Photo courtesy of Kevin C. Cox – Getty Images
The “Bush Push,” Tebow’s “I Promise Speech,” and more recently the “Kick Six” are snapshots that will live in the sport’s lore forever. Justin Fields performance in the 2020 Sugar Bowl may well be the next to join the ranks of legendary moments in college football history.
Coming into the season, Justin Fields was highly touted as the 1B to Trevor Lawrence’s 1A. After Ohio State’s brutal loss in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl, Fields got straight to work in hopes of a proverbial revenge tour.
Unbeknownst to anyone the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the world, creating uncertainty around the upcoming college football season. While other conferences simply adjusted their scheduling and implemented health and safety protocols to keep players as safe as possible while playing, the Big Ten led the way in postponing the 2020 season to the spring.
This decision would bring with it the “We Want to Play Movement” which was spearheaded by the sports two biggest names. With the help of Fields, Lawrence, and players across the country the Big Ten revised their initial position, opting for an October 17th start in order to keep their teams in the hunt for the College Football Playoff.
From there, highs, lows, and a cloud of uncertainty followed the Buckeyes through their season. There were dominant performances such as those against Nebraska and Michigan State, and games which came a little too close for comfort against Indiana and Northwestern. There were cancellations in 3 of the team’s 8 scheduled games, leading to a controversial rule change to grant Ohio State eligibility into the conference championship.
With that opportunity, Fields and the Buckeyes took care of business against Northwestern and all but punched their ticket into their second consecutive College Football Playoff appearance. Their wish was granted, a rematch against Clemson.
This is the game that nearly everyone in the college football world, including myself, had been looking forward to for over a year. The pregame was clouded with one-sided trash talk and “expert opinions” that made the game seem like it was over before it began.
Then came kickoff.
The Tigers started with the ball and marched down for an 82 yard touchdown drive before forcing a quick three-and-out. That would be the last time in the first half that Fields’ offense was unable to find the end-zone.
A mixture of Trey Sermon and Fields led to complete disarray among the Brent Venables defense. Similar to last year’s matchup, we saw what would become a controversial targeting call with 5:57 left in the 2nd quarter as veteran linebacker James Skalski was ejected after a helmet first hit directly to the OSU quarterback’s ribs.
In real time this looked to be a relatively normal hit, but when replay of Fields’ injury was shown it was clear to see that the contact did fall within the NCAA’s targeting rules. As much as I hate the current ejection system, the hit was dangerous to both parties and did force Fields to exit the game.
This was really the turning-point in the game, and where the legend of this performance begins. Fields would shrug off the after effects of the injury which were quite clearly ailing him and complete his day with 4 more touchdown passes. Among these were bombs of 56 and 45 yards to Chris Olave and Jameson Williams respectively. While the mobility may have been cut down, this was the best game of Fields’ career and included a throw that will undoubtedly make scouts take a second look at who the true QB1 in this class is.
The stats speak for themselves. 22/28 for 385 yards and (an Ohio State bowl record) 6 touchdown passes. It’s hard to see this line and not be impressed, but the stats were merely half the story here.
To admittedly have this rematch stuck in your mind for over 365 days, and suffer the type of hit that he did must’ve been devastating. Through the pain and the physical aspect of what he was doing on the field we saw a Justin Fields that was poised under pressure, deadly accurate, and the most mentally tough that I’ve seen a Buckeye quarterback in my lifetime. This is a game that will go down not only in Ohio State history, but remain relevant when passing along the greatness that is college football.
Don’t just take it from me though, here’s some of the tweets which came in response to the junior QB’s performance.