EAST LANSING, Mich. — Ryan Day had the ball in his hands as a high school and college quarterback. He’s had the game plan in his hands the last two seasons as Ohio State’s football coach.
But Saturday was different. After testing positive for the coronavirus, he was a spectator, watching Ohio State roll to a 52-12 win over Michigan State from his house.
On Thursday he said watching from afar would be really tough. “It will probably be the hardest three hours of my life,” Day said.
After No. 4 Ohio State raised its record to 5-0 with its win at Michigan State, Day admitted the watching wasn’t as bad as the worrying.
Despite facing the adversity of leaving 23 players, their head coach and three assistant coaches at home after a surge of positive coronavirus tests, the Buckeyes dropped a significant amount of scoreboard adversity on the Spartans (2-4).
And if they sent a message to the College Football Playoff selection committee, all the better.
“This is all about the leaders and coaches who stepped up in a big way. I can’t say enough about the leaders this week,” Day said on a Zoom call after the game. “What a great statement about what we are as a culture and a team.”
It also was a statement about the recruiting machine OSU has become.
The Buckeyes were without three starting offensive linemen — tackles Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere and center Josh Myers — and starting middle linebacker Tuf Borland. The coaching staff was also shorthanded with quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis, co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and special teams coach Matt Barnes watching from home, like their head coach.
Ohio State dominated from the beginning of the game when it built a 28-0 halftime lead and forced Michigan State to go three-and-out the first four times it had the ball. OSU finished with 521 yards total offense and held MSU to 261 yards.
Quarterback Justin Fields was 17 of 24 passing for 199 yards and threw touchdown passes of 28 yards to Garrett Wilson and 41 yards to Chris Olave. Fields also ran for a career-best 104 yards on 13 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Trey Sermon led Ohio State’s running game with 112 yards on 10 carries, including runs of 64 yards and 25 yards. Olave caught 10 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown.
“That’s how the game played out. I had to make some plays with my feet today. That’s going to happen in big games. Whatever I have to do to help the team win, that’s what I’m doing, just help us get the W,” Fields said.
“I think this week really brought us together as a team. Our leadership got better this week. With Coach Day being out he challenged the leadership on the team to improve and the leaders definitely stepped up. It was tough at first. I think the team responded well.”
Fields was coming off a rare bad game after being intercepted three times in a 42-35 win over Indiana two weeks ago. And with OSU’s game at Illinois last Saturday being canceled he had an extra week to think about it.
“Coach Day wasn’t really on me because he knows that I know I messed up and I know where I need to improve on. Those were some dumb mistakes by me (against Indiana). I’m glad it happened. It was a great learning opportunity for me,” Fields said.
Fields said he felt lucky to have escaped the coronavirus. “I’m honestly surprised I didn’t get it. I guess it was just God looking out for me. We were just looking forward to playing. We were happy we got the opportunity to play today.”
OSU was not sure it would be able to play against Michigan State until a final round of testing on Friday showed a continuing decreased rate of positive tests.
Now it is faced with uncertainty about whether a coronavirus surge in Michigan’s football program could keep the Wolverines from playing in their rivalry game this Saturday.
“Hopefully, we start getting some guys back,” Day said. “I get going on Monday, and then we get some of the coaches back, and then we start getting some of these guys back in the building. That’s huge.
“I’m hoping that the worst part is behind us and we can move forward.”