When Justin Fields took the field for Ohio State’s Spring Game, it was his first time at Ohio Stadium. The sophomore transfer from Georgia did not seriously consider Ohio State for his collegiate career in high school, never visiting the school during the recruiting process.
Fields’ goal was simple in his first game with the Buckeyes: get into a rhythm, and show what he had learned from head coach Ryan Day’s playbook through the first 14 practices of the spring in front of a crowd of 61,102.
He said heading into the game that he has not learned the entire playbook, but has a good grasp on what he has been taught. But from the moment he took the field, the expectations, the Heisman talk and the national title hopes officially began.
And Fields was nervous.
“I asked him. He was like, ‘Nah,’” redshirt senior wide receiver K.J. Hill said. “I know he was though.”
At the start, Fields struggled, finishing the first quarter missing his first two pass attempts and taking a sack. By the time he took the field for the third drive in the second quarter, he had completed 3-of-8 pass attempts for 33 yards.
That particular drive did not set Fields up for success either, pinning him at the 2-yard line after redshirt junior safety Jahsen Wint brought down redshirt freshman quarterback Matthew Baldwin’s second interception of the day.
After two incomplete passes to junior running back J.K. Dobbins and redshirt senior K.J. Hill, Fields’ time came.
He took the snap, took three steps back, planted his right foot and heaved the football from the end zone. The ball sailed about 40 yards and into the hands of senior wide receiver Binjimen Victor, who ran the rest of the way for the 98-yard score.
“It felt pretty good,” Fields said. “You know Ben, he’s a great receiver, so I just had to lay it out there for him so he can go get it.”
It was a pass Ohio State football spokesman Jerry Emig jokingly called a “Spring Game record.” After the game, when asked about the play, Fields smirked and called it a career high.
But the pass is more than just a highlight. It’s a peek into what the future could be like with Fields at the helm. Once the rhythm comes, it’s the electric offense Fields expects when he runs it.
Fields said he views himself as a perfectionist. By the time he left Ohio Stadium for the first time, he was far from perfect, missing his next two attempts after the Victor catch.
As a starting place, Fields is encouraged by his performance.
“I definitely just see us scratching the surface,” Fields said. “I definitely can see us having a bright future.”
The 98-yard pass was the first step. Fields said, with his Spring Game performance as his base, that his relationship with the Ohio State wide receivers will continue to improve. He said he will begin to feel more comfortable with the routes they run, developing a rapport.
Fields said he has been working with Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline in defining each of his wide receivers’ “landmarks”: when and where he throws the ball on a particular route.
But both sides know the base of the wide receiver and quarterback relationship: communication. And it’s something that Hill has already begun to plan for the quarterback and his receivers to get on the same page.
“With the coaches gone, it’s just going to be us,” Hill said. “We got a group message, what time we throwin’, we do what we do. It’s a big part of it.”
In the summer, Fields plans to learn the entirety of the playbook, repeating plays over and over until he understands them.
And with that, those Heisman and national title expectations are something Fields feels he can match.
“After those reps and after I get a good idea of the offense, I think we will be explosive this year,” Fields said.
Fields has already broken an unofficial record at the Ohio State Spring Game. If he learns the offense the way he expects to, building off the 98-yard pass to Victor, he expects that “record” to be one of many.