Justin Fields and Ohio State earn payback a year in the making

NEW ORLEANS… They told us this was the game they wanted. It’s the game they started dreaming about a year ago in the locker room on a cold desert night. It was the game that eluded the Ohio State Buckeyes at the end of the Big Ten season, the game they dreamed of again when the conference changed course and decided to return to the game.

It wasn’t a secret. It was brave and strong, we came for the promise, and maybe Clemson should have listened. Because the state of Ohio clearly telegraphed what was to happen to the Mercedes-Benz Super Bowl in the Allstate Sugar Bowl College Playoffs semifinal on Friday night, the 49-28 explosion was so big that the Buckeyes treated Clemson like a football starter.

Of course, Clemson’s head coach Dabo Swinney raised his eyebrows when he put the Buckeyes in 11th place in his last Ohio state coaching rankings. Then he doubled it and defended it because he thought six games were not worthy of a play-off spot.

Maybe he subconsciously didn’t want anything to do with revenge.

This overestimated and highly placed ranking reminded us why the Buckeyes wanted this game so badly, the pain and disappointment they felt after losing 29-23 in the play-off semifinals last year in the Fiesta Bowl. It was a loss that ended with a Justin Fields interception in the end zone due to poor communication with receiver Chris Olave, so Fields had to prepare for this game like I’ve never done before.

Fields turned the whole off-season in the best performance of his life on Friday night, throwing a Sugar Bowl – a record six touchdown passes – four of them after a painful shot to his right that forced him to win almost every game in pain. Mr. Fields testified that he had given him injections for the pain and that he had never received a clear diagnosis of the exact injury. And yet he finished with 427 meters.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Fields and Ohio State lost to Clemson in the semifinals of the CFP last year. They didn’t want to see the same result this time. Chris Greiten/Getty Images

This performance – and the way Fields persevered despite the pain every time – proved what the last 365 days have been like, with every gym teacher and every time we trained.

A lot of guys walked off the court feeling like they were leaving one, said Ohio State bus Ryan Day from last year’s loss to Clemson. You usually don’t get a second chance in life, but you can’t miss it a second time. So I don’t know what we’re more excited about, the fact that we have a chance to play for a national championship, or the fact that we avenged that loss.

It is easy to forget that now, but if 2020 had gone as we predicted in the pre-season rankings, the Buckeyes would probably have been the number one team in the country with Fields and Olave, top offensive and defensive lines and elite players from top to bottom.

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But with a coronavirus pandemic raging and medical uncertainty clouding decisions, the Big Ten decided to postpone the season until August. On the brink of tears, Josh Myers of central Ohio ESPN told us that this year should have been unbelievable for us. This should be a national championship for us. It would be the year in which everything we dreamed of came true. It’s probably the most talented team I’ve ever been part of. We were all watching the national championship and we were definitely hoping for a rematch with Clemson.

By the time the Big Ten changed course and Ohio State started at the end of October, Clemson had already played five games and seemed to be on schedule for another playoff round.

But what we saw when the Buckeyes started their season was a team that wasn’t at all what we expected. The fields looked unsafe and started to pass the ball in an unusual way. They looked shaky against Indiana and even more shaky in the Big Ten title game against Northwestern, leaving many Ohio State teams – especially Fields – behind against the experienced Clemson team, with a future No. 1 against Trevor Lawrence and recent bravery in the games they played against each other.

Add to that a thumb injury that Fields suffered in the Big Ten championship match and the questions and doubts seem justified.

But the team we saw on Friday wasn’t the one that made it to Big Ten. The team we saw on Friday looked excited, aggressive and so confident that they felt it had returned in 2019. The offensive and defensive lines dominate so much that Lawrence becomes subordinate.

It was Fields who took a decisive turn by becoming the best NFL pick he expected to be for his previous battles. Among his six touchdown passes was a beautiful 56-yard run that fitted Olave perfectly – a counterbalance to what went so terribly wrong in Arizona.

We’ve been talking all week about how this game can have a lasting effect, Fields said. And this game rules our legacy. So we stayed in practice and launched routes for a touchdown. We’ve probably practiced this 20 times in one training day. So we knew we were going into the red zone. And we did a good job.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Game

1:22

Justin Fields describes the pain he felt during the match after the hit. He also describes how last year’s loss to Clemson fueled Ohio’s condition tonight.

In retrospect, it is not surprising that the state of Ohio made waves, with Lawrence and the RB Travis Etienne Tigers constantly being punished. The Ohio State was also more physical a year ago, and frustrated Clemson’s recipients the same way they did on Friday.

But what surprised the defense a year ago was that Lawrence was a runner – he had a 107-yard running career. This time? Lawrence is minus 8, Etienne is 32.

We clearly had some problems with the quarterback’s position last year and we threw some big hits there, Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland said. So that’s what we really learned from this experience.

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National College Football Championship presented by AT&T
Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, FL)
11. January: 20:00 PM ET on ESPN

University Football Playoff Semi-Final at Rose Bowl
AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Alabama 31, Notre Dame 14

Ohio State Sugar Bowl College Football Playoff semifinals
Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)
Ohio State 49, Clemson 28

The day is called a championship match, enlightened and perhaps encouraged by the lessons learned from Clemson’s defeat a year ago. But the whole game plan was threatened when Fields was hit in the second quarter and stayed on the turf for a few minutes in clear pain.

When he came to the sidelines, Day asked him what had happened. Fields said his side hurt. Dey asked how you were? Can you do it?

Fields was watching him.

I don’t have a choice, Mr. Fields said. I have to do this.

Fields says he knows he will be in pain tomorrow morning, but the pain is worth it because the Buckeyes have won their first playoff game since 2014 and now have a chance to win another national championship. He has to be in good shape for the Buckeyes to win at 11. January in Miami have a chance to beat Alabama.

But those questions are for another day. On Friday night, Fields and Ohio State finally defeated Clemson and found themselves where they thought they were despite all the setbacks, stops and starts. Dag and his players went to a lot of trouble this season knowing they would have such a moment.

Now they want another one.

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