Day says Buckeyes 'getting a lot of guys back,' but full strength is another issue

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day enters the Superdome as his team arrives before taking on Clemson Tigers during the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021.

NEW ORLEANS – As Ohio State prepares to fly to the Sugar Bowl on Thursday afternoon, it remains unclear how close to full strength the Buckeyes will be for its College Football Playoff semifinal Friday night against Clemson.

The Buckeyes have been without more than 20 players for each of their last two games, mostly for COVID-19 reasons. The expectation is that many of the players unavailable for the Big Ten championship game against Northwestern would be back.

Coach Ryan Day said Thursday morning that is the case, but said the transition from forced inactivity due to COVID protocols causes a gray area.

“Full strength is a floating target right now because there's guys who come from isolation, and then they have a protocol to get back onto the field,” Day said in a Zoom press conference with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.

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Day said players have to ramp up gradually after not being allowed to work out for 10 days after testing positive.

“I think there's certain levels of return to play, and all those guys who were missing there for the last month are working their way back into it. We are getting a lot of guys back. But to say 100 percent... it's different this year. But the good news is they are working their way back and getting stronger every day.”

The three most prominent players who missed the Northwestern game were wide receiver Chris Olave, linebacker Baron Browning and punter Drue Chrisman. Olave narrated the team's pre-game “hype” video for Clemson so it's a safe bet that he's available. Chrisman said in a social-media post the day of the Big Ten championship that he expected to play in the Buckeyes' next game.

The status of Browning is unknown.

The Buckeyes' COVID picture could change. Unlike Clemson, Ohio State will have their final COVID tests Thursday morning before their flight leaves from Rickenbacker International Airport in the afternoon. The College Football Playoff does not have a COVID-testing protocol that is standard for all teams.

“I think that's a unique situation that we don't have the same protocols going into the game,” Day said, “but I'm not going to spend time thinking about it. I'm tired of that. It's just what it is. As long as the guys are healthy playing the game, that's what matters.

“We're gonna have an opportunity to PCR,” Day added, referring to the polymerase chain reaction COVID test. “We're testing this morning. And then if we do get a presumptive (positive), we'll have a chance to PCR before we get on the plane.”

“At the end of the day, what's the goal? The goal is to have a clean field. And so we'll follow the protocol that's been set forth.”

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Clemson will be without offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, who tested positive for COVID on Wednesday and did not accompany the team on its flight to New Orleans on Wednesday.

"We're certainly going to miss Tony," Swinney said. "He does a wonderful job for us and always has. He's been with me a long time. But we're well-prepared. We've got a great staff."