After three three-and-outs and three points in four drives for the Ohio State offense, sophomore quarterback Justin Fields broke out his worst-kept secret weapon — his legs.
The Georgia transfer picked up 61 yards and a touchdown on the ground and extended a handful of crucial passing plays to open up the Buckeye offense in its 34-10 win over Michigan State Saturday.
“Those were big yards,” head coach Ryan Day said. “The impact he can have is huge, as you can see. That kept us going when it was tough sledding in there.”
After Ohio State gained 16 yards in the opening quarter, with zero on the ground and Fields contributing negative yardage to that total, it wasn’t a rushing play that brought his rushing ability to the table.
Fields faked a handoff and rolled right on what looked to be a read option keeper, but instead flicked the ball downfield to wide-open junior wide receiver Binjimen Victor after sucking in a few Spartan defensive backs with eyes in the backfield.
Victor polished off a 60-yard score to extend Ohio State’s lead to 10-0.
“We knew they were gonna be biting on the run,” redshirt senior wide receiver K.J. Hill said. “So we got [Victor] to spring free.”
There were more obvious examples of Fields’ legs getting worked into the offense.
During the following drive, Fields scrambled for a gain of 35 yards to convert on third down and picked up 13 more on a designed run, which was called back for a downfield holding.
It set up a first-and-7 touchdown pass to redshirt junior tight end Luke Farrell the following play, however.
Fields converted two more first downs and a touchdown directly with his feet in the second half.
While he wants to keep his star quarterback healthy, Day knows designed runs for an athlete of Fields’ caliber are integral to his offense’s success, and said he thinks about that delicate balance “every second of the night.”
“That’s constant,” Day said. “We called some when we needed them.”
Fields said he doesn’t think about whether he needs to scramble, or whether the coaches need to design a run for him in a given situation. He said he has to just play the game.
“When you’re out there, you’re not really thinking about running a lot,” Fields said. “I’m just doing what I have to do to help the team win.”
Another often-discussed element of a mobile quarterback is the ability to extend plays and find open receivers. Fields used this ability to pick up a few first downs Saturday, including a 22-yard third-down completion to redshirt senior wide receiver K.J. Hill, where he escaped the pocket before firing the ball downfield.
The X-factor of Fields’ running ability could be important when Ohio State take on No. 8 Wisconsin after next week’s bye and a road trip to Northwestern. Entering this past weekend, the Badgers ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense and averaged three sacks per game.