The Clemson version of Justin Fields needed to show up Monday night to give Ohio State a chance.
That player, however, was nowhere to be found at Hard Rock Stadium.
Instead, it was the inconsistent, at times off-target Fields who was so up and down late in the regular season who was under center.
“We definitely wanted a different outcome, but I’m definitely going to miss everybody,” he said after the third-seeded Buckeyes’ ugly 52-24 loss to No. 1 Alabama in the national championship game, referring to what was almost certainly his last college game.
In fairness to Fields, even his best may not have been enough considering how ill-equipped Ohio State was against the Crimson Tide’s offensive machine that rolled up 621 total yards. Then again, this clearly wasn’t his best. Coach Ryan Day said Fields wasn’t 100 percent, after the helmet-first hit he took to his right side in the Sugar Bowl. But he still ran for a team-high 67 yards and completed 17 of 34 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown.
“At the end of the day I’m glad I was able to play, and we didn’t get the job done,” Fields said following just his second loss in 22 games as a starter. “Of course I could have been healthier, but I was healthy enough.”
He struggled in the first half when Alabama pulled away, completing just 6 of 15 passes for 90 yards in the first 30 minutes. He badly missed an open Garrett Wilson in the end zone as Ohio State had to settle for a field goal. It was at that point the game began to get away from the Buckeyes. Although they trailed just 21-17 late in the first half, two consecutive three-and-outs after the field goal would quickly turn into a 35-17 deficit by halftime.
Fields led Ohio State on a 75-yard, three-play drive on its first possession of the second half, finding Wilson from 20 yards out. It was the last time the Buckeyes would score.
It was a bizarre season for Fields and the Buckeyes. Initially, they were unsure if there would be a season. The Big Ten canceled football in August, before doing a 180 and starting the year in late October.
Ohio State had three games called off due to the virus and, until the Big Ten changed its rule that teams had to play at least six games to be eligible for the conference title, the Buckeyes were going to be left out. Fields struggled against his top two conference opponents, committing five turnovers against Indiana and Northwestern in closer-than-expected victories, before his brilliant performance against Clemson.
From Nov. 7 on, Fields didn’t have games in back-to-back weeks. The shortest turnaround was actually the 10-day break between the two playoff games.
“Justin’s been unbelievable,” Day said. “He’s as competitively tough of a player as I’ve been around. … I’m going to miss him.”