What We Learned about Buckeyes heading into closing stretch

Spencer Holbrook10 months
Justin Fields 3 by Birm-Lettermen Row
Justin Fields and the Buckeyes aren't sure who they will play this week. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

COLUMBUS — The regular season in nearing its end, and Ohio State still has plenty to figure out.

The Buckeyes have only played five games, haven’t been able to get into a week-by-week routine thanks to cancelled games and are trying to make a College Football Playoff case despite the lack of games.

And now that The Game, the most important event on the Buckeyes schedule, is cancelled, there are more questions now than there were before.

“We’ve played five games, so we wouldn’t even be half-way through the season,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “We’d probably be in the middle, I guess, of October or somewhere in there. So it’s bizarre that way. We just haven’t played a lot of football. So what have we most improved on? I just think it’s overcoming all the adversity, the emotional roller coaster and the leadership, the character and resilience that has gone on this season because a lot of people have gone through it. But just to see the way this team has responded to it is just tremendous. And the maturity is where we’ve seen it.

“On the field, I don’t know yet. We’re still growing and we’re still trying to figure out what kind of team we have here. And I still don’t think we’ve played our best game yet.”

That top performance won’t come against Michigan on Saturday due to positive tests within that program, so now the Buckeyes are stuck in limbo, waiting for a potential opponent and hoping for a chance to play their way into the Big Ten title game.

Before The Game was cancelled, Day and some of the Buckeyes met with the media to discuss the rivalry, improvements on both sides of the ball and more. Lettermen Row has the full breakdown from the Ohio State media session.

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Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields threw a huge block for running back Trey Sermon. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Justin Fields flashes blocking ability

Not many quarterbacks can hand the ball off, watch a running back burst free for a big game and chase the running back down to deliver a block that seals a touchdown. Not many quarterbacks are Justin Fields.

Fields showed off his wheels Saturday after handing the ball off to Trey Sermon for a 64-yard touchdown run. The only thing more impressive than Sermon’s breakaway speed was Fields ability to catch up to him and throw a block at the end — one that was maybe on the brink of a penalty that could have gotten the touchdown called back.

“It kind of just came naturally,” Fields said. “I usually do it in practice to get conditioning in, so it just kicked in naturally, and then I started running and I didn’t stop.

“I’m just glad they didn’t call it. If they would have called it, I would have been mad. They didn’t call it, so it wasn’t a block in the back in my eyes.”

Buckeyes making adjustments without leadership of Tuf Borland

Ohio State certainly didn’t need captain Tuf Borland out on the field for the 52-12 blowout win over Michigan State. Even while thumping the hapless Spartans, though, the Buckeyes defense missed Borland’s presence in the team facility leading up to the game, in the locker room and on the field Saturday.

“It was tough,” senior linebacker Pete Werner said. “He’s the leader of the linebacker room. He’s that guy that you count on, that you learn from and it was weird. I’ve been with him every single practice, and he’s a guy that doesn’t take reps off. He’s always there, he’s always practicing, and it’s a weird thing. He’s not injured, so it was just a different feeling. But then somebody has to step up, and that’s what we did.”

In Borland’s absence in the middle of the linebackers room, Dallas Gant and Baron Browning filled in nicely. And while the Buckeyes aren’s sure who, when or where they will play next, Borland’s status remains uncertain as he goes through Big Ten protocols. But he has been in the building, a positive sign for the Buckeyes defense.

“We’re happy to get him back,” Werner said. “It was tough, but then again we’re still having communication with him just because he’s a guy that you learn from, whether that’s film or anything like that. We stayed in touch, and just happy to see he’s back.

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Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis is expected to play this week. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Wyatt Davis good to go for Buckeyes next game

In the second half of the blowout win against Michigan State, Buckeyes All-American guard Wyatt Davis slowly trotted off the field with what appeared to be a knee injury. And with an offensive line that was already decimated last week, an injury to Davis was the last thing Day and Ohio State needed to see.

But if they play this week, the Buckeyes expect to have a healthy Wyatt Davis.

“I will be all good,” he said. “I’ll be playing this week, and I’ve been getting a bunch of treatment. I’ll be ready to go this week.”

The injury was a scary sight for Davis, who came back to Ohio State despite a high draft grade after last season before opting out and opting back in once the season was back in October. But now, he’s good to go for a championship run.

“There were a bunch of things that were floating through my mind during that moment, but I knew that I’d be able to bounce back from it,” he said. “We have a great training staff here at Ohio State, so I’ve just been getting treatment religiously, and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m ready and I’m playing.”

Ronnie Hickman makes memorable impression in secondary

The Ohio State secondary is still working through five games to live up to the self-proclaimed Best in America mantra. Part of that process is working in new faces to the secondary to find who fits well — and where. One of those guys, Ronnie Hickman, made a good first impression on the field Saturday when he had three tackles and seemed to provide a good spark in the back end.

“Well obviously, Ronnie played in the nickel package on Saturday,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said. “He’s playing an awful lot on special teams. In the era of COVID versatility, he is learning and is capable of playing both of our safety positions, what we call cover safety and what we call free safety, and the ability to play in the nickel package. So he’s a valuable guy for us and he continues to develop. He’s a big, fast guy. So our job is to coach him well, get him on the field and give him opportunities to play.

“But in a world we’re in right now, that’s true for an awful lot of players.”

Maybe Hickman showed the coaching staff he deserves a look at being in the secondary on a permanent basis.

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