Ohio State sophomore quarterback Justin Fields has done a number of good things for the Buckeyes this season. So far he has accounted for 37 touchdowns on the season, has thrown only one interception, and is helping lead Ohio State to a Big Ten-best 535.9 yards of total offense per game.
The numbers and statistics are one thing, but what is allowing him to be this successful is Fields’ ability to put his ego to the side and focus on doing what is best for the team.
With prototypical quarterback size and arm strength, but also with atypical speed and athleticism, some guys might not have the patience or demeanor to stick with the plan. Fields, however, possesses every trait a coach could want in a quarterback, but none more important than a team-first attitude.
“He’s done a great job of staying within our schemes, staying within the system, and staying within himself,” passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich said. “I think what’s interesting is when you’re as talented as he is, when you have the arm strength and you have the physical abilities that he has, it would be really easy for the ego to get involved and to in a certain situation feel that you can make that play.”
For a player to transfer into a program and have to immediately come in and make an impact — especially as a player with an eye toward the NFL, Fields could have set out to achieve his personal goals and make his time in Columbus about himself. Instead, seemingly every decision and every throw has been about what is best for this team — his team.
“He understands that it’s about the team,” Yurcich said. “He’s putting the team first. So there’s a time to throw the ball away, there’s a time to stay within yourself and within the system and take care of the ball. Those are the important things and his growth and his ability to be unselfish is to me what has given him so much success right now.
“Because if you’re that talented man you see that small window and think you can get it in there. ‘Somebody’s covered… not really… I can do it.’ So, his ability to understand those situations and to manage it is what has given him the amount of success that he’s had.”
As the lone quarterback holdover from last year for the Buckeyes, graduate senior Chris Chugunov has seen first hand both Justin Fields’ skill set and his decision making.
“He just makes really smart decisions, you know he for being so young,” Chugunov said. “He doesn’t force the ball, which is huge for someone his age. He’s really confident in his athletic ability. So he could hold on to the ball and he doesn’t feel like he has to force it into small windows, which, I don’t think he’s turned the ball over much at all this season, which is huge. And it’s in our plan to win. So I mean, he’s just a smart young player and he’s a freak.”
Head coach Ryan Day said after the first few games of the season that some of his favorite plays were when Fields made the decision to throw the ball away. Fields prides himself on being able to improve his decision-making, but this wasn’t always something he focused on.
As a player who could essentially do whatever he wanted in high school, learning the discipline needed at the quarterback position was a late lesson for him. And now, for the first time in his career, Fields has placed plenty of emphasis on his ability to throw the ball away.
Making the smart play, as opposed to the bigger play, has now become a focus for Fields.
“At Georgia last year I was just trying to make a play every time, each and every time I was out on the field,” he said. “High school was pretty much easy, I mean for me it was. I was pretty much the biggest guy on the field so I could pretty much make a play on every play. But I would say throwing the ball away was something I focused on this year and I’m just trying to improve on that and get better at that.”