COLUMBUS, Ohio -- If you were confused to see No. 80 in an Ohio State uniform on the field for the Buckeyes on Saturday, you probably weren't alone. After all, the only thing more limited than Chris Fields' playing time this season has been his production.
Heading into OSU's game on Saturday, the junior wide receiver was yet to record his first catch of the season and had only seen playing time on special teams and in the rare situations in which the Buckeyes' starters needed their understudies to perform backup duty. The action- or lack thereof- for the reserve wideout seemed on-par for Fields' career, where he had amassed just 11 catches, 136 yards, and no receiving touchdowns in two years of action.
But if ever there was a time that the Buckeyes needed the fourth-year junior to step up, it was on Saturday against Purdue.
After occasionally sneaking onto the field when the OSU offense would turn to five-wide receiver sets, Fields found himself with the Buckeyes' first-team when fellow wideout Corey Brown left the game with an apparent head injury in the third quarter. The 6-foot, 197-pound receiver answered the call with a 35-yard reception that set up a two-yard Carlos Hyde touchdown run to give the Buckeyes a 14-13 third quarter lead.
With Purdue answering back a touchdown of its own on the very next drive, the Buckeyes' advantage was a short-lived one. But fortunately for OSU, the best from Fields was still yet to come.
With the Buckeyes trailing by eight points with 47 seconds left in the game, backup quarterback Kenny Guiton led the Buckeyes to the Boilermakers' two-yard line, where they were a mere six feet away from having the chance to send the game into overtime. It was from there that Guiton found his fellow former second-teamer breaking free in the corner of the north end zone.
"I seen the man coverage and I knew my route was very crucial 'cause the safety was so far into the end zone," Fields said. "I knew I needed to hurry up and get out of my break."
As Fields trapped the ball under his body as he fell to the ground, the referee to his left raised both of his arms in the air to signal for the first receiving touchdown of the Painesville, Ohio native's career. But before OSU could attempt a game-tying two-point conversion, the play was reviewed to make sure that the touchdown was just that.
Fields never had any doubt that he caught the ball cleanly, but that didn't stop him from feeling relieved once the call was eventually upheld.
"I knew I caught that ball," Fields said. "I was just nervous that they were going to cheat me."
One Jeff Heuerman two-point conversion and one overtime series later, and the Buckeyes' undefeated record was safe for another wee. But all of those were afterthoughts compared to the late game heroics of the unlikely duo of Fields and Guiton.
"Me and Kenny have been working on our crafts. He's my quarterback in practice down with the twos," Fields said. "I'm very comfortable when he's in the huddle, and I had no doubt he's going to take us to victory."
Making his postgame journey from the sideline to the stadium's south stands for the singing of the school's alma mater, "Carmen, Ohio," Fields look like a kid on Christmas, half-excited, half-overwhelmed. The Harvey high school product's time at Ohio State hadn't always been as exciting as it was on Saturday, having already spent time with three different head coaches and three different position coaches in his four-year career.
"It's been a long journey. My story is real. Going through a bunch of position coaches and head coaches, it's been really hell, man," Fields said, the emotion of Saturday's victory apparent in his voice. "Just a lot of adversity."
With two younger receivers in Devin Smith and Evan Spencer ahead of him on the depth chart, and a third in Michael Thomas beginning to earn significant playing time, the writing appeared to be on the wall that Fields would spend the duration of his college career as a backup if he stayed at OSU. Fields admitted that he considered taking his talents elsewhere, but his decision to remain in has finally paid off.
"I knew there would be a light at the end of the tunnel," Fields said. "I just keep my faith man, keep on working, and keep a positive attitude."
Perhaps nobody in Columbus is happier for Fields' emergence than first-year OSU coach Urban Meyer, who admitted that he was less than impressed with the junior when he first took over the Buckeyes' coaching job. After barely seeing the field in the Buckeyes' first six games of the season, Meyer has seen a change in Fields, which has resulted in his increase in playing time over the past two weeks.
"Chris Fields is a product of, I'd like to say, our program. That means three weeks ago he wouldn't have been on the field. But he just changed his whole dynamics, the way he works, his practice habits and his performance," Meyer said. "You can go out there and work all you want and not make plays. But he's earned that right to be on the field."
Fields is confident his effort against the Boilermakers was just a start of something special in the second half of his college career. Determined not to let his game-tying touchdown catch go down as a five minutes of fame moment, he vowed to continue doing what he's been doing to put him in a position to make plays like the ones he did on Saturday.
"My opportunity doesn't stop here," Fields said. "I'm gonna keep on working."