COLUMBUS – Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields running the ball was a major part of Ohio State’s game plan in its 28-17 win over Penn on Saturday.
But the loudest cheer for a run by the sophomore quarterback might have come for a run that wasn’t one of the 21 carries for 103 yards that could be found on the stat sheet.
That cheer came when he got up and jogged off the field after appearing to be hurt when he was sacked as he tried to scramble late in the fourth quarter.
It was one of many hits Fields took after Ohio State’s coaches decided they needed his legs to play a bigger role than they had in the Buckeyes’ first 10 games.
Because there is no proven back-up quarterback behind Fields, Ohio State has been very cautious about using him as a runner. Or at least it has appeared that way.
Before Saturday, his career high was 13 rushing attempts against Wisconsin. He had also run the ball 12 times against Florida Atlantic and Nebraska and 11 times in the Michigan State game.
“He ran the ball today. He extended plays on third down. Heart of a lion. I love that kid. He’s tough,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.
Penn State coach James Franklin said, “The biggest differrence in the game was the quarterback’s legs in the running game. We were able to get them in third and long and he’d take off on some runs and also on fourth down conversions, too.”
Day said Fields, who did not do interviews after the game, knew his role as a runner was going to be expanded and embraced it.
“He knew. And he was up for the challenge. Some quarterbacks, they look at you sideways when you have that conversation. He didn’t. He looked back like ‘Whatever it takes, Coach.’ You talk about a tough kid. He is tough.”
Fields lay on the turf on his back for two or three minutes after being hit in the fourth quarter, which silenced the crowd at Ohio Stadium. But when he got up, the crowd became very vocal.
Day said Fields’ injury was not significant. “He’s good. He’s good,” Day said.
Wide receiver K.J. Hill also said Fields should be fine for this Saturday’s game at Michigan, though he added a little jab for his quarterback to his assessment of the injury.
“Justin is all right. He’s just a little bit banged up. It’s Justin. He just wanted to lay on the ground for attention. He’s fine. He’s fine,” Hill said.
YOUNG RETURNS: Defensive end Chase Young had three sacks in his first game back after sitting out two games when the NCAA looked unfavorably upon a loan he received from a family friend last year.
Young now has 16.5 sacks this season, which is an Ohio State record. The previous record was 14 by Vernon Gholston in 2007. His 30.5 career sacks is 5.5 behind career leader Mike Vrabel.
“It was amazing to come back. It was tough but I had the support of my family, team and Buckeye nation,” Young said. “I just made a mistake and put it behind me and kept moving forward.”
HILLIARD INTERCEPTION: Linebacker Justin Hilliard’s first career interception played a role in turning the momentum back toward Ohio State in the fourth quarter.
After OSU had gone ahead 28-17 on a touchdown pass from Fields to Chris Olave, Hillard picked off a pass from Penn State back-up quarterback Will Levis.
Day called the interception “the play of the game.”
BY THE NUMBERS: Ohio State is 19-8 against Penn State since the Nittany Lions began playing in the Big Ten in 1993. It is 12-2 in games played in Ohio Stadium against Penn State since 1993. Ohio State is 7-3 against Penn State when both teams are ranked in the top ten.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau