COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Justin Fields has not had the season anyone expected, including himself.
Fields was a Heisman favorite entering the season, but his hopes of winning college football’s most prestigious award were dashed due to OSU’s lack of games and moments of underperformance on Fields’ part.
The quarterback only got to play six games this season, but it was enough to put the Buckeyes back in the College Football Playoff and give OSU the rematch against Clemson it has wanted since losing 29-23 in the Fiesta Bowl semifinal in 2019.
At times this season, Fields has looked like he can’t throw an incompletion let alone an interception.
Fields went 20-for-21 against Nebraska, 24-for-28 against Rutgers and 28-for-34 against Penn State with zero interceptions. Fields’ 72% accurate pass rate on throws beyond the line of scrimmage is nearly 7% better than any other FBS QB this season. Plus, he has the highest accurate pass percentage (60%) on throws of 5 yards or more during the last two seasons, per Pro Football Focus. All of those are reasons he’ll go in the top 10 in the upcoming NFL draft.
But at times, he’s put too much pressure on himself trying to force a throw, resulting in five interceptions combined against Indiana and Northwestern.
“For this game I’ve been preparing my butt off,” Fields said. “I haven’t prepared like this the whole season. You know maybe I played the way I did because God was just trying to tell me for this game you need to lock in for this game.”
Fields pressure to perform is heightened because of his Clemson QB counterpart Trevor Lawrence. The pair from the Peach State played high school football less than 20 miles apart, and Lawrence was always ranked No. 1 ahead of Fields.
Lawrence was the first of the two to start in college, first to win a conference title, first to win a national championship and is expected to be the first player taken in the NFL draft. But Fields has a chance Friday to make this the last college game Lawrence ever plays.
“We just have to take advantage of this opportunity that we have and make the most out of it,” Fields said.
Fields may be asked to run the ball more than he has all season, which hasn’t been much. Fields has executed 18 quarterback-designed runs. Part of the reason for a lack of QB runs has been a lack of necessity. Ohio State’s rushing game leads the country in yards per game for teams in Power 5 conferences, and OSU hasn’t needed Fields to run to make them a dangerous running team.
Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson will likely draw up zone-read keeps, especially in the red zone, to challenge the Tigers, who rank fifth in the country in yards allowed per carry (2.79).
But the most important thing the Buckeyes need from Fields is to not force throws like these two against the Hoosiers and Wildcats.
Ohio State’s defense bailed Fields out several times this season when he committed a turnover, but it might not be so fortunate against Clemson’s high-powered offense.
Long story short— turnovers, especially on the part of Fields, could turn what’s expected to be one of the best games of the season into a rout in Clemson’s favor.