Sam Crnic analyzes New York Jets’ possible target Justin Fields‘ terrific performance against Clemson in the CFP semifinal.
Defined by extreme highs and lows, the 2020 college football season was undoubtedly a roller-coaster ride for Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. Starting his junior campaign with the same amount of touchdowns as incompletions (11) in the first three games, Fields led as the Heisman frontrunner in front of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
This glimpse of greatness did not last very long.
Fields struggled mightily against two ranked opponents in Indiana and Northwestern, with two touchdowns and a concerning five interceptions, over the course of the next month. The once-terrific image of being a Heisman-favorite had suddenly turned to not even being the best QB in his class not named Trevor in the eyes of scouts.
There was work to be done and a statement to be made leading up to the College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson. Falling short to Clemson in the semifinal only a year ago, Fields and Ohio State were on a vengeful mission that would become the most important game in recent program history.
Today, following Ohio State’s disappointing loss to Alabama, we will take a look back at Fields’ masterful performance against Clemson that quickly became the most impressive game of his football career. We will be using All-22 angles to dive deeper into the game than what you see on the broadcast.
Did Fields regain QB2 spot?
Ohio State vs. Clemson Game Recap
In stunning fashion, the Ohio State Buckeyes upset and ran up the score on the heavily-favored Clemson Tigers in a 49-28 beatdown. Justin Fields went 22-for-28 for 385-yards passing with six touchdowns and one interception. Just how he began the season, Fields recorded as many touchdowns as incompletions (six) in the passing game. Fields also ran eight times for a total of 42 yards.
There was adversity despite the eventual outcome. Justin was the victim of a targeting call in the second quarter, taking a helmet to his exposed rib cage. Only missing one play, Fields immediately targeted a wide receiver in the end zone, never losing a step while dealing with pain.
His 385 yards and six touchdowns through the air represented a season-high, along with a passing efficiency rating of 257.6. Never taking the foot off the pedal, this performance almost felt personal for Fields. Justin capitalized to the fullest extent on losing only a year before a last-minute interception in the end zone.
The All-22 was loaded with reasons to take Fields at the No. 2 pick. Despite this, there were a couple of concerns worth mentioning as well.
I don’t know who started the rumor that Fields’ doesn’t have ideal arm strength. Frankly, I don’t care. The arm talent has always been there throughout his career and only continued to display itself in front of the national stage.
On this play, Fields’ combines eye manipulation and tremendous arm strength to deliver a 60-yard strike for a touchdown.
I was questioning Fields’ ability to maneuver in the pocket and keep his eyes up with a nearby friend right before this throw. I didn’t say too much after that! Off the snap, you see Fields survey the boundary side route combination, which appears to just be a flat-route by the tight end and poorly-ran go-route by the perimeter wide receiver. By initially placing his eyes to this area, both two-high safeties turn their hips towards the boundary side, disregarding the other side of the field.
The other side of the field happened to contain a post route against an outside leveraged cornerback. Once the WR breaks inside in regard to the post, the field side safety is supposed to help. As mentioned before, the safety disregards this by watching Fields’ eyes and is completely caught off-guard when Fields quickly jerks his head to the middle field to quickly pull the trigger on the deep post. Fields doesn’t even have a good base when launching this 60-yard throw.
Not only does Fields do a terrific job of looking-off both safeties, but he maneuvers interior pressure in the pocket while keeping his eyes upfield and active. This is the most impressive play you’ll see from this game.
Without needing to look-off any safety, Fields reads the outside leverage and launches a 50-yard touchdown pass to yet another deep post route.
Compared to the last clip, this touchdown came much easier to Fields. Upon the snap, the play-action pushes the second level defenders inwards, setting up a wide-open man down the boundary-side numbers if the post route wasn’t so open on the other side. With the post being his first read, Fields reads the outside leverage based on the cornerback’s positioning and hip alignment, knowing his WR will have separation once breaking inside.
Taking full advantage of this, Fields launches a 50-yard strike immediately following the WR’s break, giving him the chance to outrun his own defender and also not allowing the deep safety to intervene. Knowing the single-high safety is attempting to regain depth on the post-route, Fields leads the WR with a pass that forces the route to become a skinny post if anything. This puts the single-high safety out of recovering distance and lets his WR beat his defender to the ball with pure speed.
So much for criticizing his arm strength.
More of a compliment to his overall arm strength than anything, Fields showcased some zip on the ball on multiple occasions.
Either not reading the zone coverage correctly or having confidence in his ability to fit the ball through the defender, Fields puts enough speed on the ball to hit the crossing tight end before a Clemson defender could undercut it:
Thanks for this. Ive been a Fields guy all year, and i think the silly hype at the combines will raise his stock more than anyones. But for a change, it will balance out the negativity against him for a few subpar games.
If the Jets take him, do you think they should sit him a year, and play Sam to hopefully boost his trade value? Or just let him loose, simplify his options and ask him to make plays with his feet while he adjusts to NFL speed?
I think the Jets would be wise to sign a veteran QB in free agency and let Fields/Wilson play behind him for the first half of the 2021 season. I wouldn’t want to keep Darnold around because the Jets can flip him for draft picks; whether that be a 2nd rounder, 3rd, or a couple of Day 3 picks.
If you keep him, you run the risk of Sam being outplayed by the rookie, thus significantly lowering his trade value. In addition, after the 2021 season, Darnold will need a new contract when the Jets don’t pick up on his 5th year option (~$25 million). It’s better for both parties to just part ways this year in my opinion.
I hadn’t thought about the 5th year option.