and the defenses that he faces as the season progresses will certainly improve, in the early going of the 2019 season, Justin Fields has been pretty darn close to perfect as a passer.