2020 Ohio State football season in review: The quotes of the year

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Without question, the highlight of Ohio State's 2020 season was its Sugar Bowl win over Clemson, which included a celebration by, from left, Nicholas Petit-Frere, Jeremy Ruckert and Jameson Williams after Ruckert's second-quarter touchdown catch.

Ohio State’s football season was the shortest since 1941, when it also played eight games. 

But 2020 proved as eventful as any season in the program’s history, between the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic to the Buckeyes’ ultimate run to the College Football Playoff championship game.

Here is a look back on the past 12 months through some of the most memorable quotes and comments.

Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020: When coach Ryan Day held a post-Fiesta Bowl news conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the 29-23 semifinal loss to Clemson lingered. 

“It’s still kind of sitting there,” Day said. “We’re thinking about it a lot. And it’s going to keep motivating us moving forward.” 

Wednesday, March 11: “The Ohio State spring football game, set for April 11 at Ohio Stadium, has been canceled,” read a statement from the university, citing growing concerns over COVID-19 and recommendations from Gov. Mike DeWine. 

It was one of the first signs of the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the Buckeyes, who soon called off their 12 remaining spring practice sessions. 

Thursday, July 9: As coronavirus cases spiked following the Fourth of July holiday, athletic director Gene Smith grew worried about the fate of the fall’s football season. 

“I’m really concerned,” Smith said. “That is the question of the day. I am very concerned. I was cautiously optimistic. I’m not even there now. 

“When you look at the behavior of our country and you consider that in May, we were on a downward trajectory with cases, and our hospitals were creating opportunities for people to come back and get the care that they needed beyond COVID and elective surgeries and things of that nature, and now we’re if not the worst in the world, one of the worst in the world.” 

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Smith’s fears were realized a month later when the Big Ten canceled its fall sports season following an 11-3 vote by the university presidents. 

The Big Ten was the first of the Power Five conferences to call off its season, hours before the Pac-12 did the same. While the Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences all moved ahead with their schedules, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said members had apprehension about playing in a pandemic. 

“We just believed collectively that there’s too much uncertainty at this point in time in our country to encourage our student-athletes to participate in fall sports,” Warren told the Big Ten Network. “Understand that they are not professionals. These are amateur athletes. And they deserve an opportunity to be able to participate in a healthy and safe manner.” 

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Speaking with reporters later that day, Day sounded wistful about a lost opportunity to lead the Buckeyes in pursuit of a national championship. 

“As a player, you work your whole life and as a coach, you work your whole life for an opportunity to coach a team like this. This team is special. It’s special because it’s talented. It’s special because it has leadership. It’s special because of the character. It could have been a once-in-a-lifetime team.” 

Monday, Aug. 17: Within days after the Big Ten’s announcement, Buckeyes star quarterback Justin Fields began lobbying the conference reinstate its season. On Sunday he started an online petition; the next day he began appearing on a variety of morning television shows. 

“If the SEC, ACC and Big 12 all think we can have a season safely, then I don’t see a reason why the Big Ten couldn’t do the same,” he said on ESPN’s “Get Up!” 

Wednesday, Aug. 19: In an open letter released eight days after the cancellation of fall sports, Warren said the vote by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors was “overwhelmingly in support of postponing fall sports and will not be revisited.” 

The comments were an attempt to quell much of the backlash generated in response to the conference’s decision. It didn’t work. 

Friday, Aug. 21: “We do respect the fact there’s a pandemic, but the situation with the Big Ten, the lack of transparency, is a problem for parents,” Randy Wade said. 

Wade, the outspoken father of OSU cornerback Shaun Wade, organized a protest of about two dozen parents outside the Big Ten offices in suburban Chicago in an effort to bring back a season. They also gathered outside Ohio Stadium eight days later to add to the public pressure.

Big Ten parents including Randy Wade, father of OSU cornerback Shaun Wade, took part in a protest at the Big Ten headquarters in suburban Chicago.

