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Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields copes with injuries in final loss to Alabama

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — His shoulders slumped in defeat, Justin Fields walked toward the southwest tunnel at Hard Rock Stadium.

Confetti had fallen onto the grass, and Alabama players celebrated their 52-24 triumph in the College Football Playoff championship game Monsday night as he trudged in the opposite direction toward the visiting locker room.

Fields tossed one fan a wristband and threw his headband to another before vanishing from sight. It was likely his last time on the field as Ohio State’s quarterback, as he is widely expected to forgo his remaining college eligibility to enter this spring’s NFL draft.

If it was the end of the road in scarlet and gray, the performance showed his mettle as a Buckeye. Dealing with the lingering effects from the bruising hit suffered 10 days before in a semifinal against Clemson, Fields forged ahead.

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields heads to the sidelines after throwing an incomplete pass on fourth down in the fourth quarter of the championship game loss to Alabama.

“Justin has been unbelievable,” coach Ryan Day said. “He's as competitively tough a player as I've been around. For him to go out there and play today really shows his toughness and how much he loves his brothers.”

Day added that Fields was not 100% and absorbed some additional hits to his hip in the loss to Alabama.

Bottom Line analysis:Alabama takes Ohio State to the woodshed

It was not the heroic effort needed to upset the top-seeded Crimson Tide.

While the Buckeyes were plagued with more pressing issues by their defense, which allowed the second-most total yards in program history, it needed a spectacular offensive showing to stay competitive in a shootout.

Fields completed 17 of 33 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown, a modest stat line somewhere between the worst statistical game of his career in the Big Ten championship game and the Sugar Bowl, where he threw for career highs of 385 yards and six touchdowns.

He also ran six times for 67 yards against Alabama, seeking to give his offense a boost on the ground after running back Trey Sermon was injured on the first series.

In assessing his performance, Fields downplayed the limitations left by the recent injuries, which also included spraining his thumb in the conference championship game.

While Ohio State never publicly revealed the diagnosis of Fields’ injury in the Sugar Bowl, ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski reported on the network’s pregame broadcast on the network that the junior signal caller had sustained a hip pointer.

“At the end of the day I'm glad I was able to play,” Fields said, “and we didn't get the job done. Of course I could have been healthier, but I was healthy enough. I was able to be out there.”

At times, Fields felt pressured by Alabama’s defense; he had been protected by a cleaner pocket against Clemson.

“They did a good job executing on defense,” Fields said. “Of course they have great players, great athletes, and they have a great defensive coordinator, so they did a good job doing that.”

But some of his throws were just off, timing between his receivers that seemed affected by some of the nagging pain.

When he missed an open Garrett Wilson in the end zone late in the second quarter, it cost the Buckeyes a potential touchdown that could have evened the score with Alabama at 21. Instead, facing fourth-and-goal at the 6-yard line three plays later, they settled for a field goal.

Fields missed another possible touchdown when he was unable to connect with freshman Julian Fleming in the end zone on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

Fields missed some repetitions in practice in the leadup to the championship game. He said he was out early last week before making a return. His return showed toughness, an effort Day praised following the game.

“He was working through it and made some really good throws, made some gutsy plays, kept us in the game there for a while,” Day said. “He's an unbelievable player, and I'm going to miss him.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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