Ohio offensive linemen Deontae and Devontae Armstong have committed to Ohio State's class of 2024.
Deciding which 74 players will make the trip to each road game will be a more difficult process for Ohio State this season than it’s ever been before, especially for night games like the one the Buckeyes will be playing in their first road game of the season against Penn State on Saturday.
Because Ohio State will undergo its final round of pregame COVID-19 testing on Saturday morning after it has already arrived in State College, the Buckeyes must prepare for the possibility that any of those players could test positive before the game and be unable to play, decreasing the number of players they’ll have available for Saturday night’s game.
That possibility, Ryan Day admitted Thursday, is “kind of terrifying.”
“If it was a noon game, we would test here at 8:00 (the night before), and you would know before you got on the plane who had issues,” Day said. “But now that it’s a night game, we’re doing it Saturday once we’re there, so we have to make sure the depth is really accounted for.”
Day said Ohio State needs to have “a pair and a spare at every position,” which means the Buckeyes want to have at least two players they feel good about each position along with at least one other player who can fill in at that position if necessary. While the Buckeyes would typically carry that many players on its travel roster at most positions anyway, they will bring more specialists on the road than they normally would, as they need to have backup kickers, punters and long snappers available just in case they lose any of their starters at those spots.
That said, the risk of players unexpectedly becoming unavailable on the day of the game has to be factored into how many players Ohio State brings on the road at all positions, as the Buckeyes are placing a greater emphasis on having as much depth as they can across all positions rather than simply selecting their 74 best players.
“Maybe there’s times (in the past) where you would have a few more at one position or another, or you’d like to reward someone for going on the road, but really this comes down to flat numbers,” Day said. “We had to really make sure the numbers were balanced, that we had a pair and a spare at each position, and that’s not easy. So we had to make some really hard decisions and project out the best we could. But again, everybody’s dealing with it in the conference. We just have to handle it better than our opponents.”
While Ohio State won’t release its travel roster until it arrives at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Day said the coaching staff had made those decisions on Thursday morning, with just “a couple final things to tie up.” It is presumable that most of the 74 players who make the trip to Happy Valley will be among the 75 players who took the field last weekend against Nebraska, though that could certainly change based upon who’s available and who’s unavailable this week and the aforementioned need for at least three players who can play every role on the field.
One consideration that’s certainly being factored in is each player’s versatility to play a variety of roles as needed.
“That’s something that we’ve been preaching this year big time, is that the guys who are more versatile and can do more things, they’ll really help,” Day said. “And really where that comes into play the most is on special teams.”