With Ryan Day sitting at home, Ohio State football takes on improving Michigan State

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra

Ryan Day knows that watching from his couch instead of the sideline on Saturday will be agonizing.

It sure beats the alternative for the Ohio State football coach and his Buckeyes.

A week after deciding to cancel its game at Illinois because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the team, Ohio State plays at Michigan State on Saturday, assuming there isn’t a late setback.

Day won’t be there. He tested positive for the coronavirus and is quarantining at home. Defensive line coach and associate head coach Larry Johnson will fill in as head coach while Day watches anxiously from home.

“I'll be watching and communicating up until game time and trying to do the best I can that way,” Day said Thursday. “But once the game starts, the coaches have to coach, and the players have to play.

With head coach Ryan Day not on the trip to Michigan State because of COVID-19 protocols, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will move from the press box to the field to call the offensive plays.

“It'll probably be the hardest three hours of my life, but at that point you just have to get them to the game and then let them go.”

The No. 4 Buckeyes (4-0) are a 23½-point favorite over the Spartans (2-3), who upset previously undefeated Northwestern last week.

Any point spread, however. should be taken with a grain of salt. It is unknown how many Buckeyes will be sidelined because of COVID. The university's policy is to not release the names of players and staff members affected, nor even the number who have tested positive.

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With Day absent, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will take over play-calling duties. Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs remains in charge of the defense.

“It's not going to be just me (making decisions),” Johnson said on the Buckeyes' weekly radio show. “It’s going to be Kevin, coach Coombs and (co-coordinator) Greg (Mattison), all those guys that will be around me.

“I feel really good going into the game because we have a great, very experienced coaching staff. It'll be all of us taking a part in trying to get a victory in East Lansing.”

Wilson will move down from the coaching booth to the field so he can have more interaction with players, especially quarterback Justin Fields.

“I think it’s important to be able to look Justin in his eyes and get a feel for what he likes or doesn't like,” Wilson said.

Two weeks ago, this game figured to be a mismatch. Michigan State’s only win had come against Michigan. The transition from longtime coach Mark Dantonio to Mel Tucker had its expected growing pains, which were made more challenging by the way COVID affected preparation for the season.

Day said he can see improvement in the Spartans, with their 29-20 victory over Northwestern as proof.

Ohio State has to hope it has been able to improve through practice. The Buckeyes’ only game since Nov. 7 has been their victory over Indiana two weeks ago because of an earlier cancellation against Maryland.

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Day said he worries about the emotional toll that has taken.

“To just say, it’s OK and we’re going to get over it, isn’t fair,” he said. “We've had to just continually get over the disappointment. These starts, these stops. To win a football game at any level but certainly in college football at Ohio State, you have to get yourself emotionally ready to play the game. When those games are taken away, it's hard to create that momentum again. I think that's probably the hardest thing as a team.”

That’s where maturity and leadership are required. Day believes his team has both..

“Going through this time, it reveals exactly who you are,” Day said. “It just exposes your character. To see the majority of our guys, especially the leaders and the older guys, just continually push forward, that's what strong guys do.”