Scottsdale, Ariz. — Quarterback Justin Fields estimated that his injured left knee is about 80 to 85 percent healthy four days before Ohio State faces Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl.
“I definitely thought I would be closer to 100 percent,” Fields said Tuesday. “I’m just gonna hope and pray that I feel better by game day.”
Fields suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in the Buckeyes’ win over Penn State on Nov. 23 and aggravated it the following week at Michigan when he was hit in the pocket.
After that hit, Fields wore a bulkier brace on the knee for the rest of the game against the Wolverines, as well as for the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin.
Though he did not describe his status as 100% during a session with reporters on Tuesday, Fields said he felt good enough that he planned to ditch the larger brace against the Tigers, opting for a smaller one that he first wore under his knee pads prior to the knee’s aggravation against the Wolverines.
The larger brace restricted his mobility against the Badgers, and coach Ryan Day later remarked that the sophomore was limited as a runner. Day, the Buckeyes’ primary play-caller, opted against calling any designed runs for Fields during that game. In instances when Fields logged a carry, he was scrambling.
In the lead-up to the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday, Fields, who is undergoing daily treatment, said he has not seen a drop-off in his reps at practices.
Before the conference title game, Fields saw his workload in practices scaled back.
“I try to get as much reps as possible really,” Fields said. “I would say I haven’t missed any reps in terms of getting in there and playing, but I just can’t move like I want to.”
Before suffering the injury, Fields had not worn a brace on either knee.
While an efficient passer, posting a 40-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio that led the Football Bowl Subdivision, Fields also relied on his agility.
He used his legs to slide outside the pocket, allowing himself more time to complete throws downfield, and operate zone-read plays, on which he often took off running.
Fields has rushed 123 times this season, averaging nearly twice as many carries per game than his predecessor, Dwayne Haskins, totaling 471 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“It just brings another aspect to my game, being able to move better and maneuver defenders,” Fields said. “That’s why I don’t want that knee brace on, but I have to wear it. It is what it is.”
Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson observed that the approach with Fields in the Buckeyes’ game plan would change only so much.
“Coach Day is always cautious of why and when in getting Justin to run and protect himself,” Wilson said.
But they might have to be a little more cautious.
“It’s bang for your buck,” Wilson said. “Maybe if it’s the first play of the drive in the second quarter and 80 yards, I don’t know if it’s a designed quarterback run. But in this day and age, he can always take off scrambling. It’s never like he’s not going to run.”