Justin Fields proved himself to be twice the quarterback most expected in his first season as Ohio State's starter, but he doesn't sound optimistic about being 100% himself for the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday against Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
"My knee is probably not like I want it to be right now," Fields said Tuesday before OSU's practice. "With treatment every day and just resting it every day, hopefully it will be better by the game. I'm going to wear the same knee brace I started out with the (Michigan) game. I brought the big one in case something happens."
Fields' left knee hasn't been the same since he suffered an MCL sprain in OSU's next-to-last regular season victory over Penn State.
He wore a soft brace the following week at Michigan, where a teammate fell into his knee after a pass and aggravated the injury enough to force Fields briefly from the game.
He returned, famously, to scramble away from pressure and throw a 31-yard touchdown on his first play back on the field.
Even so, Fields compounded the injury and wore a bulky lineman's brace the following week in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin.
He wasn't the same, but he wasn't bad, shaking off a rough first half to lead an OSU comeback to a 34-21 victory.
Fields passed for 299 yards and three scores in that game, but he also fumbled away a scoring opportunity inside the 10-yard line.
He clearly looked tentative when he ran, as evidenced by his 12 carries resulting in only one yard. Those numbers aren't at all what a healthy Fields can produce as a rusher, like the 473 yards and 10 touchdowns he accumulated running the ball this season.
"It's definitely tough, him being a dual threat guy," Clemson safety Tanner Muse said of Fields. "Running the ball, passing the ball is very tough on a defense. It's a numbers game. When you have a running quarterback, it's just an extra guy you have to worry about.
"...It's definitely difficult when you're preparing for a guy like that. You never know how they're going to react to what you do. We'll feel him out when the game starts and try to make adjustments from there."
Fields pronounced his knee "80-to-85%" healed with still four days before kickoff.
His ability to run would make OSU considerably harder for Clemson's defense, No. 2 nationally in yards allowed and No. 1 in fewest points allowed, to keep in check.
No opponent has held the Buckeyes under 400 yards or 28 points all season.
Fields tied the whole package together in ways no one envisioned, because even the most ardent optimist would not have predicted he'd throw 40 touchdown passes against only one interception, while passing for 2,953 yards.
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