Chris Olave among the Ohio State players unavailable for Big Ten championship

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

INDIANAPOLIS — Ohio State will be without Chris Olave when it faces Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday afternoon.

Olave, one of the Buckeyes’ leading receivers, was one of 22 players who were listed as unavailable on a player status report released a little more than an hour before kickoff between the teams at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The school did not provide specifics surrounding the absence of Olave or of others, leaving the possibilities that the players could be sidelined due to positive coronavirus tests, contact tracing or injuries.

The Buckeyes previously had 23 players out during their win at Michigan State on Dec. 5 after their Thanksgiving weekend game at Illinois was canceled due to an outbreak of coronavirus cases within the program.

Prior to Thanksgiving, the team had essentially no positive virus cases this season, team physician Jim Borchers said.

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Along with Olave, two other starters in linebacker Baron Browning and punter Drue Chrisman were to be sidelined against Northwestern.

In a tweet, Chrisman confirmed he had tested positive for COVID-19.

"While this virus has not been pleasant, I want to assure you that my wife and I are doing well and following the protocols from Ohio State and the Big Ten," he wrote.

Walk-on Zach Hoover was expected to handle punting duties in place of Chrisman. 

Though the key Ohio State players were out, the team cleared COVID-19 testing protocol when they arrived in Indianapolis on Friday night in preparation for the title game.

The status report did offer some good news for the Buckeyes.

Starting offensive linemen, including a trio of left tackle Thayer Munford, center Josh Myers and right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere who were unable to play two weeks ago, were to return, as was backup offensive lineman Paris Johnson.

When they were out, it prompted Ohio State to break in a handful of new starters, though it had little trouble prevailing in a 52-12 win.

Linebacker Tuf Borland and safety Josh Proctor, also out against the Spartans, were available this week.

But the absence of Olave, a favorite target for quarterback Justin Fields, loomed large as the Buckeyes prepared to face the Wildcats, who feature the nation’s best pass efficiency defense and a pair of all-conference defensive backs in their secondary.

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Olave has caught 36 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns this season. Paired with Garrett Wilson they been on the other end of nearly two-thirds of Fields’ completions.

It’s unclear how long Olave could be out and if it could impact the Buckeyes should they reach the College Football Playoff.

Under the Big Ten’s protocols this season, players who test positive for COVID-19 are to be out for 21 days, while those who are in contact tracing are to be in isolation and be out for two weeks.

The semifinals for the playoff are scheduled to begin on Jan. 1, which is 13 days from Saturday.

Protocols could be revised for the playoff, and coach Ryan Day said on his radio show this week that athletic director Gene Smith was looking into some of those related matters.

Starting safety Marcus Hooker, who was listed as a game-time decision on the unavailability report, appeared to be out with an undisclosed injury. He was on the sideline while in sweats during warmups ahead of kickoff. 

Other players sidelined included wide receiver Chris Booker, cornerback Cam Brown, running back Steele Chambers, defensive lineman Jacolbe Cowan, linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, defensive end Tyler Friday, defensive tackle Zaid Hamdan, wide receiver Jaylen Harris, quarterback Gunnar Hoak, defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste, linebacker Cade Kacherski, quarterback Jagger Laroe, tight end Corey Rau, linebacker Ben Schmiesing, safety Bryson Shaw, offensive lineman Ryan Smith, wide receiver Jaxson Smith Njigba, defensive back Alec Taylor and safety Kourt Williams.