No single player will mean more to their team’s success in the College Football Playoff championship game than Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
Which makes the injury he sustained in Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl win over Clemson that much bigger of a storyline.
The shot Fields took in that game won’t keep him from playing Monday. But it has raised questions not only as to the severity of his injury, but also how healthy he’ll be when the Buckeyes take on top-ranked Alabama. There’s also the question of what, exactly, his injury is.
Here’s what you need to know about Fields’ injury, how he sustained it and the aftermath heading into Ohio State’s matchup with the Crimson Tide:
How did Justin Fields get injured?
Fields’ injury occurred with 5:57 left in the second quarter of Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl semifinal matchup vs. Clemson. On that play, Fields scrambled for an 11-yard gain to the Clemson 19-yard line. At the end of the play, Fields attempted to spin out of an incoming tackle from Tigers linebacker James Skalski. The Clemson defender lowered his head and speared Fields in the back, causing the quarterback to lie prone on the field for several moments.
While trainers tended to Fields, officials reviewed the play and ruled that Skalski had targeted the Buckeyes signal-caller, ejecting him from the game. Curiously, it was the second time in as many years Skalsi’s season ended in the Playoff due to targeting.
Fields only missed one play due to the hit, coming in to throw a 9-yard touchdown pass to receiver Chris Olave and give Ohio State a 28-14 lead. He engineered one more scoring drive before the half, hitting tight end Jeremy Ruckert for a 12-yard score. He threw two second-half touchdowns of 56 and 45 yards, respectively, completing 22 of 28 passes for 385 yards and six touchdowns to one interception. He also carried the ball eight times for 42 yards.
Despite his brilliance, Fields was clearly in pain as the game progressed; the ESPN telecast showed him grimacing several times, not only on the field but also on the sideline.
What is Justin Fields’ injury?
Ohio State has not officially commented on Fields’ injury. At the time it happened, Fields seemed not to know what it was either.
The Buckeyes quarterback raised some eyebrows when commenting after the game how Ohio State medical personnel handled his injury on the sidelines:
“They didn’t really tell me anything,” Fields said (per Erick Smith of USA Today). “I took a shot or two and just ran back out there. But it’s pretty much my whole right is sore. That’s messed up. And a little, my hip. But they didn’t really give me a diagnosis at all.”
Ohio State coach Ryan Day on Jan. 4 — without offering specifics — said Fields “felt better waking up in the morning than he expected” and that he “definitely” expected the quarterback to play against Alabama.
Fields — made available to media for the first time on Thursday — expanded on his initial comments, saying he felt comfortable with the way doctors treated him in the medical tent.
“Yeah, I think what I said after the game was kind of taken out of context. I just want to make one thing clear, it’s that I have my full trust in the trainers here at Ohio State and Dr. (James) Borchers.
I wasn’t, you know, I guess hesitant on taking anything that they would give me, but I was just trying to do whatever I could do to get back on the field. I think those guys handled it the way I would have wanted it to be handled.
I just put my full trust in those guys and I see how they deal with guys here, and I have personal relationships with all of them. I just don’t want anything I’ve said in the postgame interview to kind of get taken out of context and to be like, ‘Oh, they just shot him up and sent him back out there.’
No. It wasn’t like that. I think they did a full, I guess, analysis of my injury and how it was, and they thought — they did what they thought was best. Yeah, I was fully comfortable with that.
I’ll be good come Monday night.”
Day on Sunday said Fields had a “good week of practice” and that “he’s done a really good job preparing” for Alabama.
Justin Fields injury updates
Jan. 1: Fields initially injured after targeting by Skalski.
Jan. 4: Day says he “definitely” expects Fields to play vs. Alabama
Jan. 7: Fields says team doctors handled injury “the way I would have wanted it to be handled.”
Jan. 10: Day says Fields had a good week of practice ahead of Alabama game.