Mike Hankwitz laughed out loud. Northwestern's recently retired defensive coordinator was asked this week if he had gotten a call from Nick Saban wondering how Alabama to defend Justin Fields.
"No, I don't expect it," Hankwitz said this week. "They have plenty of outstanding coaches. They know what they're doing."
True. Saban and No. 1 Alabama more than know what they're doing heading into the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday. But there's a reason Bama is playing for it all for the fifth time in seven years: Saban leaves no piece of film unwatched.
"I'm sure they watched our film," Hankwitz said. "They're going to figure out what we did."
That's just a hint of the mysteries surrounding No. 3 Ohio State and its quarterback going into what is likely Fields' final college game. Which Fields will we get? Hankwitz and Northwestern held him to his worst career outing. on Dec. 19 in the Big Ten Championship Game.
For the first time in his career, Fields completed less than half of his passes. He threw two costly interceptions. Ohio State didn't win because of him; it won despite him. Trey Sermon rushed for 271 of his school-record 331 yards in the second half of a 22-10 win.
Thirteen days later, Fields played the game of his life against No. 2 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. Fields threw six touchdown passes, four of them with sore ribs after being speared by Clemson linebacker James Skalski.
The condition of those ribs is one of the most gossiped topics of the week. Fields said he took "a shot or two" in the medical tent after the hit to be able to keep playing. It hurt each time he threw the ball, Fields said.
"You're not worried about your side hurting," Fields said afterward. "You're just playing football, but after each and every throw, my ribs would hurt for sure.
"It's what we sign up for. We know the risks coming into this."
CBS Sports spoke with a couple of medical professionals about rib injuries. The risk of playing with a broken rib is a collapsed lung. If it's just bruised ribs, pain medicine can handle it. As for getting injections in such a sensitive area during a game, Toradol is a common anti-inflammatory.
"It's extremely painful," Sermon said of rib injuries. "Especially when you're not really expecting it. I mean, it's pretty painful. He's a tough dude, so I know he'll be fine."
Depending which NFL mock draft you read, Fields will be the second or third quarterback selected in April. It seems like only yesterday when two kids out of Georgia were 1-2 for best recruit in the country in the Class of 2018.
Trevor Lawrence got his national championship in 2018 with Clemson. Fields is gunning for his on Monday. Both would come against Alabama.
Fields transferred to Ohio State sight unseen after a single season at Georgia in 2018. His winning of the locker room with his work ethic has been chronicled. That was at a time when Fields had yet to start a game and Day was acting as an interim coach for three games.
"The connection that me and Coach Day had from Day 1 was genuine," Fields said.
Let's be honest. Fields heads to his college finale with 77 touchdowns (62 passing) in 21 career starts. If there is any worry about the ribs, Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson both mentioned last year's Michigan game as proof Fields can play through pain. Five plays after reinjuring a sprained MCL, Fields reentered the game throwing a 30-yard laser to Garrett Wilson for his third touchdown pass of the game. Ohio State won 56-27.
"People forget what happened in the Team Up North game when he took that shot in the knee," Day said. "He came back in … and threw a touchdown pass. … It was like, 'Whoa!'"
So, which Fields is which of late?
"He kind of reminded me of a young Cam Newton or something like that," Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses said.
"We worked on trying to trying to disguise our coverages," the 73-year old Hankwitz said, "not show what we're going to be in. Just because we're in alignment pre-snap doesn't mean that that's what they think we're going to be in. We're not perfect at it."
Nobody is, though the veteran defensive coordinator had time to think about it. In 47 years as an assistant, Hankwitz won a national championship at Colorado, 10 games at Kansas (really!) and spent the last 13 years at Northwestern with Pat Fitzgerald and the overachieving Wildcats.
Much, then, is possible. That night in Indianapolis, Hankwitz dropped seven or eight into coverage at times to keep Fields off balance. The quarterback was sacked three times and threw for only 114 yards. Fields was missing his best wide receiver as Chris Olave was one of 22 Ohio State players who missed the Big Ten title game.
The program doesn't specify COVID-19 positives on its availability report. Olave is back for the championship.
Maybe that is enough to explain an off night. But to think that Saban and defensive coordinator Pete Golding won't seek some cognizance from the Northwestern underground seems foolish.
"Absolutely," Golding said. "I think in anything it's a copycat business. What do people do well that's working?"
"I don't think it's any secret in this profession," Saban said. "Sometimes, if you know somebody from another team that played, you sort of ask some advice and maybe get some knowledge and experience."
Victory might be as simple as those Ohio State players returning. But the anxiety isn't over yet. Ohio State and College Football Playoff sources sort of danced around a report this week that another COVID-19 issue had developed in advance of the national championship.
All any official continues to say is they intend to have a game Monday night.
"We'll have plenty of players," Day said.
But how many? The Monday mysteries are abound. Fields is one of them.