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After long, difficult offseason, Ohio State finally gets to play

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra

For Chris Olave and the Ohio State Buckeyes, the day they’ve awaited has finally arrived.

Ohio State will belatedly open its 2020 football season Saturday against Nebraska at Ohio Stadium.

It would have been a long offseason even if the world hadn’t been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic because of the Buckeyes’ loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals last December in the Fiesta Bowl.

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Add in the termination of spring practice, the closing of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and the Big Ten’s decision to postpone and reinstate the football season, and it has been a roller coaster.

For Olave, who returned home to California after the Woody was closed, it has been particularly tough. His miscommunication with quarterback Justin Fields on the game-clinching interception against Clemson was a bitter ending to what had been a dream season.

The prospect of not having a 2020 season tore at the Buckeyes. Now that they’ll have one, they’re determined to take full advantage.

“I've been ready for a long time,” Olave said. “(It’s been) a long 10 months, thinking about that game and the season ending and what could have happened. Finally being able to suit up and play a real game instead of (just) practicing for these last three months is definitely a blessing.”

Ohio State receiver Chris Olave, here reeling in a touchdown pass against Penn State in Ohio Stadium last November, anticipates a weird atmosphere when the Buckeyes open their 2020 season against Nebraska in a mostly empty Horseshoe.

But it will not be a typical opener at the Horseshoe. The Big Ten will not allow spectators this season other than players’ relatives. Piped-in crowd noise will have to suffice instead of the real thing.

“It's going to be real weird at first,” Olave said. “We don't really know how it's going to feel, especially having a stadium empty (except) our family there. We’ve got to adapt to it and feed off each other's energy. When somebody makes it play, we’ve got to be hyped for each other.”

Olave’s mother and brother are flying in for the game.

“Having them there is a blessing for me,” he said. “I can't wait to see them there.”

But there will be no family hugs. Physical distance rules will preclude that.

About the only thing that’s routine about this opener is that Ohio State is a prohibitive favorite. Nebraska is a 26-point underdog as the Cornhuskers begin Scott Frost’s third year in charge after a disappointing 5-7 season in 2019.

The Cornhuskers return junior quarterback Adrian Martinez and their entire offensive line. But other than receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, who had 40 catches as a freshman in 2019, Nebraska lacks proven playmakers.

Ohio State’s offense figures to be able to move the ball against a Huskers defense that has plenty of questions, especially up front.

“The challenge for us is really not knowing who is actually going to start (for Nebraska),” Ohio State left tackle Thayer Munford said. “Usually by now we have by two or three games (of video) on our Big Ten opponents before we actually go against them.”

Ohio State has questions on defense, especially at defensive tackle and in the secondary. OSU coach Ryan Day is encouraged by the unit’s development in preseason camp, but first games are always a bit of a mystery.

“I think that's the thing that's going to be exciting about the start of this journey with both sides of the ball and special teams is to see where we're at,” he said. “But I watch them day-in and day-out practice physically. I just like the physicality, the seriousness, the leadership on that side of the ball.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch