Justin Fields will face tougher tests in the future, but it’s safe to say he aced his debut at the controls of the Ohio State offense.
Last season Dwayne Haskins led the Ohio State offense with surgeon-like precision. This year, the Buckeyes have more of a mad scientist at quarterback. If Justin Field’s debut in scarlet and grey is any indication, Ryan Day’s offense will emerge as a nightmare for opposing defenses in 2019.
In all fairness, Ohio State was never supposed to struggle with Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic squad. Fields won’t truly be able to impress the Buckeyes faithful until he faces tougher opponents as the year goes on. That doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of encouraging signs in his performance against the Owls.
Nothing Fields did in the opener surprised prominent Buckeyes’ alum Kirk Herbstreit. He was effusive in his praise of the Georgia transfer before the season ever began. He told FanSided.com’s own Patrick Schmidt that he expected people to “fall in love” with the combination of Day and Fields. That doesn’t mean that Fields is going to remind Buckeyes fans of the way Haskins piloted the offense.
Instead, Herbstreit believes fans will see a “very, very different offensive philosophy and approach from where it (the offense) was last year with Haskins.” The obvious difference between the two talented signal callers is Fields’ ability to make plays with his legs. Haskins did a terrific job of slicing up Big 10 defenses with his arm, but his lack of mobility did limit the sort of plays Day could call with his offense.
Fields’ athleticism will open up a whole new section of Day’s potential playbook. In many ways, this season’s offense may look more similar to some of Urban Meyer’s early attacks. Fields has a lot in common with former Buckeyes quarterbacks like Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller. That doesn’t necessarily mean Day is going to revert to a traditional spread attack, but fans should expect to see a lot more run pass options for Fields this season.
The sophomore certainly gave fans a taste of what’s possible in his opening performance against Florida Atlantic. Fields threw for 229 yards and four touchdowns before he was lifted late in the fourth quarter. More interestingly, he also rushed or 61 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. The five touchdowns were the most by an Ohio State player in his first game. Fields literally had the best first impression for a Buckeye in their storied history. It’s Field’s dual-threat ability that really gives Ohio State’s chance an offense to be great this season, even better than last year under Haskins.
Fields will face a tricky test next weekend at home against Cincinnati, but his mettle will really be tested when Ohio State begins Big Ten play. The Buckeyes travel to Nebraska and host Michigan State in their first two conference games. His coaching staff won’t put the game entirely into his hands to win or lose, but they’ll need him to play well if they want to get off to the type of start required to win a conference title and contend for a College Football Playoff berth.
The good news for Fields is that he’s armed with a strong rushing attack to help get him through tough times. J.K. Dobbins will command a lot of attention from opposing defensive coordinators at the running back position. His presence in the backfield only amplifies just how dynamic Fields can be. Trying to account for both guys on the edge is going to put defenses in compromised positions all season long.
The key for Fields moving forward will be to make sure his passing keeps defenses honest. He has the physical talent to make all of the throws required in Days’ offense, but his decision-making was a limiting factor for him during his time with Georgia. Expect the Ohio State coaching staff to keep things as simple as they can for Fields until he proves he’s able to handle more advanced offensive concepts.
Questions about Fields’ ability to produce as a starter against elite competition are still valid, but he did everything he could to silence any critics on Saturday. His devastatingly efficient performance against Florida Atlantic bodes well for Ohio State’s chances of making a run at a national championship.