Ohio State's Chris Olave expected back from COVID for the game he covets most

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State receiver Chris Olave (2) hauls in a pass in a Dec. 5 game at Michigan State. Olave missed the Buckeyes' win over Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game because of COVID-19 but is expected to play against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.

Garrett Wilson has a huge photo from last year’s Clemson game in his apartment.

Chris Olave wants nothing more than to erase the image of that game from his head.

On Friday, wide receivers Wilson and Olave are expected to be back together on the field when Ohio State plays Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl.

Olave missed the Big Ten championship game because of COVID-19. That put his status for the playoff in jeopardy, but all indications are that Olave will play.

Last year as a freshman, Wilson flashed his immense ability as a role player in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson. On Ohio State’s first drive, he made a leaping catch over a defender that started the Buckeyes’ early push. A picture of that catch is on Wilson’s wall.

“It’s pushing life-size,” Wilson said with a smile. “It’s not (that big), though, but it looks good in the room.”

The late stages of the Clemson game, as every Buckeyes fan is painfully aware, did not go well, especially for Olave. His banner season had a sour finish when he changed his route on Ohio State’s last-minute drive in a miscommunication with quarterback Justin Fields, resulting in a game-clinching interception for Clemson.

Ohio State's Chris Olave had three receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown in last year's Fiesta Bowl against Clemson, but rues his miscommunication with quarterback Justin Fields that led to a late-minute Tigers interception.

“I talked to him after that game,” Wilson said in a conference call this week. “All we talked about was another shot at playing Clemson, and another shot at playing for a national championship. So a year later, we're right back in the same scenario. I know that he just wants to make the most of it.”

Olave wasn’t made available to reporters this week, but the junior has been candid in sharing how that split-second decision haunted him.

“I know he took last year personal, maybe a little bit more personal than he should have,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “But I think that's what competitors do.”

Olave worked out with extra intensity in the offseason, even after he returned home to California when the Woody Hayes Athletic Center was closed because of COVID-19 restrictions.

In five games this year, he has 36 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns as he and Wilson have formed perhaps the top receiving duo in the country.

Olave’s value was never clearer than in his absence. Without him against Northwestern, Fields completed only 12 of 27 passes for 114 yards and two interceptions. It was by far Fields’ worst statistical performance in two seasons as a Buckeye.

“I just miss(ed) Chris being out on the field,” Fields said. “He's a great leader for the receivers. Of course, he's a great player. Me and Chris have a great chemistry on the field so just having him back out there will definitely improve our offense a lot.”

Olave gives Fields another deep threat, but he’s an all-around receiver because of his smooth route-running and soft hands.

“He's a tremendous player,” Kevin Wilson said. “It's good to have him back practicing. He's looking well. We'll see how the week keeps going.”

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables knows how important Olave is.

“He's a great player,” Venables said. “He can take the top off the defense. He's got speed, length, size, toughness, savviness.

“This will be the best group of receivers that we've played against this year, so we'll be challenged, for sure.”

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No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Clemson

When: 8:45 p.m. Friday 

TV: ESPN

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)