PISCATAWAY, N.J. —The moment that might have caused queasiness among Ohio State fans came late in the second quarter Saturday of a rout of Rutgers.
Justin Fields sought medical attention on the sideline at SHI Stadium. For several minutes, a trainer examined his throwing hand, a sign of possible injury for the star quarterback. It was ultimately, though, a minor scare.
The trainer was only stitching his hand after it had been stepped on by receiver Binjimen Victor when he lifted Fields up from the turf after a running play.
"It was just bleeding a little bit," Fields said. "I'm all good."
But the moment underscored one of the more critical dynamics for coach Ryan Day to navigate this season and the team’s push to reach the College Football Playoff after a two-year absence. As the Buckeyes trounced another overmatched opponent, how long should he keep his starting quarterback in the game without risking his health?
"You do the best you can and try to make good decisions," Day said.
Alabama coach Nick Saban faced similar questions Saturday. With the Crimson Tide leading Mississippi State by 28 points late in the second quarter, he opted against pulling Tua Tagovailoa, who had recently undergone ankle surgery before returning the previous week against LSU.
While scrambling outside the pocket, Tagovailoa was dragged to the turf and suffered a dislocated right hip, a season-ending injury. He was carted off the field and taken by helicopter to a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.
The calculus that Day made with Fields was simple in his mind. A week after he sat for the final two quarters against Maryland, Fields started the second half and directed one scoring drive before sitting the rest of the game.
The Buckeyes were ahead 35-7 at halftime, and Day thought the lead wasn’t completely secure. He offered a hypothetical that involved a three-and-out to start the third quarter, followed by a Rutgers touchdown, cutting their lead to 21 points.
"That's not enough," Day said.
Fields had no issue with the approach.
"Coach said if we score the first drive, he'll take me out," Fields said, "so we were just trying to go down there and score."
As the Buckeyes went 82 yards in five plays, Fields put the finishing touch on the drive, hitting Chris Olave for a 42-yard pass, then tight end Luke Farrell in the corner of the end zone for a 14-yard play.
Then he rested.
While keeping Fields in the game to start the second half, Day said he tried to ensure that the quarterback was "going to throw the ball and get it out of his hand quick."
Fields then tried to follow his coach’s advice by avoiding any unnecessary hits and be "smart" by throwing the ball away at times. Earlier in the first half, he adjusted the padding on his left knee after a run.
"I just make sure I take that into account, just make sure I get down and don't take any big hits," he said.