OSU depleted but will stay undefeated

The team. The team. The team.

Bo Schembechler told his Michigan football team that was the most important thing in a 1983 speech that became part of the Schembechler legend.

It’s fair to say most football coaches, Bo included, would value the routine, the routine, the routine almost as highly as the team, the team, the team.

Coaches prefer no surprises, no disruptions and no variations as they prepare for games.

But the uncertainty of 2020 has shredded the comfortable predictability of routines. Teams have seen their procedures change from week to week, even from day to day.

If the coronavirus is under control by the start of the 2021 college football season, many of the familiar routines will return.

But it is also possible lessons were learned during this stressful season that could lead to changes in routines.

Maybe teams will ask if they have to practice quite as long as they thought they did. Or if some team meetings or media opportunities can be done online instead of in person.

Things like that are questions for another day. The questions that matter most to Ohio State right now are about its game at Michigan State today.

Here are five big questions about that game:

1. Was Ohio State actually able to pull off playing a game just one week after canceling its game at Illinois last week because of several positive tests for COVID-19 among coaches, players and support staff members?

When Wisconsin and Maryland canceled games for the same reason earlier this season they ended up not playing two games before they got back on the field.

Ohio State issued a statement Friday afternoon saying it would travel to Michigan State on Friday night and that its positive test percentage had dropped to a level which allowed today’s game to be played.

2. Which Ohio State players will be missing because of testing positive?

Ohio State did not release how many players were affected or their names. So, if the game goes on as scheduled at noon today, the first time OSU’s offense and defense take the field there will be great curiosity to see which regulars are absent.

If stars are affected or if a position group is hit hard or even if the biggest effect is reducing depth at some positions it could be a factor in the game.

Head coach Ryan Day said the Buckeyes would be “a little short handed” for today’s game on his weekly radio show on Thursday.

Day also talked about considering giving some of the freshmen defensive backs playing time, which led to speculation there are players at those positions who tested positive.

And when offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said something about looking quarterback Justin Fields in the eyes on the sideline at Michigan State on Day’s show, some people interpreted that as a sign Fields will play.

3. How big will Day not being at the game because of testing positive be?

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson will be the acting coach, with offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs performing their usual roles.

Johnson has been a coach for more than 40 years, Coombs has been a coach for almost 40 years and Wilson was Indiana’s head coach for six season before coming to OSU. They’re not newcomers.

Day is always heavily involved in creating Ohio State’s game plan. The plan won’t change. But Day will not be allowed to do any coaching from home during the game. So, will the assistant coaches be just as bold at calling plays as Day might have been?

Day will return to coaching Monday.

4. Is there a danger of Ohio State putting too much pressure on itself and thinking too much about the Big Ten championship game and the College Football Playoff?

Ohio State (4-0) needs to play six games to qualify for the Big Ten championship game. And it needs to stay unbeaten to be considered for the playoff.

Also, the last time OSU played Fields threw a career-worst three interceptions against Indiana. Could he put pressure on himself to make up for that?

5. Which Michigan State team will show up?

The Spartans (2-3) spoiled undefeated Northwestern’s perfect record with a 29-20 win last Saturday in a game in which they ran the ball effectively for the first time this season. Their other win came against Michigan when the Wolverines were still considered a Big Ten contender.

Their losses have been to Rutgers 38-27 when they had seven turnovers, to Iowa 49-7 and to Indiana 24-0.

The prediction: Ohio State 35, Michigan State 10.


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