3/3 (2 TD)
8/9 (2 TD)
8/11 (2 TD)
29/34 (4 TD)
Outside the Pocket: 6/7
Under Pressure: 5/5
Red Zone: 5/7 (2 TD)
3rd/4th Down: 8/9 (8 conversions, 2 TD)
Forced Adjustments: 2
Explosive Plays (25+ yards and/or touchdown): 5
The Ohio State Buckeyes could not have gotten off to a stronger start. Many expected them to be one of the best, if not the best, teams in the country this season, even with all the uncertainty levied upon the Big Ten with respect to their altered/delayed season. Star quarterback Justin Fields has looked as unstoppable as anyone could have expected, though, and looks to be ready to lead Ohio State back to the promised land.
Against the Nittany Lions, Fields was tossing near-automatic completions. On 34 pass attempts, only five of them were marked as inaccurate, and one of them was still technically catchable. Granted, some of that has to do with how often Fields targeted the short areas of the field. Just over 40% of his pass attempts were thrown within five yards of the line of scrimmage, about half of which were thrown off of play-action or run-pass option concepts. Fields also threw 15 passes off play-action or RPOs in general, so he had quite a few “gimme” plays. The Ohio State offense certainly made a portion of the game plan exceptionally easy for Fields.
However, it is not like Fields was doing nothing on his own or struggling to connect when Ohio State did choose to attack down the field. Fields was plenty good when asked to be a real quarterback, both in terms of reading the defense and making tougher throws beyond 10 yards. Ohio State’s dominance is in large part because they can so effortlessly ebb and flow between setting up Fields for success and having Fields take over himself.
Take one of Fields’ early touchdowns, for instance. Penn State ended up sending their strong linebacker, but even before that, Fields should know the strong side is the move here. Penn State are playing 4-over-3 to the strong side with their nickel splitting the difference between the #2 and #3. That should mean the nickel is going to play inside of the #2, while the safety widens to help play outside, leaving the linebacker with the #3. Well, the linebacker blitzes, leaving the nickel to deal with a vertical stem from both #2 and #3 receivers while the safety bails wide. Sharp pitch-and-catch from Fields to “replace” the blitzing player with the ball for a touchdown.
Though nothing spectacular, it is important for a quarterback to show they can handle replacing blitzes from empty formations like this. In the NFL, defenses get even better about sending creative pressures to mess with the five-man protections and Fields will be put up to the test once he gets there. For now, though, he has at least shown there is a solid baseline to work with.
More spectacular, on the other hand, was Fields’ display of arm talent down the field. He does not quite have the outrageous arm talent that the “Baby Cam” comparisons suggests, but he has the juice to throw all over an NFL field.
Here is one of Fields’ two best throws of the day. Sure, Fields was provided plenty of time in the pocket to make this work, but he still delivered a perfect ball almost 50 yards from where he let it go — from the opposite hash, no less. What catches the eye most about this throw is how much arc Fields gets under the ball, allowing it to sort of nosedive at the end right into the receiver’s hands. Fields isn’t quite Russell Wilson, but throwing a deep ball with this combination of power and arc is very Wilson-esque.
Not long after, Fields delivered another outstanding throw down the field, this time on a corner route. Fields was pressured from behind while trying to get the ball out, but the pressure and contact did not faze him.
Ohio State is running a “Double China-7” concept here. The two outside receivers run five yards and in, while the slot receiver runs a deep corner route. The idea is to remove any defender potentially playing underneath the deep corner route while putting that deep corner receiver 1-on-1 with a nickel or a deep-half safety. As seen in the second half of the clip, the corner receiver gets singled up on the nickel because Penn State is in a one-high shell. Fields recognizes the coverage situation and slides to the left to buy himself just enough time to uncork a beautiful ball about 25 yards down the field. This play — the concept, the slide, the throw — is about as NFL as it gets.
Fields was also fantastic in situational football. Third/fourth down, red zone, under pressure, whatever — anything outside of "normal" football situations still looked terribly easy for him. He was unfazed. The kind of near-perfect production he put up in all those areas is not likely to hold over the course of the season, but he should still be plenty effective there.
It is not a new or interesting take to say Fields is on pace to become the second-overall pick next spring. It was true heading into the year and it is true now. Still, there is value in seeing a player be all we hoped them to be, and Fields has done just that so far.