Practice might make perfect, but Ohio State is eager for football games
Ordinarily, Ohio State would have taken a knee.
After a turnover, the Buckeyes took possession with 14 seconds left in their victory over Rutgers on Nov. 7. But instead of quarterback C.J. Stroud kneeling on his first snap as a Buckeye, he handed off to fellow freshman Miyan Williams for a 5-yard carry.
The play had no impact on the outcome, but it meant plenty to the backups, especially during this oddball Big Ten football season.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day said he was astounded on Wednesday when he saw that it was the Buckeyes’ 57th practice of 2020. Their game against Indiana on Saturday will be only their fourth.
“I just thought that was unbelievable,” Day said Thursday. “We’ve had 57 practices and we’ve only played three games. Very strange.”
That means that game reps have been rare for backups, especially for Ohio State’s offensive linemen. On defense and at most offensive positions, rotating is common. But for backup linemen, almost all their action has been in practice.
So, understandably, those linemen pleaded with Day to run a normal play at the end of the Rutgers game. Tackles Dawand Jones and Paris Johnson Jr., guards Enokk Vimahi and Max Wray and center Luke Wypler got their wish.
“They were just screaming to run one play,” Day said. “They just wanted one play. They didn’t want to take a knee. We just ran a base play and they were jumping up and down. It made my night. They’re itching to get out there and they want to play.”
Last year, backup linemen got plenty of action. The Buckeyes played a full season and almost all of their games were blowouts. Freshman guard Harry Miller got 181 snaps, which helped prepare him to be a starter this year. This year, the backups have gotten about 30 apiece.
Day said the lack of game opportunities for backups is an issue. He believes the backup linemen are improving based on their practices. But in those, the backups are so used to going against familiar defensive linemen or are on scout-team duty.
“I think we’re getting better, but sometimes you just don’t know until you play (games),” Day said. “I’m looking forward to, at some point, having those guys get out there and get some game reps.”
Even for starters, having almost 20 practices per game has been a tough ratio to endure.
“That's why these guys are dying to play in this game on Saturday,” Day said. “They’ve had a great week of practice, great energy.
“It’s been a challenge. This is just the way it’s been.”
Ohio State’s availability report will be released Friday. Among the biggest questions will be the status of kicker Blake Haubeil.
“I’m not sure if he’ll be ready,” Day said. “It’s day to day."
Haubeil injured a groin muscle during pregame of the Penn State game Oct. 31. After Haubeil missed a short field goal attempt against the Nittany Lions, Day used walk-on Dominic DiMaccio, who also missed a chip-shot field goal attempt.
Haubeil wasn’t healed for the Rutgers game, during which freshman Jake Seibert handled the extra points. Day said Seibert would be the kicker Saturday if Haubeil can’t play.