Game week is finally upon programs across the Big Ten, a reality that seemed improbable if not downright impossible just months ago.
With the 2020 football season finally set to get underway, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day met with the media on Tuesday to preview the Buckeyes’ season opener on Saturday against Nebraska.
Saturday will provide Buckeye fans with their first look at new running back Trey Sermon, who transferred to Columbus from Oklahoma this offseason to add much-needed depth following the injury of Master Teague III. Teague, who was expected to take over as the workhorse following the departure of J.K. Dobbins, suffered an Achilles tear during Ohio State’s first and only spring practice, leaving many to believe he would be lost for most, if not all of the season.
Teague’s remarkable recovery has him rearing to go entering week one, however, something Day said continues to amaze him. Day said that had the season never been interrupted, Teague would have likely missed the opener against Bowling Green but would have been ready to go for the week two showdown at Oregon.
“He’s continued to work, and work through all of the things that come in the way when recovering from an Achilles (injury),” Day said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked of him and more. I’m really excited for him that he’s going to be able to play a strong season. We’re expecting big things from him. He’s practiced very well, and he’s a huge part of our offense right now.”
Although Teague figures to get a significant share of carries on Saturday, Day wouldn’t commit to how the carries would shake out between Teague and Sermon, saying only that multiple guys will play.
“We probably have more depth there than we’ve ever had, which is great because we going to need them all this season,” Day said of the running backs.
No position group has more to prove for the Buckeyes than the secondary, which is replacing three current NFL starters in cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette, and safety Jordan Fuller. Day said he’s been very impressed with the group over the last couple of weeks, adding that the good thing for guys like cornerbacks Shaun Wade, Sevyn Banks, and Cam Brown is that they all have experience to rely upon.
Players such as safeties Josh Proctor and Marcus Hooker, or cornerback Marcus Willaimson, who don’t have much experience, will “have to really prove themselves” but all are “trending in the right direction” under defensive coordinator and former defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs’ guidance, Day added.
Day said Tuesday’s practice would be the 39th of the offseason for his team, but with the season just days away, it’s time for the sense of urgency to reflect the calendar.
“I told them, ‘You’re either going to look like a champ or look like a chump based on your preparation because now is the time,’” Day said. “It’s not just like, ‘Ok, we’ll get it the next rep.’ That’s what happens when you practice so much and there are no real consequences for a mistake. Well, now there will be. We’ll get a better idea of what kind of team we have on Saturday night.”
Day said going directly into a conference game without any film on the team is a challenge, although the Nebraska coaching staff has mostly stayed the same from last year. He said it will be important to do the best they can at making adjustments on the fly during the game, “but at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to tackling, blocking, ball security, all of the things that matter in a game.”
While the season is a go, the atmosphere in and around Big Ten stadiums will be in stark contrast to the pageantry typically associated with fall Saturdays in the midwest. Spectators will be limited to family members only, and there will be no Ohio State University Marching Band, Brutus, or cheerleaders making any noise inside Ohio Stadium.
To partially make up for the lack of a gameday atmosphere, stadiums will pump in noise through the speakers to avoid an otherwise silent venue. The Big Ten conference has provided each school with a soundtrack of noise to be played in the stadiums, and set the limits to how loud it can be played during plays and in between plays.
Although it certainly won’t be the same during plays, Day said he thinks the piped-in crowd noise might actually be even louder than what a live crowd can muster, albeit in a different manner.
“It isn’t silent. There’s kind of some ambient noise in the background and because of that, it’s not just silent. In between plays, however, it actually is very loud,” Day said. “At times, I think it’s actually louder in the stadium than it would be in the stadium. The noise coming out of the speakers, it’s not comprehensive. There’s nobody in the stadium, so that noise kind of bounces around in the stadium.”
Of course, for however long the 2020 season lasts, the shadow caused by COVID-19 and the potential for outbreaks wrecking a season will continue to loom. Day said he and his team are taking the protocols as an ongoing measure, understanding the race doesn’t end simply by kicking off the season on Saturday.
“To look at it like it’s been a success right now would be premature because we still have two more months of it,” Day said of the protocols in place. “That’s the way we have to look at it. This is not a week-to-week thing, it’s all the way until January because we might be good for two or three weeks … and then all of a sudden we stub our toe and have an outbreak, and then we’re going to lose games, and we can’t afford that.”
Day said it will be imperative that coaches and players alike are vigilant in making sure that protocols are being followed, while also not getting fatigued with following those protocols and continuing to make the necessary sacrifices, which he acknowledged isn’t easy to do.
“It’s an emphasis every single day,” Day said. “I made a vow to the players that I’ll make sure I bring it up every single day, we talk about it every single day because it’s that important … I say, ‘You guys might get tired of hearing me, and you may not want to hear it every day, but the minute you take a deep breath, the minute I don’t bring it up, it takes one day. One trip to the restaurant, one trip to the grocery store where you don’t have a mask on and you’re exposed to someone and then you’re at risk. And then you’re not playing for three weeks, and you put the team at risk.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.