INDIANAPOLIS – For the second time in three years, Ohio State’s starting quarterback is battling a knee injury entering the Big Ten Championship Game.
Justin Fields will be playing on a sprained MCL for the second week in a row after initially suffering the injury on a sack late in the fourth quarter against Penn State and aggravating that injury during the third quarter of last week’s game against Michigan. In order to protect his injured knee, he’ll wear the bigger brace that he finished last week’s game with for the entire game on Saturday.
Fields said this week that it might affect his mobility, but Ohio State coach Ryan Day doesn’t expect the injury to have a major impact on the plays he calls for Fields in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game. After going through the week of practice and communicating with Ohio State’s athletic training staff all week, Day is confident that Fields will be able to play without restriction and that he will not be at additional risk of suffering a more serious injury.
“I think he’s done a great job this week preparing, and it’s something he’s been kind of dealing with but he’s done a great job and training staff’s been doing a great job of getting him ready,” Day said at Friday’s Big Ten Championship Game coaches’ press conference in Indianapolis. “He’s had a good, strong week of practice.
“We’ve talked to the training staff, talked to our people and just asked all those questions, what the risks are and what they aren’t, and everything we’ve heard back is that it’s 100 percent go and he’s ready to roll,” Day said. “If there was any question on that, then we'd certainly take precautions. But we feel great, he’s had a good week of practice, we’re ready to roll.”
Day said Fields’ injury is a “very different” situation than that which Ohio State faced going into the 2017 Big Ten Championship Game, when J.T. Barrett had to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery after a cameraman collided with his knee before the previous Saturday’s game against Michigan. While Barrett ultimately played all four quarters in that year’s conference title game, which was also against Wisconsin, there was actual concern about whether he’d be able to play in that game, which there isn’t with Fields this week.
Asked whether he will try to protect Fields with his play calling, Day said “there’s only so much we can do,” noting that the scares Fields suffered against Penn State and Michigan both came on passing plays, not running plays.
“He’s done a good job in the run game of taking care of himself,” Day said. “So you just do the best you can, and you try to run the plays that you think are going to be the most successful, and you go from there. But I think when you start to be hesitant or overcautious, then you just set yourself up for failure. So we’ll be aggressive and we’ll go.”
Both Day and Fields said this week that they gave no consideration to resting Fields this week, even though Fields admitted that he has had pain in his knee.
“In my mind, I'm playing on Saturday,” Fields said Tuesday. “So I don't care how much it hurts. I'm playing whether it hurts or not, really.”
Someone without Fields’ toughness might be more inclined to rest when dealing with an injury like he is, but Fields – who consistently draws praise from Day for his toughness and competitiveness – said he would have to have a major injury to sit on the sidelines.
“He has a tremendous approach and he’s humble, but deep inside, there’s a fiery, competitive dude in there who just tries to take your heart out when he’s in the game,” Day said of Fields on Friday. “He’s just very smooth and you don’t see much on the surface, but he’s very, very competitive, and that’s something I didn’t know about him until he started playing in these big games.”
With Fields expected to be full-go, Ohio State isn’t expected to be without regular contributors – except for defensive end Jonathon Cooper, who is redshirting the rest of the season – due to injuries. Slot cornerback Shaun Wade, who Ohio State opted to hold out because he wasn’t quite 100 percent healthy last week, will be back, and no other Buckeyes who have seen regular playing time this year are listed on this week’s status report.
That’s rare for a team playing in its 13th game of the season, but Day said the two bye weeks on the regular-season schedule, as well as the opportunities the team has had to take its starters out early in almost every game, has helped make that possible.
“We’re a pretty clean team right now in terms of injuries,” Day said. “So it’s all hands on deck to try to get this thing because like we say, it’s like March Madness, and we need everybody to do their job. Whether it’s the right guard on field goal or the starting quarterback, we need everybody.”