Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields threw as many interceptions on Saturday as he did in all of 2019. And the Buckeyes still won.
Fields threw three interceptions against No. 9 Indiana. But the Hoosiers were largely unable to capitalize on those turnovers and committed three of their own in the Buckeyes’ 42-35 win.
There were two second-half instances that perfectly summed up Indiana’s day. The Hoosiers pulled within 14 points with 5:14 to go in the third quarter and immediately forced Ohio State to punt. Could Indiana pull within a score then?
No. Star Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade picked off Michael Penix Jr. and ran the interception back 36 yards for a TD and a 21-point lead.
Fields threw his third interception of the game two drives before Indiana cut the lead to 35-21. Fields heaved a ball deep across the middle as he was getting taken down and the pass was picked off by Jamar Johnson. He returned it inside the Ohio State 20.
But then he fumbled on the return. The fumble was recovered by Ohio State and the Buckeyes got the ball right back.
Indiana did get within a touchdown with 10:26 to go after Ty Fryfogle caught his third touchdown of the day. But the Hoosiers never got close to the end zone after that despite Ohio State gifting them a chance for an unexpected tying possession with fewer than five minutes to go.
Ryan Day’s curious fourth-down call
Ohio State had a chance to go up two possessions with 4:39 to go. But instead of kicking a field goal for a 10-point lead on fourth-and-1 at the Indiana 7, Ohio State chose to go for it instead of having freshman backup kicker Jake Seibert attempt a short field goal.
Instead of running it up the middle or trying to overpower Indiana’s defense, Ohio State went with some misdirection and Fields threw an incomplete pass as Indiana’s defenders closed in.
The decision didn’t backfire after Ohio State immediately forced Indiana to punt. And Ohio State made the decision knowing that Seibert missed a field goal earlier in the game.
But a 10-point lead would have been a gut punch to Indiana’s hopes of stealing the upset.
The Hoosiers did get a chance for a late TD with 38 seconds left but never got past midfield.
Justin Fields’ bad day
Fields entered Saturday’s game with as many passing touchdowns (11) as incompletions through the first three games of the season.
None of those incompletions had been an interception, either. Fields threw just three interceptions in all of 2019. And two of those picks came in the Buckeyes’ playoff loss to Clemson.
Fields’ first pick of the day came on Ohio State’s second drive when he threw an errant pass deep across the middle that went into Johnson’s arms. The second came later in the first half as Fields wildly threw a pass up for grabs that was tipped around and eventually intercepted by Jerome Johnson.
Fields finished the game 18-of-30 passing for 300 yards and three total touchdowns. It’s a performance that obviously won’t do him much good in the Heisman race, especially as Florida QB Kyle Trask keeps putting up gaudy statistics.
Master Teague’s big day
While Fields didn’t have a day that matched his lofty standards, Master Teague had the biggest day of his career. The sophomore had a career-high 168 yards and scored two touchdowns as Indiana had a hard time stopping the run. Teague now has six rushing touchdowns through four games and has rushed for over 100 yards twice so far this season.
The biggest test of the season for Ohio State?
Indiana was far and away the best team remaining on Ohio State’s schedule. The Buckeyes have games against Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan left before a very likely appearance in the Big Ten title game. Those teams had a combined record of 3-9 entering Saturday.
Indiana was pesky throughout the game. Ohio State couldn’t put the Hoosiers away until the end. But the Buckeyes weren’t under any real pressure for most of the game despite Fields having one of the worst games of his career.
That’s a great sign for Ohio State’s status near the top of Tuesday’s first set of College Football Playoff rankings. The Buckeyes are clearly the best team in the Big Ten East and probably the best team in the conference too. While the schedule is pretty weak until a potential meeting with an undefeated Wisconsin in the conference title game, there’s no reason to think the Buckeyes aren’t one of the top four teams in the country.
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