Despite COVID-19 issues, Ohio State still on track to play Alabama Monday night as scheduled

Sam Cooper

Despite the COVID-19 issues present within the Ohio State program, Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day said his team is on target to take the field on Monday against Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel on Tuesday that OSU was “on track” to play on Jan. 11 as scheduled. Thamel reported that OSU would be missing some players against Alabama, but the situation did not call for the game to be postponed.

Day declined to give any specifics concerning his roster situation when asked by reporters on Thursday. He said he did not know the exact number of players who will be available, only saying that OSU will have “plenty of players” on the field.

Ohio State has dealt with COVID-19 issues throughout the season. There were key contributors sidelined for the Big Ten title game and for last week’s CFP semifinal victory over Clemson. Even Day missed a game during the regular season after testing positive.

“We’ve played games with the majority of our offensive line out. We played the Big Ten Championship game without some of our top receivers. We’ve had starters all over the place down at different times, and we’ve found ways to work through it. It’s just been the way it is,” Day said. “We’ve got a new set of challenges this week. We’re going to have to figure it out, go down to Miami and play.”

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day hugs quarterback Justin Fields.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day hugs quarterback Justin Fields after their win against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 2021, in New Orleans. Ohio State won 49-28. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Earlier Thursday, Alabama coach Nick Saban acknowledged that there had been discussions about moving the game back. The College Football Playoff had previously established Jan. 18 as a potential makeup date for the title game should a program have virus issues.

“I think everybody respects the disruptions that we’ve had to endure throughout the season. We have total respect for the safety of players. If there were, and I think there were some issues relative to COVID, and there were discussions as to whether it was fair to continue or to move the game back and all that,” Saban said.

Saban said the logistical issues with postponing the national title game would be pretty significant. Still, player safety would have superseded all other issues for Saban.

“I think there would have been some difficult management issues if we would have moved the game back. Our school is starting this next week. We would have 35,000 students coming back here. We’ve played 12 games this year, so we have a lot of guys that have gone through the season, a lot of guys that are nicked up a little bit,” Saban said.

“Another week of practice would have been much more difficult for those guys probably. Jan. 18 is a day people got to decide whether they’re going to go out for the [NFL] draft or not. So just the whole timing of the whole thing would have been a tough management. But I would have put player safety on either team as the most important factor in this decision.”

Justin Fields offers update on his health

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields took a hard hit to the rib area during the win over Clemson. It was a hit that briefly sidelined him, but he was able to stay in the game and throw for six touchdowns in a win.

Fields said Thursday he will be ready to go against Alabama, reiterating what Day said earlier in the week. He also wanted to clarify comments he made after the Clemson game. That night, he said he received “a shot or two” and “just ran back out there.” He also said that the training staff “didn’t really tell me anything.”

On Thursday, Fields said he believes he was taken out of context.

“I just want to make one thing clear, it’s that I have my full trust in the trainers here at Ohio State,” Fields said. “I wasn’t hesitant on taking anything that they would give me, but I was just trying to do whatever I could do to get back on the field. I think those guys handled it the way I would have wanted it to be handled. I just put my full trust in those guys and I see how they deal with guys here, and I have personal relationships with all of them.

“I just don’t want anything I’ve said in the postgame interview to kind of get taken out of context and to be like, ‘Oh, they just shot him up and sent him back out there.’ No. It wasn't like that.”

Fields said the training staff did a “full analysis” of his injury and “did what they thought was best.”

“I was fully comfortable with that,” Fields said. “I’ll be good come Monday night.”

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