ANN ARBOR, Mich. – For a few minutes in the third quarter of Saturday’s game against Michigan and for the second game in a row, Ohio State’s worst-case scenario looked like it could be playing out.
Star quarterback Justin Fields was down on the Michigan Stadium turf and in evident pain after Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson bull-rushed Ohio State tight end Luke Farrell back into Fields’ left knee. Fields immediately grabbed his knee upon going to the ground and stayed on the field for a couple minutes getting attention from Ohio State’s athletic trainers before limping to the sideline and immediately heading into the Buckeyes’ medical tent.
Before Ohio State’s drive was even over and just seven plays later, though, Fields was back on the field. And in his very first play back in the game, Fields proved he was fine by throwing a 30-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson.
Wearing a bulkier knee brace than he had previously in the game, Fields rolled out toward the left sideline, set his feet under pressure and delivered a perfect strike to Wilson just inside the back boundary of the end zone.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day couldn’t have been prouder of Fields for the resiliency he showed in that sequence.
“I thought it was a magical moment. I thought it was a Heisman moment,” Day said after the game, which Ohio State won 56-27. “There was some plays that we designed that played out just the way we thought they would today. That was not one of them. And for him to ad-lib, make a play and then make that throw going to his left, that’s about as good of a throw as I’ve seen in a long time. He put it right in the back of the end zone, and that just goes to show you what’s inside of him. His heart, his character and his competitive toughness is as good as I’ve ever been around.”
Fields revealed after the game that he suffered a sprained MCL in the fourth quarter of last week’s game against Penn State, when he also stayed down on the turf for a couple minutes after taking a sack from Nittany Lions safety Lamont Wade. Fields did not appear to be affected much by the injury on Saturday before that third-quarter hit, which he said re-aggravated the injury, but he said he underwent “a lot of treatment” over the past week in an effort to get healthy for this week’s game.
Upon going to the medical tent, Fields was evaluated by Ohio State’s athletic trainers to ensure that he had not suffered a more serious injury, but he never thought about checking himself out of the game. After taking off the lighter, fabric knee brace he had been wearing earlier in the game and switching to a knee brace resembling one that an offensive lineman would wear, Fields felt ready to go back in.
“Coach Day emphasizes toughness, so I wanted to show the team I was tough, and I just got out there and played the game,” Fields said.
He left no doubt about how tough he was on Saturday, especially in the eyes of Day, who had already praised his quarterback’s toughness on several occasions this season.
“You talk about tough? Wow. I’ve never been around a tougher quarterback than this guy,” Day said. “He’s competitively tough. He’s physically tough. Then to come in and make that play like that? That kind of throw? That was one of the best throws I’ve seen in a long time. In that spot, after taking that hit, after just putting a brace on? I don’t even know what to say.”
Ohio State defensive end Chase Young also praised Fields’ toughness after the game.
“I feel like he’s the best quarterback in the country, and I think he just put on that show today,” Young said. “I love Justin, and he’s definitely leading us right now.
“After he said he was cool, I knew he was going to go back in the game. You wouldn’t have thought that he wasn’t, just ‘cause I know the type of player that he is.”
Fields went on to throw another touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, to Austin Mack from 16 yards out, and finished the day with 302 passing yards – his second career 300-yard game – and four touchdown passes, marking the fifth time he’s hit that mark this season. He also ran the ball six times for 25 yards, though he did not have any more rushing attempts after the third-quarter injury scare.
“I’ve never been around a tougher quarterback than this guy.”– Ryan Day on Justin Fields
That’s the kind of performance Fields needed to keep himself in the race for the Heisman Trophy – which former Ohio State and current LSU quarterback Joe Burrow remains the heavy favorite to win as of now – yet it’s arguable whether he’s even one of the Buckeyes’ top two Heisman candidates.
Young’s chances of winning the award took a hit in Saturday’s game, in which Ohio State’s defense gave up a season-high 396 yards and he did not record any tackles. But he was considered the Buckeyes’ top Heisman candidate after his dominant performance against Penn State last week, and running back J.K. Dobbins made a Heisman statement of his own on Saturday by running for 211 yards and four touchdowns as Ohio State’s offense blasted Michigan for the second year in a row.
Asked after the game who he thought Ohio State’s top Heisman candidate should be, Day said he would let the voters decide that, but was adamant that he felt all of them at least deserve an invitation to the ceremony.
“All three of them played great today. All three of them deserve to be in New York,” Day said. “And I’ll let everybody make the decision on who they think, but Justin Fields, the way he played today was unbelievable; the way that J.K. ran, and how talented and dominant Chase Young is. So all three of them deserve a trip to New York in my opinion.”
Fields said he is honored just to receive that praise from Day and to have his name in the Heisman conversation.
“I give all the credit to God. Without him, I’d be nothing,” Fields said. “So just the hard work, I think the whole team puts in during the week, and I think it just pays off in the weight room, in the training room, off the field, just all that combined just goes into the game.”