The cancellation of a game at Maryland because of high COVID-19 infections among the Terrapins caught the coaching staff by surprise; Ohio State coaches carrying on this week as usual to stay on schedule.
Columbus – At 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Ohio State coach Ryan Day was in a staff meeting with his assistants going over plans for that afternoon’s practice leading to game No. 4 on the schedule against Maryland.
There was a lot to talk about with the Terrapins having beaten up Penn State 35-19 last Saturday behind 282 yards passing and three touchdowns by sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and two interceptions and a fumble recovery by the defense.
The game was to have been broadcast at 3:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
It was going to be a big deal with the lead-in for the TV boys being Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Justin Fields going against a rising star in Tagovailoa.
Just like that, all those hours of labor went into the waste basket when athletic director Gene Smith informed Day that the game had been cancelled because of eight COVID-19 infections in a week on the Maryland team.
Thirty minutes before that call, Smith told Day that the game was in jeopardy.
“I’m surprised in that it happened so quickly,” he said during a Zoom teleconference Thursday. “We were getting ready to practice on a Wednesday, and it’s like, ‘We’re not playing. How did that just happen?’ I guess that’s on me. I shouldn’t be surprised about anything that happens now. Literally at that moment, I just told everybody, ‘We’re done with Maryland.’ Coaches are kind of looking at you like, ‘OK, what are we doing, coach?’’’
The toughest thing to do was stand in front of the players and tell them there would be no trip to College Park, Maryland.
“I feel awful for this team,’’ he said.
The Buckeyes went through with their scheduled practices Wednesday and Thursday. They will have a walk-through Friday and a padded practice Saturday so the team’s routine won’t get further disrupted.
The focus immediately went toward 10th-ranked Indiana for a game November 21 at Ohio Stadium.
This means Ohio State will play a maximum of eight regular-season games rather than nine because the Big Ten did not include bye weeks in its makeshift schedule when it voted to go through with a football season in late September.
The original schedule had the Buckeyes playing Bowling Green, Oregon and Buffalo in non-conference games, but those were cancelled during the summer.
The Big Ten was criticized heavily for being so shortsighted for its late start and not being flexible in not having bye weeks. The SEC, ACC and Big 12 did allow for postponements rather than cancellations in their schedules in starting their seasons weeks earlier.
Four SEC games won’t be played Saturday, but they can be rescheduled.
There has been great speculation in the media that this cancellation could affect Ohio State’s chances of being voted into the College Football Playoff. Teams are not eligible for the Big Ten championship game if they don’t play at least six games.
“We lost (three) games on the front end, and now we lose another one, so (it’s) not fun,” Day said. “But there’s nothing we can do about it, and to worry about things you can’t control is nonproductive.”
Day said on “The Dan Patrick Show” that he would have wanted the freedom to schedule a replacement game no matter how difficult it would have been for Smith to arrange on the fly.
No way is he grousing publicly about the situation.
“Worrying about things you can’t control is not productive,” Day said. “So we’re just going to worry about what we can control, and that’s going to be about getting better. We went out there and practiced yesterday, we’re going to go out there and practice today and try to keep the same routine. I think it’s important to do that because everything has been so off-schedule over the past year, we want to keep things as much of a routine as possible.”
The Buckeyes, he said, must look at the positives. They will have three extra days of preparation for the surprising 3-0 Hoosiers and didn’t have to travel to a state that has a high rate of virus infections similar to Ohio.
There also is an opportunity for players to recover physically from the first three games.
Day said the “No. 1 thing we think about when we wake up in the morning’’ is to “stay on it.’’
Of course, he’s concerned about players letting their guard down with regard to social distancing after such a disappointment. He said that any moment “it can go sideways’’
Thus, Ohio State will continue to go with its schedule and semi-quarantine way of life.
“When you keep changing the routine on coaches and players and staff members, it wears you down,” Day said. “It just does. It’s a distraction. So we’re going to try to do everything we can to not do that and keep our routine the same. But this is kind of the way it goes. This is going to be difficult here moving forward. We’re just going to continually make sacrifices.’’
On Wednesday, Fields spoke about such sacrifices in describing his schedule for the day. It consisted of weight lifting, treatment in the trainers’ room, meetings, film watching, practice and more meetings. It laid bare the fact that he primarily leaves his apartment only to go to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and grocery store.
He joked that the positive was saving money on gasoline to put into his car.