Ohio State's Superiority Makes Rutgers Its Backups Time to Shine
There's a time and a place where Ohio State will not object to backup quarterback Chris Chugunov getting more snaps than starter Justin Fields.
That time is Saturday and that place is Piscataway, N.J., where No. 2 OSU (9-0) will play hapless Rutgers (2-7) at 3:30 p.m.
If it's any time or any place beyond that, the reality of it will land far less comfortably than the expectation of it sits this week.
Chugunov's likely turn in the spotlight this week traces fully to Rutgers' ineptitude than it does any failure in Fields, the sophomore transfer from Georgia who has been spectacular throughout the season.
Fields has run when the Buckeyes need it, loosening opposing defenses with his scrambling and Zone Read skills to the tune of 10 rushing touchdowns, including at least one in eight of nine games.
He has thrown better and more efficiently than anyone anticipated but himself. That includes OSU coach Ryan Day, who clearly had high expectations for Fields or he wouldn't have sought him via the Transfer Portal, but wasn't counting on 27 touchdown passes against only one interception.
Fields and the Buckeyes' dominance, winning every game by 24 points or more, has allowed Chugunov considerable mop-up time, and that's why between 60 and 75 of his relatives and friends are attempting to acquire tickets for the Rutgers game in his home state of New Jersey.
"I'm excited to have them there to see me play,' said Chugunov, who has played in every game, completing 20-of-27 passes for 214 yards and four touchdowns. "The number keeps growing. We'll see."
OSU has been careful with Fields since he took a hard hit scoring on the goal line in its Oct. 26 win over Wisconsin.
He carried only five times in a 73-14 annihilation of Maryland and might not even get that many attempts against Rutgers, which could be the worst Power 5 team in the nation, having lost 18 straight Big Ten games and 20 in a row to Power 5 opponents.
An injury to Fields at this point in the season would be highly problematic, given No. 9 Penn State's arrival next week and a trip to No. 14 Michigan and the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis after that.
Chugunov never figured to be the Buckeyes' safety net at QB when he transferred into the program in August of 2018 after graduating from West Virginia.
OSU's quarterback room included Dwayne Haskins, Tate Martell and Matthew Baldwin, all highly-sought recruits with designs on starting some day.
Haskins' turn came first, and he played so well last year a departure for the first round of the NFL Draft followed.
Martell and Baldwin left OSU for Miami and TCU, respectively, after Fields transferred in January.
That sent Chugonov soaring from fourth on the depth chart, an insurance policy for the insurance policy, to second.
If he's forced to start down the road, it won't be a new experience. Chugonov started for an injured Will Grier at WVU twice in 2017, completing 43-of-90 attempts for 536 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
He would have remained at West Virginia, but Grier decided to return for his senior year in 2018 and that prompted Chugunov's transfer.
"I just came here and planned on doing whatever I could here for Ohio State," Chugunov said. "Things shook out the way they did. I'm just grateful for every opportunity I have to play."
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