Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields says 'whole right torso messed up' after record Sugar Bowl performance
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields didn’t know the status of his rib injury after Friday night's victory against Clemson.
His bones might be broken or bruised. But they certainly didn't slow him down after he got an injection to help him get back into the game and lead the Buckeyes to a 49-28 win in the Sugar Bowl national semifinal.
“They didn’t really tell me anything,” Fields said of his injury status. “I took like a shot or two in the (medical) tent and just ran back out there. But I mean it’s pretty much my whole right torso that’s messed up, a little bit of my hip.”
Fields completed 22 of 28 passes for 385 yards and six touchdown passes — a Sugar Bowl record — including four after he sustained a hard hit to the right side of his torso near the end of the second quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
The blow came courtesy of Clemson linebacker James Skalski, who was ejected right afterward for targeting Fields with his helmet. Fields had to temporarily leave the game because of it and grimaced in pain the rest of the night.
Yet he still landed bomb after bomb to blow out the No. 2 Tigers (10-2), much to the chagrin of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who had ranked the Buckeyes 11th on his last ballot in the Amway Coaches Poll.
The No. 3 Buckeyes (7-0) are now headed to the national championship game against No. 1 Alabama on Jan. 11.
After Fields’ injury, the clock stopped with 5:57 left in the first half and the Buckeyes leading, 21-14. He left the game for a play, came back and promptly fired a slant pass to receiver Chris Olave for a 9-yard touchdown, helping put Ohio State up 28-14 with 5:12 left.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day called the sequence a "blur."
"There was a time in there when he came off the injury, went back in, and then threw the touchdown pass," Day said afterward. "I'm like, `Can you throw?' He says, `I think I can.' I said, `Well, here we go. We got to go. You've got to give me some information.' He says, `I think I can do it.' And he throws a frozen rope in there, and he's kind of holding himself as he runs off the field."
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Fields, a transfer from Georgia, said afterward that his injury would "really hurt every time I threw the ball."
"So I would just not really worry about that during the play and just deal with the pain after the throw," he said.
During his throws, he said he didn't really feel the pain. After the throws, he said he did, no matter how long or short they were. Two of his touchdown passes in the second half went for 56 and 45 yards.
"He couldn't do everything, but what a gutsy performance," Day said. "What a tough and special young man Justin Fields is."
Swinney said he didn't think Skalski's hit against Fields was intentional.
"He was just trying to make a football play, and it's unfortunate," Swinney said.
Swinney defended his ballot earlier this week, saying, “I just don’t think it’s right that three teams have to play 13 games to be the champion and one team has to play eight.”
After Friday's game, he didn't buy the notion that his low ranking of Ohio State served as motivation for the Buckeyes.
"I don't regret any of that," he said. "And polls have nothing to do with motivation. Both teams were highly motivated to play."
After starting the season later than Clemson because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Buckeyes’ smaller sample size of a season did create a certain amount of mystery about how good they really were. Fields also sprained the thumb on his right throwing hand in the last game, leading him to start this game wearing a white brace on it.
None of it mattered in the end. Not the thumb. Not the short season. Not even those ribs.
With the win, Ohio State also avenged last year’s 29-23 loss against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl national semifinal and won its first CFP game since 2015, when it won the national title.
“We still have another game to play,” Day said. “This thing's not done yet. But I do think this was big for us. This was a statement for us as a program to win a CFP game, especially after what happened last year. And to play the way we did, it means a lot for our program.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports colleges reporter Brent Schrotenboer on Twitter @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org