The faux tension, hand-wringing, and suspense, that’s all over in Columbus now that the world knows what everyone already knew months ago — Justin Fields will be Ohio State’s starting quarterback as it prepares for its first season under new head coach Ryan Day.
No one ever thought there was a quarterback competition in terms of who would land that starting job for the Buckeyes. Fields, who transferred to Ohio State from Georgia and was granted immediate eligibility, was always the heir apparent to Dwayne Haskins. Behind Fields are Gunnar Hoak and Chris Chugunov.
Retired OSU coach Urban Meyer said during his new gig on Fox Sports that Fields is “elite,” but cautioned that although Fields can run, that might not be the best game plan because, as he said, there’s a “big separation between (quarterbacks) one, two and three.” Day, hand-picked by Meyer as his successor, is well aware of keeping Fields healthy.
Day said the Buckeyes’ offense will not be a big departure from what they ran last year with the pass-heavy Haskins.
“It's going to be very, very similar,” Day told reporters. “His skill set, he has a lot of different things that Dwayne had. He's a little bit more athletic and faster and stronger. He can run. But it will be very similar. We'll see the same type of plays. We're not all of a sudden going to go drastically different.
“We'll probably emphasize some different packages with him. For the most part it will still be the Ohio State offense.”
While at Georgia, Fields was used as a running quarterback. But he can do more, as Day has suggested, and he will be asked to expand his repertoire.
“I went home the other night, there was an SEC game on,” Day told reporters recently. “It was Auburn-Georgia. I think it was at Georgia. I just happened to click it on and start watching it. Quarterback for Georgia was Justin Fields. It caught me off-guard. He's taken snaps in SEC games, SEC environment. I slept a little better that night because he caught the snap. He didn't turn the ball over. That was good. That was one in the books.
“That's very, very different than running a team, managing a team, operating a team. But the good news is he has played in those environments. Any time you've taken a snap in those environments, you've experienced what it means to play in big-time college football and atmosphere. At least he's got a little bit of a feel for it. At the same time managing a game, making great decisions, playing situational football, making decision, taking care of the ball, putting the team in front of yourself, all those things are going to be critical.”
It's also going to be critical for Fields to remain upright and healthy and able to last the season. The jury is out on the Ohio State offensive line, which replaces four starters, but it will be imperative to keep him from putting himself at risk.
“I’m not comfortable with him taking a lot of hits in the course of a game, for sure,” Day said. "I think that those are all things that are going to be really calculated down to the last carry. Like you said, because he has such a great skill set, you can do a lot of things with him. You have to be smart with that.
"I think the type of runs and the type of ways that he runs with the football are different. There’s certain heavy, heavy runs where he’s going to have to go in there and take shots from linebackers. There’s other ones where he’s squirting out to the sideline, stepping out of bounds. There has to be times where he has to learn how to run, too. He has to get down.”
Fields has received the message loud and clear.
“I didn’t get a lot of opportunities at Georgia, but I felt like every time I went in, I was trying to show the coaches what I could do,” Fields told Cleveland.com.
“I just have to be smarter,” Fields said.
Ohio State has weapons at receiver and a solid backfield. Day, who Meyer credited as one of the best quarterbacks coaches in the country, believes he has the real deal in Fields.
“I am very, very excited,” he said.
Defensively, there’s a new scheme at Ohio State with the additions of co-coordinators Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison, most recently the defensive line coach at Michigan. Al Washington, who coached linebackers at Michigan last year, also is on the OSU staff and has been charged with getting more from an experienced group of linebackers that struggled at times last season.
It all starts up front for Ohio State, and it’s a strong defensive line led by Chase Young, ranked No. 2 by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper on his list of 2020 draft prospects. Young is 6-foot-5, 265 pounds and a dangerous edge rusher. He had 10.5 sacks last season.
No preseason discussion of Ohio State — or Michigan, for that matter — can seem to happen without mentioning the other rival. The Buckeyes have had a significant edge on Michigan, including winning the last seven in the rivalry. There is some talk that perhaps Ohio State is vulnerable this year with a new coach and a new quarterback and an offensive line that returns only one starter.
Michigan players were asked that question during Big Ten media days and the general consensus was — it’s still Ohio State no matter who’s coaching and this change doesn’t suddenly mean Michigan has the advantage.
“We're talking about a very, very good program,” Michigan’s Jordan Glasgow said. “Ohio State, they're going to be just as good as ever, it doesn't matter if they lost their starting quarterback, and their head coach, they're still Ohio State and they have a lot of talent, and they're gonna bring their ‘A’ game every time they play, especially when it's against us. And you know, we're going to try our hardest, and we're going to prepare, you know, the same.
“I completely forgot that Urban Meyer left. I feel like that won't affect the level to which Ohio State plays. Their head coach was out the first three games (last season when Meyer was suspended), and people were questioning how they would perform in those first three games, and they performed very well. And that's just a testament to how good their players and their coaches are. If we look at their head coach leaving as an opportunity that they might play worse, then I feel like that could have some consequences.”