Ohio State Buckeyes: 5 things to know about showdown with Penn State

Ohio State will be at full strength when the third-ranked Buckeyes take on No. 18 Penn State on Saturday night.

At least that is Ryan Day’s hope.

Of course, the head coach of a team always wants to have every starter available in such a big game, but uncertainty added by the coronavirus pandemic and the Big Ten’s protocols for dealing with it puts the whole situation in a different light this year.

Here are five things to know about the game:

1. Ohio State could take players to State College who end up not being able to play.

That is because the game kicking off at night means the Buckeyes will take COVID-19 tests Saturday morning in Pennsylvania rather than in Columbus before leaving on Friday, as would be the case if the game started earlier.

Day called that prospect “terrifying” on his weekly radio show and went into more detail in a subsequent video conference with reporters, noting it changes how the coaches put together their 74-man travel roster.

“Maybe there’s times (in a normal year) where you would have a few more at one position or another, or you’d like to reward someone with going on the road, but really this comes down to flat numbers,” Day said. “We have to really make sure the numbers are balanced, that we have a pair and a spare at each position, and that’s not easy.”

The challenge comes in finding players who are versatile so they can fill roles on special teams and even extends to having multiple options at punter, kicker and long snapper.

“We had to make some really hard decisions and project out the best we could, but everybody’s dealing with it in the conference,” he said. “We just have to handle it better than our opponents.”

2. As of Friday, Ohio State expected to have all starters available.

Ten players are listed by the sports information department as unavailable, but none are starters.

That means receiver Chris Olave and linebacker Justin Hilliard should be good to go.

Hilliard, who missed the first game with an undisclosed injury, is expected to share the SAM linebacker role with Baron Browning, and that could be a spot in focus Saturday night as the Buckeyes try to match up with Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth.

Olave’s availability was in question after he left Ohio State’s win over Nebraska early following a hard hit to the head, but Day said Thursday he had been able to practice.

Those unavailable are running back Marcus Crowley, defensive backs Lejond Cavazos, Kourt Williams and Alec Taylor; defensive lineman Jacolbe Cowan and Jaden Mckenzie, tight end Patrick Gurd, offensive guard Gavin Cupp, receiver Jaylen Harris and long snapper Roen McCullough.

3. Traveling will be different from years in which a global pandemic is not occurring.

Day said multiple efforts to “de-densify” the travel party will be made.

That includes making sure players can spread out on plane and bus rides as well as maintain social distance during pregame meals and meetings.

The team also plans to dress at the hotel prior to the game rather than at the stadium because of limited locker room access.

4. There will be no “White Out.”

Ohio State has been a lock to be Penn State’s “White Out” opponent since the school started choosing one game a year to have all fans dress in white, and the raucous atmosphere has been acknowledged as one of the best and hardest to deal with in all of college football.

With the Big Ten banning most fans from attending football games this season, the Buckeyes won’t have to deal with the Beaver Stadium crowd.

“That will make communicating a little bit easier,” center Josh Myers said, but it does not lessen the need for the offensive line to be on the same page in order to deal with Penn State’s blitzes and talented edge rushers.

“Any outside threat or outside pressure, a lot of that is on the tackles to call, so in terms of communication it’s all of us being in sync or looking for the same things,” Myers said. “Playing together in terms of what we see pre-snap is huge.”

On the other side of the ball, cornerback Shaun Wade said he will miss the atmosphere.

“I really love the White Out,” said Wade, who was a redshirt freshman nickel back for the Buckeyes the last time they traveled to Penn State. “I love the competition. I love their fans that’s trying to rile us up and all that. I love that because at the end of the day, when we go there and we win, it shuts them up.”

5. One of the two Buckeyes from Pennsylvania could be in the spotlight.

A week after making his first college start, safety Marcus Hooker is headed back to his home state.

As the last line of defense against a Penn State offense that thrives on big plays, he could play a pivotal role in the game.

“It’s just a great feeling getting to to back into my home state and seeing some faces I knew in high school,” said Hooker, who mentioned linebacker Jesse Luketa, safety Lamont Wade and injured running back Journey Brown. “There’s gonna be a lot of familiar faces. They’re great competitors and I’m just looking forward to playing them. They’re a great team.”

Ohio State’s Wade said he was impressed with what he saw of the PSU receivers on film.

“Their receivers are quick and fast guys,” Shaun Wade said. “Watching them from last year to this year, they are different receivers. Especially (Jahan Dotson) — he’s a quick guy and a deep-ball threat. You saw him grab some deep ones against Indiana.”

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