COLUMBUS – Playing No. 7 Michigan State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) on Saturday might be the biggest challenge No. 4 Ohio State (9-1, 7-0 Big Ten) has faced this football season.
Whether it is bigger than the circumstances that made last season’s game against MSU extremely challenging is debatable. Certainly this season and last season brought different kinds of challenges.
Last season, when the Buckeyes beat the Spartans 52-12 on the road, head coach Ryan Day, three assistant coaches and 23 players had to stay home because of testing positive for COVID-19.
Ohio State’s offensive line was hit especially hard with starting tackles Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere and center Josh Myers out of action. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson filled in for Day and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson made the offensive play calls.
“I thought about that the other day when I read there were some outbreaks going on around the country. I thought back to last year what it was like having to deal with that and I wouldn’t want to go through anything like that again,” Day said.
“It was great to see the leaders and the staff step up on the road. We had a bunch of people go down that week. It was a big challenge but we learned a lot about our character and the culture of this team. It was not easy at all.”
“It is great seeing the fans in the stands again. Once in a while I take a look up in the stands. At least, I do now this year. To say I don’t enjoy that wouldn’t be true. It’s great to get back in there, even going on the road in hostile environments. That’s one of the reasons you coach,” he said.
The atmosphere isn’t the only thing that will be different about playing Michigan State this year.
After the Spartans went 2-5 last season and finished last in the Big Ten East Division, MSU coach Mel Tucker did a major makeover on his roster by bring in 20 transfers.
The most notable of those experienced new arrivals is running back Kenneth Walker III, who leads all major college rushers with 1,483 yards after transferring from Wake Forest.
“They’re a good team, they play with really good energy. I think they’re believing in what Mel’s doing up there. He certainly turned that roster over to a championship level quickly. They have really good players. It’s a challenge for us,” Day said.
The Buckeyes can’t afford to think the improvements they’ve already made will be enough to carry them through the rest of the season, he said.
“To be good this time of year you have to update yourself every week. I used the analogy of the iPhone,” Day said.
“The iPhone that was around three years ago is a little different than the iPhone now. It has different capabilities, it’s updated. You have to continually update yourself week in and week out. Hopefully the guys understand that. A play that worked four weeks ago might not work now. They (opposing teams) go in the laboratory and find ways to scheme you up.”
– SENIOR DAY: Ohio State will honor 24 players on Senior Day at Saturday’s game. Three of those players – Cameron Brown, Master Teague and Nicholas Petit-Frere – are redshirt juniors in terms of football eligibility but are senior level academically.
Their choice of participating in Senior Day could be taken as an indication they do not expect to be at Ohio State next year. But Day said they have not decided about their future.
“Anybody who’s considered a senior who wants to go ahead and walk out before the game, they get a chance to do that. I don’t think most of them have made up a decision on what their future holds for them, but at the same time, they want to have that opportunity,” Day said.
“So if something were to happen, whether they go to the NFL or whatever, they would have an option to do that. So we just leave it up to them. I wouldn’t look too far into any of those things.”
Several players eligible to leave but who still have a chance to return next season are not on the list of players being recognized on Senior Day.
Injured safety Josh Proctor has already said he will return. Defensive tackle Jerron Cage, offensive lineman Matthew Jones and linebacker Teradja Mitchell could also return.
—TEAGUE UPDATE: Day said running back Master Teague, who has been unavailable for three of OSU’s last four games, is “OK.”
“He’s kind of day to day now,” Day said.