Justin Fields saw no reason to obfuscate the truth.
Sure, he said on Tuesday, his left knee “hurts right now” after re-aggravating a sprained MCL in Ohio State’s 56-27 blowout of Michigan on Saturday. But regardless of the pain that hasn’t yet evaporated and won’t alleviate within the next four days, his status for this weekend’s rematch with Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game remains unchanged.
“In my mind, I'm playing on Saturday,” Fields said. “So I don't care how much it hurts. I'm playing whether it hurts or not, really.”
Ryan Day, his head coach, agreed with the starting quarterback, calling him “full-go” even though he acknowledged he might be a “little banged up” right now.
“He'll be playing,” Day said. “We'll use him all 60 minutes.”
Well, all 60 minutes if the Buckeyes need him for 60 minutes versus the Badgers.
Fields and Day confirming that the starting quarterback will play on Saturday doesn’t come as any surprise. Fields re-entered the win against the Wolverines in the third quarter after exiting the game to go to the medical tent just minutes prior, and his comments afterward signaled that he didn’t expect to miss any time.
“I just feel more secure with it on, especially with my knee being as it is right now. But I definitely can't run as fast and I definitely won't be able to be as mobile.”– Justin Fields on wearing a bulkier knee brace
Yet the re-aggravation, subsequent return to the game and lack of any doubt about whether to play the next week through pain again shows the toughness of the first-year starter. Day has begun to talk about that part of his quarterback with the same reverence that Urban Meyer once did with J.T. Barrett.
“Went up to him and kind of asked him what he thought,” Day said. “He looked up and said, ‘Just put a brace on it, I'll be fine.’ Blew me away, looking at the shot he took, how tough he was to come back and make a play like that. One of the coolest things I've been a part of.”
Even as Fields sat on the ground on Saturday afternoon after Luke Farrell had been pushed backward into his knee and found himself unable to walk off the field, which had been his father’s advice of how to deal with injuries since he was a kid, he didn’t consider the worst-case scenarios. He had a one-track mind of figuring out how to return to play as quickly as possible.
“I don't really have negative thoughts like that,” Fields said. “I just was hoping I could get back on the field. I knew how big the game was, so really it was going to be kind of like a big injury for me to not actually get back out there and play. I really wasn't worried about the injury. I was just worried about getting back on the field as fast as possible.”
With his straightforward delivery, Fields said on Tuesday that even if he had suffered a torn ACL, he would’ve remained as even-keeled as he was in that moment – even though Ohio State fans around the country certainly wouldn’t be able to say the same.
The worst case scenario for both himself and the team has not happened. He’s healthy enough to continue a season that could send him to New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Yet Fields will play through a sprained MCL once again this weekend, and for that reason, he’s adding some extra protection.
Fields plans to wear the same bulky, metal brace that he had on after re-aggravating his injury on Saturday. He had practiced with that on during Tuesday and Wednesday practices last week before opting to begin the game versus the Wolverines with a smaller brace that he used in practice on Thursday.
This week, there’s no debate. After the scare against Michigan, he’s using the bigger brace, even though he admits that the heft affects his mobility.
“I just feel more secure with it on, especially with my knee being as it is right now,” Fields said. “But I definitely can't run as fast and I definitely won't be able to be as mobile. But I know the most important thing is just being safe out there and just staying healthy. Not saying that I need to use my feet to win the game, but I just have to wear it just to keep my knee safe.”
To Fields, deciding which brace to wear comes down to a simple proposition.
“It's either you want to (not) be limited or you want to be safe,” he said, “So you kind of just have to know what's more important.”
Both for the sake of Fields and Ohio State, his health is at a premium. So while making him less of a threat on the ground lessens one of the key aspects of a player whose legs put a scare into defenses with 470 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, the Buckeyes have to treat him with care.
They probably won’t need that aspect of his game to beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday, but they might in order to win both games in the College Football Playoff. So, they're taking as much precaution as possible with him.