Ohio State returns to action as heavy favorite against Maryland

COLUMBUS — Four seasons, four quarterbacks.

Ohio State has been blessed throughout its storied football history to have had some of the best signalcallers in college football’s 150-year history call its locker room home.

The last decade, especially, has been kind to Buckeye offenses as record books have been re-written time and again with the performances of a handful of Heisman Trophy candidates.

During the last few years, J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones, Dwayne Haskins and, now, Justin Fields, have kept the Buckeyes’ offense purring like a fine-oiled machine. And when Ohio State takes the field Saturday against Maryland, it will do so comfortably perched atop the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time.

No No. 1 football team is without a great quarterback. And Ohio State has found another gem in Fields, who transferred to Columbus from Georgia and has quickly made a name or himself in, not just the Big Ten, but the nation.

“I think you’re finding out as the season progresses just how tough he is and you face tougher opponents,” said Mike Yurcich, Ohio State’s passing game coordinator and quarterback coach at this week’s weekly presser inside “The Woody.” “The Wisconsin game, obviously, he showed a lot of grit, a lot of toughness, he took some hits … I think his toughness has shown throughout the week and as the season progresses.”

And things will get tougher. But not necessarily this week with Maryland coming in for a noon kickoff.

Following a trip to lowly Rutgers next week, the Buckeyes return home to battle current No. 4 and unbeaten Penn State in what’s been set as a noon kickoff. Then, there’s the trip “up north” the next week followed by a possible trip to Indianapolis for a Big Ten championship game.

Yurcich said there’s always room for improvement with both, the personnel, and the players.

“I think we both can get better,” he said. “I can become a better quarterback coach and he can become a better quarterback within the system. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement.

“You watch practice tapes, you see mistakes that shouldn’t be made, you know there’s room for improvement.”

Fields has accounted for 33 touchdowns thus far, including 24 through the air. The total is second-best in the nation and helping guide an Ohio State offense that’s third in points per game nationally and first on third downs.

“I’m not really surprised by the numbers I’m putting up,” Fields said Tuesday, “but I also feel like there’s room for me to grow.

“Coach Day was telling JK (Dobbins) and me, this offense hasn’t really hit, or even came close, to our potential. We’re just going to try to continue to grow each and every week and just try to get better as an offense. I feel like I could be putting bigger numbers up, but it doesn’t really matter what the numbers are or what the numbers say as long as we get the W each and every week, that’s all I really care about.”

True on nearly 69 percent of his passes, Fields has thrown for 1,659 yards and 24 TDs, with just one pick.

As the season has matured, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has come to appreciate Fields’ ruggedness.

“I think the Nebraska game was one,” he said. “He took a shot where a guy launched right into his chest, even into his head. Next play, he threw a fade to Garrett (Wilson) for a touchdown.”

Fields said he’s learned a bit about toughness by watching his peers on the defensive side of the ball.

“Having the defense there helps the whole team a lot, just giving the opposing offense three and outs, that definitely helps the offense with field position, and getting the momentum going our way,” he said. “Having the defense doing what they’re doing on the field right now definitely helps the offense out a lot in terms of scoring and keeping the momentum going on our side of the ball.”