Buckeyes were even more decimated for CFP title game vs. Alabama than previously known
It’s no secret that Ohio State was short-handed against Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game in January.
Defensive tackle Tommy Togiai and defensive end Tyreke Smith couldn’t play because of COVID-19. Kicker Blake Haubeil and backup running back Miyan Williams were also among the 13 Buckeyes out for the title game.
But just how beaten up the Buckeyes were is only now becoming clearer. Quarterback Justin Fields, offensive linemen Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis and cornerback Shaun Wade were also far from full strength in that game, which Alabama won 52-24.
Fields’ status was a matter of much speculation before the game. He took a hard hit in the back by Clemson’s James Skalski in the CFP semifinal. The hit resulted in the linebacker’s ejection for targeting, though it didn't stop Fields from finishing a brilliant six-touchdown performance.
In a Zoom call Friday with Chicago Bears media after Fields’ selection with the 11th pick of the NFL draft, Ohio State coach Ryan Day said that his quarterback “could barely get out of bed” leading up to the Alabama game.
“But he still found a way to play in the game and actually play OK without really practicing,” Day said.
Fields couldn’t match his spectacular performance against Alabama. He completed 17 of 33 passes for 194 yards and only one touchdown. He added 67 rushing yards in six carries.
“I don't think me not practicing affected my performance,” Fields said Friday. “I think me being injured that game definitely might have impacted my performance that game with what I could have done in the national championship game.”
Myers injured a foot at the end of the Big Ten championship game against Northwestern and felt his sesamoid bone break during the Clemson game. But the center said nothing would keep him from playing for the national championship.
“I didn't get to practice and just did as much cardio as I could to try and stay in shape," he said. "Then I kind of just rolled out there for the Bama game and white-knuckled it and did the best I could.”
Myers acknowledged that he was limited. On a fourth-and-1 play when Ohio State trailed by 21 points late in the third quarter, his foot kept him from being able to make a block on a run play stuffed for a loss, leaving him in tears on the sideline.
Davis played much of the year with a bone bruise and sprained ligament in his knee. The right guard withstood the pain as best he could, but it was excruciating when he took a direct shot on the knee. That’s what happened in the second quarter against the Crimson Tide, and it knocked him out of the game.
He wasn't the only star Buckeye to leave early. Running back Trey Sermon, who ran for a school-record 331 yards against Northwestern and followed that with a 191-yard performance against Clemson, injured his shoulder on his first carry and didn't play again.
Wade said he injured his toe in the Northwestern game and was bothered by it in the playoffs.
Alabama was a juggernaut, and even if Ohio State had been at full strength, it would have taken a monumental effort to win. The Buckeyes weren't even close to being healthy.
“I think things could have went way differently,” Fields said. “We'll really never know, so there’s really no point in hoping for it.”