Entering his first collegiate start, everyone wanted to know how quickly Justin Fields could make a play that showcased his heralded potential.
By the time the clock hit 6:50 in the first quarter, the sophomore quarterback had already done so on four occasions; with three 25-plus yard touchdowns through the air and an unscathed 51-yard run to the end zone on his fourth snap.
Though the 28-0 start effectively ended the game before it began for Florida Atlantic, Fields sputtered thereafter, failing to score for the next seven possessions during a spotty performance inflated by the early barrage.
“Justin is a guy who hasn’t played a lot, so the more snaps he can play— I think he played 74 snaps — he needs them all,” head coach Ryan Day said. “Wish it was 174, but at the same time we have to be smart and take care of him.”
Fields finished 18-for-25 with 234 yards and four touchdowns through the air, but excluding the first quarter, he was 11-for-16 with 119 yards and a single score. While still efficient, it’s a statline that reflects an offensive pace that quickly turned from powderkeg to molasses.
In the second quarter Fields completed 42.8 percent of his passes, took two sacks, and turned the ball over on a backwards bubble pass bobbled by freshman wide receiver Garrett Wilson.
On a second quarter scramble, Fields took a four-yard sack instead of throwing it out-of-bounds, which was a decision Day noted in the post-game press conference.
It took until 2:37 remaining in the third quarter for Fields to return to the end zone, with a three-yard toss to sophomore tight end Jeremy Ruckert –– his second scoring grab of the day.
The dry spell for Fields and the Ohio State offense spanned more than 35 minutes of game time.
While all three of Fields’ early touchdown passes saw him stand in the pocket, the increased pressure from the FAU rush led to several broken plays that yielded mixed results from Fields.
Senior wide receiver Binjimen Victor, the benefactor of Fields’ 97-yard touchdown pass in the 2019 Spring Game, hooked up with his first-year quarterback again with a 32-yard grab in the end zone six minutes into the game.
Under pressure in the third quarter, however, a scrambling Fields missed a wide open Victor streaking down the middle of the field on third-and-13, opting instead for a five-yard scamper and another scoreless possession.
By that point though, Fields’ legs had already put the game out of reach, and led to some of the day’s most exciting plays.
A fake handoff to junior running back J.K. Dobbins out of the shotgun on Ohio State’s opening drive freed Fields for the game’s biggest play, a 51-yard stroll to the end zone where the nearest FAU defender could only dive at his heels into the turf.
Fields finished with 61 yards on 12 carries, but his early work out of the pocket remained the most positive sign for a quarterback whose throwing abilities are often referenced secondary to his feet.
Ruckert caught his first touchdown on a 26-yarder from Fields on just his second pass, and a 29-yard scoring toss to sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave put the cap on Ohio State’s 28-straight run in the opening quarter.
Lining up opposite an FAU defense that ranked No. 92 out of 130 teams in the nation in scoring defense in 2018, Fields’ first quarter touchdowns appeared more effortless than hard fought.
“Those were definitely surprising,” Fields said. “When I see him wide open I just make sure there’s nobody else around him because it just doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to be that wide open.”
A five total touchdown, near 300-yard performance in a 24-point first week blowout sounds good on paper, but the elongated mid-game lull offensively was enough for Fields and Day to stop short of describing the outing as excellent.
“All aspects of the game, of my game, can get better and improve,” Fields said. “I’m just going to get back in the film room and see what mistakes we had and just fix those and get ready for Cincinnati.”