It wasn’t until 12 days before Ohio State’s season opener that Ryan Day said Justin Fields began playing at a starter level.
Now leading the Big Ten with 13 total touchdowns through three dominant performances that have seen the Buckeyes outscore opponents 138-31, even Day is surprised by the rapid progression of his sophomore quarterback.
“Where he is right now is light-years ahead of where I thought he would be,” Day said.
Compared with the first three starts of the past four Ohio State quarterbacks to start at least 12 career games –– Terrelle Pyror, Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Dwayne Haskins –– Fields’ numbers have been just as good, if not better, than all of them.
Fields has met or exceeded expectations through the first quarter of the season and now sits as the No. 4 favorite to win the Heisman per WestGate SuperBook.
Just five Ohio State quarterbacks have finished in the top 5 in Heisman voting since 1945, with three of them coming in the past seven seasons.
At least statistically, Fields has entered an Ohio State program in the midst of a golden age of quarterback play, with the position’s record book being rewritten in each of the past few seasons.
Fields’ 657 passing yards are behind only Haskins at 890 in 2018 and Barrett at 757 in 2014.
His nine touchdowns through the air are tied with Barrett’s redshirt freshman start, but two less than Haskins’ 11. Add four more scores on the ground though, and Fields’ 13 touchdowns give him the highest total of the five.
Despite losing to Virginia Tech in his second start, Barrett finished No. 5 in Heisman voting, setting the Big Ten total season touchdown record in a 14-1 National Championship-winning season for the Buckeyes.
Haskins finished with the third-most Heisman votes in 2018, setting seven Big Ten and 28 Ohio State records while dropping just one game, raising a Big Ten Championship banner and winning the Rose Bowl.
Of the past five starters, each threw interceptions in their first three starts except Fields. Including his year at Georgia, Fields has now attempted 113 passes in his collegiate career, with 13 touchdowns and no picks. Barrett threw five in his first three games alone.
Fields said the quick start doesn’t surprise him.
“It’s kinda what I expected,” he said. “I knew I came in here with a mindset where I have to do all I can to be the best player I can be.”
Fields’ athleticism and speed have drawn comparisons to Braxton Miller, who out-rushed him by 33 yards through his first three starts with the Buckeyes in 2011. He has already proven himself the more polished passer, however, nearly tripling Miller’s 234-yard, three-touchdown start.
Miller went on to place No. 5 in Heisman voting after his next season.
Pyror rushed for 183 yards and three scores in his opening three starts, besting Fields’ 114 and adding three scores. However, Pryor’s offense threw the ball seven fewer times per game than the Buckeyes’ 2019 offense.
In their first season, and under the coaching of Jim Tressel (Pryor) and Luke Fickell (Miller), the pair operated much more run-heavy offenses compared with the Urban Meyer-led spread schemes helmed by Barrett and Haskins.
Day’s first season has seen the return of under-center formations shunned by Meyer, while incorporating the spread offense that led to the nation’s top passing attack this past season. Fields is now running an offense with a run-to-pass ratio closer to that of Pryor and Miller than Haskins.
“I would say right now we’re probably doing more stuff now overall than we’ve ever done just in terms of variety, and so for him to be able to handle all that is strong,” Day said.
Fields trails only Haskins in accuracy so far, completing 70.3 percent of his throws, while Haskins threw for 72.5.
With a former five-star recruit like Fields entering a program on the heels of the most prolific quarterback play in its 129-year history, one might think Fields’ early success would be a weight off his shoulders.
However, Day said the bar will only be raised.
“[What] he’s going to quickly learn here is that at Ohio State, the more you win, the more the stakes get higher and higher, and the more is expected,” Day said.