COLUMBUS — The Horseshoe is rarely quiet on fall Saturdays. In a normal season, more than 100,000 people could make their way into the long-standing Ohio State football stadium.
But Saturday morning, only players, coaches and personnel will be in Ohio Stadium for a padded practice. And the Buckeyes are gearing up for a real game with no fans in the stadium three weeks from Saturday.
It’s strange, and that’s why Ohio State coach Ryan Day wants to practice in an empty stadium. That’s how games will be played this season, so why not? It’s one of the many unique challenges in the Big Ten this year.
“You have to bring your own energy,” Day said on Friday. “Being in an empty stadium is unique. We went last Saturday, we’re going to go again [Saturday]. We’re going to pump a little music in and maybe have some crowd noise as we move into next week so they get a feel for how that really is going to be like.
“We know it’s not like playing in front of over 100,000 people every week. So we’re going to have to bring our own energy. When you run out of that tunnel, it’s going to be a different feel.”
The Buckeyes have never experienced playing in front of only team personnel and media before. But come Oct. 24, that’s what they’ll do for nine weeks in hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff and competing for a national title. It’s all about simulating what a game could be like in a hollow Horseshoe.
“Will it help? I hope so,” Day said. “That’s why we’re doing it.”
Ryan Day and quarterback Justin Fields met with the media Friday to discuss the ongoing training camp, some of which is being conducted in the empty stadium, and more. Lettermen Row has What We Learned from Day and the Heisman Trophy favorite Fields.
Coaching staff making sacrifices for football
The COVID crisis is impacting games around the country, and it will continue to do so. Players and coaches across the college football landscape are missing games because of the virus. The Buckeyes are trying to avoid an outbreak inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, and that means going to extreme measures to make sure they don’t come down with the virus.
Everyone is making sacrifices, big and small for the Buckeyes. Players and coaches alike.
“This has been a difficult time,” Day said. “We understand the ramifications and the consequences for our health, but also in terms of playing a season of testing positive. And that’s for our players because they’ve made great sacrifices. But also for the coaches. It’s very difficult. For those of us who have school-aged children at home, it’s very, very difficult to make sacrifices. Some of us are not sleeping in our homes. It’s not easy. We’re trying to figure that part of it out.”
If anyone does have the virus, Ohio State has contingency plans in place. But the extreme caution being taken is in hopes of eliminating those plans.
Justin Fields, Ryan Day continue to grow together
Justin Fields and Ryan Day appeared to have incredible chemistry between quarterback and coach last season. With the lack of face-to-face time, there’s been more time for Zoom calls and film studies.
The dynamic duo is back together for a second season. And it might be scary for Big Ten defenses.
“It comes from a year of experience,” Fields said. “Last year, I was new to the playbook so Coach Day and Coach Mike Yurcich, they would give me the play and be like: ‘Yo, it’s either going to be this guy or this guy or this guy on the play.’ But now I can ask why we’re calling a certain play or what Coach Day’s goal is when it comes to calling a certain play.
“So I’m just trying to pick Coach Day’s brain and get the reasoning as to why he’s calling a certain play at a certain time in the game.
Freshmen receivers will have impact
Much has been made about Ohio State’s super-talented freshman receivers. From fans, recruiting gurus, coaches and even the starting quarterback.
The quartet of four- and five-star pass-catchers will have a role in the Buckeyes offense. And it might be a large role.
“Some of them are going to have to play,” Day said. “We don’t have a ton of depth there. So they’re going to have to step up in a big way. It goes back to: Once you put the pads on, it’s no longer seven-on-seven or Rivals football camp. You have to block, you have to catch the ball, you’ve got to take care of the football. It’s all those things, you have to play tough. Late in drives, you have to push through fatigue, all of those things that come up when you play in a game. There’s certainly a lot of talent there, but those guys are going to have to step up in those areas. We’re going to have to play young.”
Those young receivers haven’t had a normal offseason of acclimation to the program, but they still have three weeks to solidify chemistry with Fields before the season starts. They continue to work toward playing Week One against Nebraska.
“The biggest thing with them was getting them in the playbook and getting them on the same page as me,” Fields said. “All of our freshmen receivers are great. they’re talented. I just can’t wait for this upcoming season. I think they’re going to be a big part of our season.”
Justin Fields comfortable behind Wyatt Davis-led offensive line
Wyatt Davis had already declared for the NFL draft when the Big Ten made an announcement to reinstate the fall football season.
But once the season was back on, Justin Fields went from Heisman Trophy favorite quarterback to ace recruiter. Fields called Davis. And called. And called. He made sure to let Davis know the Buckeyes needed him back on the offensive line.
“Of course I was calling Wyatt,” Fields said. “I think I was annoying him a little bit, but a quarterback is only as good as his offensive line, so I’m trying to have the best O-line in the country. That’s only going to make my job easier.”
And with Davis back, Fields’ job gets easier.