COLUMBUS — A couple first times are out of the way for Ohio State and Justin Fields.
First start. First big defensive test. First chance to learn from mistakes and deal with success.
Now the Buckeyes quarterback will make his debut on the road leading the attack. And the trip to Indiana for the Big Ten opener is another key mile-marker in the developmental process while he’s emerging into a Heisman Trophy candidate for a team that looks like a national-title contender early in the year.
“I think the good thing is he’s had some success the first two games,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I think he has some confidence, which is really important for a quarterback, especially going on the road in a conference game, there’s got to be confidence there. He should have confidence.
“When you go on the road, it’s different because you’re not in your normal routine, first off. The noise will be an issue on third down, things like that. You can’t ride the emotional rollercoaster. You have to play each play as it goes.”
Fields has had little issue with that so far, even if Ohio State has made it clear that he’s still got plenty of room to grow with just a couple victories to his credit. With nine quick touchdowns, though, the already sizable expectations for what he could accomplish with the program are soaring even higher.
Like everybody else, Fields still has to back that up each week. And here’s how he and the rest of the Buckeyes are approaching this week ahead of the visit with the Hoosiers based on what Lettermen Row learned from the program’s weekly press conference on Tuesday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Ohio State sweating small stuff with Justin Fields
The competition is inevitably going to get more difficult, and adversity could pop up as early as Saturday on the road against the Hoosiers. So, while everything appears to be going relatively smoothly with a quarterback who is completing 76 percent of his passes, has accounted for 9 touchdowns and hasn’t thrown an interception through two games, Ryan Day and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich are still focusing on the areas where Fields can improve.
The primary concern for the Buckeyes is keeping the sophomore protected from unnecessary hits. And for the second game in a row, Ohio State came away believing the number Fields took was too high — and avoidable.
“I think he picked up kind of from where he left off,” Day said. “Still made some good decisions. I thought he was pretty good in the passing game. Still took a couple hits in there that we didn’t like. Got to learn that way. Couple things in protection as well. Took one bad sack.
“Overall, I thought it was a pretty clean game. It’s the same thing, there’s going to be things that show up. He got away with a couple throws that maybe as the competition increases he won’t. But overall it was solid and we got to keep building on it.”
Healthy Master Teague making his move for Ohio State
Ohio State doesn’t have much interest in splitting the workload at the top of the depth chart for the tailbacks. But after spending almost all of training camp dealing with uncertainty about what to do behind J.K. Dobbins, an early answer is emerging thanks to Master Teague.
The second-year rusher spent most of August on the shelf with an undisclosed injury, which was probably one of the biggest reasons the Buckeyes didn’t have a clear pecking order off the bench in support of Dobbins. But he’s clearly made an impact with 109 yards on 19 carries through two games, and his role could continue to expand.
“He didn’t practice all that much this pre-season, and it was hard for him to get into a rhythm,” Day said. “He has run hard on film the last two weeks. If he can continue to practice the way that he has the last couple weeks, I think he’s going to only improve as he goes on. We’ll feel more comfortable with him handling more snaps in the game.
“It’s clear to see once he gets a momentum going, he can run through contact. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Ohio State still adding to Bullet package on defense
After an offseason full of anticipation, hype and a little mystery, the Bullet position in the revamped defense for Ohio State still hasn’t really had a grand unveiling. There are a number of factors at play there, starting with the styles of offense the Buckeyes have faced, the success of Pete Werner as the strong-side linebacker in what is essentially an interchangeable position — and perhaps simply easing Brendon White into his new spot as a hybrid defender.
But Ohio State still has big plans for both White and the Bullet, which so far have really only been hinted at by the junior’s six tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.
“I think it’s evolving very well,” Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “Brendon had a good week last week during practice, and he did some very good things in the game. A lot of teams we’ve played against have been in 12 personnel with two tight ends, and when teams start spreading out and start getting a little looser, we would like to go with the Bullet position more.
“A lot of it is development. That’s a new position for him. Every rep he gets, the more he plays, it the better we are. It’s been good so far.”
Justin Fields making his voice heard for Buckeyes
The offseason emphasis was on helping a transfer quarterback become the leader Ohio State needed at the most important position on the field. And Justin Fields doesn’t seem to be having any problems accepting that responsibility.
In the middle of just his second start, the sophomore saw wide receiver Binjimen Victor mixing it up with a trash-talking Cincinnati defender and instantly darted out to the perimeter to break up the conversation. Fields helped Victor avoid an unnecessary penalty, and he also made it clear that he’s more than willing to speak up when it’s needed.
“The coaches just emphasized all week that they talk a lot of trash,” Fields said. “There’s no need to talk trash to a team your blowing out, so I just tried to get him away from him and just kind of avoid a flag in that situation.”