Saturday, Aug. 29: “Ultimately, we want to play, right?” Amanda Babb, the stepmother of receiver Kamryn Babb and president of the Ohio State football parents association, said during an address at the second rally. 

“We should be given the opportunity to compete in the College Football Playoff and to compete for a national championship. Somebody from ESPN said they’re only fighting because they think they have the best team. Well, we do. So let’s go.” 

Wednesday, Sept. 16: The Big Ten reversed course and announced plans for a 2020 season following the implementation of daily coronavirus testing and increased cardiac screenings for athletes who test positive for the virus. 

“We are so excited for all Buckeye Nation and enthusiastically support the decision of the Big Ten Conference to proceed with a fall season,” Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson said. “This is what we’ve always wanted, an opportunity for our student-athletes to compete in the sports they love.” 

Saturday, Oct. 24: “It was definitely weird. I was looking up to the stands to celebrate with the fans, but nobody was out there,” Fields said following the Buckeyes’ season-opening win over Nebraska on Oct. 24, a game played without spectators in Ohio Stadium.

Quarterback Justin Fields (1) had a productive day in Ohio State's opener against Nebraska, but had trouble adjusting to the lack of fans in the stands.

Saturday, Dec. 5: Serving as the Buckeyes’ acting head coach for a win at Michigan State, Larry Johnson became the football program’s first-ever Black head coach in any capacity. 

Johnson was filling in for Day, who was required to isolate for 10 days following his COVID-19 positive test.

Larry Johnson directed Ohio State to a 52-12 win at Michigan State on Dec. 5 in place of Ryan Day, who had tested positive for COVID-19.

“It was never about me, it was about the team,” Johnson said. “That’s just my mindset and how I feel. A great honor, but more important to just being the first, is action. Everything I do is for the players.” 

Tuesday, Dec. 8: After testing positive for the coronavirus on Thanksgiving weekend, Day felt embarrassed, saying he had tried to be a good example for Ohioans during the pandemic. 

“I was crushed,” he said. “It was a little bit of an embarrassment. I felt like I let people down. But at the end of the day, this county was in purple. Franklin County was one of the highest rates in the entire country. So after a couple days of feeling sorry for myself, I dug myself out and said, ‘OK, we’ve got to move on here.’ ” 

Thursday, Dec. 10: On his weekly radio show, Day lamented the cancellation of the annual rivalry game against Michigan, marking the first time since 1917 that The Game would not be played in a season. 

“You don’t just get that kind of news and move on,” Day said. “It really hurts. There’s so much invested in that game throughout the year. We play that game every day in our building, we honor this game, it’s a daily thing.” 

Saturday, Dec. 19: “Congratulations on breaking the single-game rushing record!! Eat, young man, Eat!!!” former Heisman Trophy-winning running back Eddie George tweeted after Trey Sermon’s 331-yard rushing performance in the Big Ten championship game, breaking George’s single-game school record set in 1995.

Running back Trey Sermon chewed up Northwestern for a school-record 331 yards in a Big Ten championship win over Northwestern.

Sunday, Dec. 28: “To me, right is right,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said when asked about his controversial No. 11 ranking of Ohio State on his coaches’ poll ballot. 

“It’s not always easy to do the right thing. I absolutely knew I’d be the poster child for whatever. I could probably run for governor of Michigan and probably have a good chance. I’m not that popular in Ohio.” 

Friday, Jan. 1, 2021: “I think this performance, not only by Justin, but this team, hopefully will go down in Ohio State history as a landmark game,” Day said after the Buckeyes’ 49-28 win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. “We want to go in and win the national championship, but there (were) a lot of tough days over the last six months and this team stuck together.” 

Monday, Jan. 11: The Buckeyes were unable to prevail over Alabama in the national championship game, but linebacker and three-time captain Tuf Borland viewed the past year as a success. 

“This season is just so unique,” Borland said. “In August we didn’t even have a season, so I think being here is a great accomplishment. Obviously, we’re all competitors. We all would love to have won a national championship and that’s why we’re here. We were here to compete for and ultimately win a national championship. But no one is hanging their heads.”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman