INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State freshman Garrett Wilson made his debut as a punt returner in a promising sequence in late September.
He took a punt 52 yards early in the third quarter of a rout of Miami University, nearly reaching the end zone. Since then, the Buckeyes have used the talented receiver as one of their primary punt returners, along with Demario McCall, a reserve running back.
But in two of the final three regular-season games, Wilson muffed a punt, raising questions over how long the coaches might be willing to stick with him in the role despite his budding talent.
Coach Ryan Day conceded Friday, the day before the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin, that Wilson needed to better handle punts.
“He's got to take care of the ball,” Day said.
Wilson, though, would continue to return punts for the Buckeyes.
“We believe in him,” Day said. “We trust in him. We think he has the ability to be an elite returner. We'll just keep working through it and get his eyes on that ball and catch it. We know what he's capable of. We know what he's done in practice.”
On one of his muffed punts, a sequence that occurred last weekend at Michigan, Day remarked that the wind made the return more difficult, noting that it was “a little gusty.” That is not an issue at Lucas Oil Stadium, an indoor facility.
“We expect him to do a great job and be 100 percent catching the ball,” Day said.
Fuller feared targeting ejection at Michigan
Safety Jordan Fuller's availability for the Big Ten championship game was in question for a moment last weekend at Michigan.
Fuller was flagged for targeting in the fourth quarter for a hit on Wolverines receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones on a pass over the middle. But the penalty was overturned after a review. Had it been upheld, Fuller would have been suspended for the first half of the game against the Badgers.
The moment of uncertainty created unease for Fuller.
“I didn't feel like I was malicious,” Fuller said, “but I've been ejected before, so I was kind of leaning toward, 'Dang, I'm going to be ejected.'”
Added Fuller, “Thankfully, they reviewed it, and they came to the conclusion that I wasn't targeting, so I'm very thankful for that. But I definitely thought I was going to be thrown out.”
Fuller was ejected for targeting in a game against Nebraska last season.
Redshirt Cooper travels with team
Although defensive end Jonathon Cooper plans to redshirt, preventing him from appearing in another game this season, he will continue to travel with the team.
He played in his fourth game last weekend at Michigan, and under NCAA rules implemented last year, players can appear in no more than four games to remain eligible for a redshirt. Cooper will watch remaining games from the sideline in street clothes.
“Unless he just made a strong case for why he'd want to dress, the plan is for him not to,” Day said. “We didn't want to risk putting him on the field. It's a decision you have to make, taking emotion out of it.”
A high ankle sprain hobbled Cooper for most of the season, and Day reiterated on Friday that Cooper “deserves to have a full season, his senior year healthy.”
Next season will be Cooper's fifth season.
Two of Ohio State's starters left the Wisconsin game during the first half because of injury.
Cornerback Jeff Okudah went into the medical tent after the first quarter and was replaced by Cameron Brown.
After Okudah emerged from the tent, he sat on a bench on the sideline without his helmet. However, he started the second half.
Right guard Wyatt Davis left the game late in the second quarter before returning. When Davis was out, right tackle Branden Bowen slid over to fill in for him, and Nicholas Petit-Frere rotated in for Bowen.
OSU fans flock to Indy
The crowd at the Big Ten championship game was expected to be dominated by Ohio State fans. A fan forecast from Vivid Seats projected the crowd to be a 93% to 7% split in favor of the Buckeyes.
Dispatch Reporter Bill Rabinowitz contributed to this story.