Justin Fields performance vs. Clemson a defining moment

Justin Fields, 2021 NFL mock draft. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Fields, 2021 NFL mock draft. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports /

Justin Fields’ performance vs. Clemson a defining moment.

Leading up to their playoff matchup against the Clemson Tigers, there was plenty of just criticism for the Ohio State Buckeyes and specifically quarterback Justin Fields.

Fields has tremendous talent, there is no question about it. He put up video game-like numbers in 2019 for the Buckeyes but was not good enough in the team’s loss last year to Clemson when he threw two interceptions.

After that Clemson game, Fields and the rest of the world had to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and nearly didn’t have a season at all. Most people felt Fields had shown enough to be a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft even if he didn’t play another down for Ohio State, but Fields obviously wanted to compete and get back out on the field to show what kind of player he can be.

The 2020 “season” for Ohio State and for Fields himself was not without bumps along the way. Fields dominated the lesser competition Ohio State played, but really struggled against the top defenses the Buckeyes faced: Indiana and Northwestern.

In those two games, Fields threw just two touchdowns with five interceptions, and a career-low 44 percent completion rate against Northwestern.

There were plenty of legitimate questions and concerns surrounding Fields’ play from that particular stretch of half-a-dozen games.

As Ohio State took the field against Trevor Lawrence and Clemson, nobody gave them much of a shot of being overly competitive, much less going out and doing what they did on Friday night.

Credit is due to the Ohio State offensive line as well, which afforded Fields plenty of time to make throws in this game and allow receivers to get open downfield.

Fields went out and played with the kind of grit and toughness you love to see in a quarterback, playing through injury and putting his team on his back.

He finished completing 22-of-28 passes with 385 yards and six touchdowns, one of his six incompletions coming on a tipped ball in the red zone that wound up landing in the arms of a Clemson defender.

This was Fields’ first game with over 200 yards passing since November 21. He was awesome as a runner before he took a hit that had him grimacing on the sidelines and receiving treatment in the medical tent.

As obvious as Fields’ physical pain was, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day had only to say going into the locker room at halftime that his quarterback was going to need to give him 30 more minutes.

Fields did exactly that, helping Ohio State advance to the National Championship game against Alabama.

Although the whole picture has to be considered, this kind of performance by Fields is what NFL decision-makers are going to lead with if they are believers that his game will translate well to the next level.

There is no doubt that Justin Fields has the potential to be a very good NFL quarterback but there is also no doubt that he will be asked to do a lot of things with reading coverages before the snap, identifying blitzes, and working the intermediate areas of the field in the NFL that he doesn’t do a lot of at Ohio State.

Fields is the type of player you have to be nit-picky with because he will be so highly invested in, and a good chunk of his throws against Clemson were swing throws, screen throws, or deep balls.

One of his first touchdowns of the game was a throw to a tight end who was being covered well by Derion Kendrick, who misplayed the ball and missed an interception chance. Fields also had the aforementioned red zone interception that came off of a tipped ball thrown into congested coverage.

Not to mention, you cannot have your top draft pick at quarterback taking the kind of hit Fields took when he got hit by Clemson linebacker James Skalski.

For my money, one of the best plays Fields made all night (which was also brilliant play design) was the rollout to his left at full speed before he reset his base and found a wide-open tight end on the opposite side of the field.

After getting hurt, Fields made a throw in the red zone over the middle of the field to the tight end where he saw a safety lurking over the top of the matchup he wanted, and he simply just pulled something only the greats do and just put the ball between and above tight coverage for a touchdown.

The throw you absolutely love to see is Fields’ 56-yard heave to Chris Olave where he had some pressure coming right at his face. He stood tall despite being hurt and delivered a strike that was over 60 yards in the air.

As nit-picky as we can be about even this game, there is no questioning Fields’ potential at the NFL level with his arm talent, athleticism, and moxie. He’s clearly a tremendous competitor and this was a gutty performance by a guy whose entire team had come under fire for even making the College Football Playoff.

You love to see these kinds of games from top prospects and it was needed from Fields, who remains easily a first-round player at the quarterback position.

Will this game be enough to put him over players like Zach Wilson and Trey Lance? Did NFL teams already have Fields over those guys?

The closer we get to the NFL Draft, the more we’re sure to find out.