Thursday's college football: Buckeyes' Fields hurt but will play on Saturday

Detroit News wire services

Columbus, Ohio — Justin Fields’ first real hero moment came in the third quarter last Saturday, a display of toughness destined to live in the lore of the Ohio State-Michigan game.

The first-year starter who had led the Buckeyes to a perfect record went down and couldn’t get up after a teammate rolled onto his left leg. Ohio State fans held their breath.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day says that quarterback Justin Fields will have no problem throwing but his mobility might be lacking.

All Fields was thinking at that moment was getting off the field because his father always told when he was a kid that if you get hurt, get up and get to the sideline as fast as you can. But he couldn’t, and trainers had to help.

“A little scary,” said receiver Austin Mack, who caught Fields’ pass on the play.

Once in the pop-up medical tent, Fields replaced his knee brace with a sturdier model and got ready to go again. On his first play back in, he scrambled to his left and threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson in the back of the end zone to give the Buckeyes a 42-16 lead on the way to a 56-27 win, the eighth straight for the Buckeyes in “The Game.”

“Blew me away,” coach Ryan Day said. “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.”

The low-key Fields was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year this week and could end up as a Heisman Trophy finalist after leading Ohio State to a 12-0 season and another berth in the conference championship game, against Wisconsin on Saturday. Win or lose, the Buckeyes seem destined to make the College Football Playoff.

The question this week is the condition of Fields’ knee — a previous injury was aggravated a week earlier against Penn State — with potentially three games to play. Day and Fields both say it’s fine, even though he will wear the heavy brace on his plant leg for the entire game Saturday. He acknowledges it affects his mobility but not his passing.

“He’ll be playing,” Day said without hesitation. “We’ll use him all 60 minutes.”

There have been many keys to Ohio State’s success this season: The nation’s top-ranked defense featuring conference defensive player of the year Chase Young; one of the top running backs in the country in J.K. Dobbins; and an offensive line with four new starters that has been excellent.

But Fields has been the engine that powers the machine. The Georgia transfer has accounted for 47 total touchdowns (37 passing, 10 rushing).

Those numbers came without him playing in the second half of blowouts, which most games were this season.

Fields seems to have an inner calmness that is never far away, despite an occasional celebration on the sideline.

He reacted to last Saturday’s injury with an almost serene approach.

“I just go about life,” Fields said Tuesday, while acknowledging that his knee still hurt. “Everything happens for a reason. God has a plan, so when bad things happen in life, I really don’t stress over it. I kind of just go with the flow and just lean on God to help me out, so I really don’t get sad or down about things. If I tore my ACL I would be the same right now. That’s just how I go about life in general, really.”

Tua to stay or go?

Injured Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa came to a small stage on crutches and started talking about what coach Nick Saban might like: The Alabama team. But the questions quickly came to whether he will return for a final season with Alabama or declare for the NFL draft.

If he’s a Top 10 or Top 15 draft pick, “that would be tough to pass up,” going to the NFL, he said. But he also said there’s more to his decision than just that.

“I don’t want to say too much,” he said Thursday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

He doesn’t have a timetable to announce the decision, he said. Tagovailoa, a junior, has until Jan. 20 to declare for the draft as an underclassman.

Extra point

Washington State coach Mike Leach has agreed in principle to a one-year contract extension that could keep him at the school through the 2024 season.

Leach will be paid $4 million for each year of the five-year contract, school officials said. He will also receive a one-time retention bonus of $750,000 following the 2020 season.

Leach is in his eighth season at Washington State and has led the Cougars to a school-record five consecutive bowl games, though they stumbled to a 6-6 record this year. Leach’s 55 wins with the Cougars rank him third in program history.

Leach’s success at Washington State has consistently made him the subject of speculation that he might jump to another program.