BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — As he sat down and prepared for his press conference Saturday afternoon, Justin Fields didn’t look like a quarterback who just led Ohio State to a 51-10 win over a Big Ten opponent.
Maybe he was worn out from the unexpected Indiana heat. Maybe he had just come down from the high of competition.
But after completing 14 of 24 passing attempts for 199 yards, Fields just didn’t look happy. When he spoke following his third-straight victory as the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes, the reasons for his sour mood quickly became obvious.
Fields expects himself to be perfect. On Saturday at Indiana, he wasn’t.
“I definitely didn’t play up to my potential,” Fields, who has now accounted for 13 total touchdowns this season, said postgame. “I missed way too many throws out there. I just have to work on that and keep getting better.”
It’s a fair self-assessment from a quarterback who was pretty close to perfect a week ago in Ohio State’s 42-0 win over Cincinnati. For whatever reason, Fields wasn’t clicking on the same level against the Hoosiers. He knew it. The throng of Buckeyes fans who made the trip to Bloomington knew it — and Ryan Day knew it too.
“I thought we missed some deep balls,” Day said. “I thought we had some guys open, and Justin knows he left some yards on the field.”
Yes, there were a pair of passes on the Buckeyes opening drive that saw open receivers being overthrown. There were missed balls to Chris Olave, twice, and there were deep shots the sophomore just didn’t hit. A wide-open touchdown that was intended for Austin Mack he missed. A few times Olave and others made spectacular catches to keep drives going. It just wasn’t crisp.
Ryan Day isn’t going to nitpick too much after a 41-point win, but he’s also not going to gloss over what was obvious. The Buckeyes also aren’t going to lament a big win on the road in the Big Ten because Fields did a lot of things well on Saturday as well.
He once again avoided turning the football over. There was a beautifully thrown, in-rhythm pass to K.J. Hill on a crossing route that had been absent in the first two weeks of the season. There was a picture-perfect deep ball to Olave for a score early in the second quarter and there was the dart Fields threw to J.K. Dobbins in the third quarter for a touchdown, a pass to the running back who had previously dropped a wide-open pass. Oh yeah, the quarterback found the endzone on the next play after that drop with his legs. He did plenty of things well against Indiana.
One of the best barometers for maturity, especially from a quarterback, is the ability to win even when not at his best. Another one of those barometers is the willingness to accept coaching and try to sort out the reasons a passer wasn’t as sharp as he could’ve been.
Fields did both of those things at Indiana on Saturday. And the Buckeyes will be a better team for it.
“I just have to get my feet set. I was moving around in the pocket, and if I can get my feet set before I throw the ball, that will make me more accurate,” Fields said of his struggles. “I think [Saturday] I was just a little off, and I’m not sure why. The first two games, I was setting my feet well and I was throwing the ball pretty accurately. Today, I struggled a little bit with that, but I’m actually glad that happened.
“It’s a learning opportunity, so I’m glad it happened so I can work on that and focus on it in practice.”
For Justin Fields and Ohio State, there are still things to work on, and that’s good news for the Buckeyes after three weeks. It may be a problem for the rest of the Big Ten down the road.