Justin Fields' Knee a Wild Card in Ohio State's Game Plan
The final score from Ohio State and Wisconsin's previous game this season overrides every other memory from that Oct. 26 afternoon in Columbus, but what triggered that 38-7 Buckeyes' 38-7 victory might not apply in the rematch Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Don't panic...OSU defensive end Chase Young is fine and will assuredly be tracking Badgers' quarterback Jack Coan like he did that day in Columbus.
But while Young's four sacks and two forced fumbles in the second half have taken on legendary status as the catalyst to that victory, the true separation between the teams came down to OSU quarterback Justin Fields' dynamic talents.
Whether he can operate as efficiently in the bulky lineman's brace he'll wear on his left knee against Wisconsin -- guarding against an injury suffered last week at Michigan -- is an unknown.
Six weeks ago, the Buckeyes had already separated from a 10-7 struggle to lead, 24-7, in the third quarter when Young knocked the ball free from Coan the first time.
Ohio State converted that into a TD, as would the second fumble Young forced, but the reason it had pulled away traced more to Fields than Young.
On each of Ohio State's first three touchdown drives, Fields contributed big runs that broke a Badgers' defense that sacked him five times -- the same number of times OSU sacked Coan.
The reason those losses didn't stop the Buckeyes' offense, the way sacks of Coan did Wisconsin, is because Fields had run for 21 yards on Ohio State's first scoreing drive, a 10-yard touchdown on the second and 7 yards to convert a first down on the third.
OSU coach Ryan Day said Friday that Fields has practiced well this week.
"We’ve talked to the training staff, talked to our people and just asked all those questions, what the risks are and what they aren’t, and everything we’ve heard back is that it’s 100 percent go and he’s ready to roll,” Day said. “If there was any question on that, then we'd certainly take precautions. But we feel great, he’s had a good week of practice, we’re ready to roll.”
Fields took a hard shot scoring his rushing touchdown against Wisconsin and got treatment afterward for back spasms. Even so, he converted a third-down late in the game with another run, spinning away from defenders to sustain an OSU drive.
Day believes a conference title, and a No. 1 ranking in the College Football Playoff, are worthy risks to run to put Fields at risk as a rusher if needed to defeat the Badgers again.
"There is only so much we can do," Day said of minimizing the injury risk. "You just do the best you can and try to run the plays you think are going to be the most success. When you start to be hesitant or overcautious, you set yourself up for failure. We'll be aggressive and we'll go.
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