COLUMBUS — After playing its first five games at home, No. 3 Ohio State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) faces its first test in an opponent’s stadium when it goes to Michigan State (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) on Saturday.
What are the things Ryan Day is looking for from the Buckeyes in their first game outside the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium?
“It’s a new challenge for us, a new test. It’s been unique that we’re into Week 6 and haven’t played a game on the road. The first things you look for when you go on the road are focus and composure. You have to do a great job with leadership. The older guys who have done this before have to lead the way,” Day said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference.
“If you haven’t done that before it’s hard to simulate going into a hostile environment like we’re about to do. There can be a lot more distractions on the road in terms of when you’re at the game. The good thing is when you’re traveling together there are fewer distractions in terms of all the outside stuff.”
Ohio State has beaten Michigan State six times in a row since a 17-14 loss to MSU in 2015 cost the Buckeyes a chance to try to be repeat national champions. Ohio State hasn’t lost a game at Michigan State since 1999.
Some other thoughts from Day:
• On Jaxon Smith-Njigba: Ohio State’s No. 1 receiver, who has played in only two games because of a presumed hamstring injury, might play on Saturday but that is subject to change, Day said.
“We’re hoping to get him back this weekend. But it’s so hard to tell. We can come in today and they’ll say he had a little bit of a setback or no, he’s doing really well and trending to play on Saturday. With the type of injury he has it can linger or it can get better quick. We’re hoping it’s the latter of the two,” he said.
Day also talked about having a lot of plays featuring Smith-Njigba in the playbook that OSU hasn’t been able to use.
“We’re looking forward to getting Jaxon back and getting him going. He brings another element to our whole entire offense,” he said.
“I guess it’s been a silver lining that we’ve kind of had to go down the road of some other packages. You can see those guys have embraced it. You have to credit our staff and kids for really embracing it and putting it on the field. It wasn’t something we spent a ton of time on in the off season. It’s one thing to practice it and it’s another thing to put it on the field and be successful.”
• Cam Brown’s status: Starting cornerback Cam Brown has missed the last two games because of an unspecified injury and it is uncertain if he will be able to play Saturday.
“He’s been itching to get back out there, he’s been stressing to get back out there. I’ve felt an urgency about him that last week. He’s dying to get back on the field. We’re going to make sure he’s where he needs to be and trust the doctors,” Day said.
“He’s trying really hard to get back on the field and I don’t think anybody is more frustrated than he is. Hopefully, this is a great week of work and we can get him back on the field this week.”
• Treveyon Henderson’s status: Running back TreVeyon Henderson did not play in a 49-10 win over Rutgers last week after encountering an unspecified physical problem during warm-ups.
His ability to return to the field this weekend will be determined later. “At the end of the day we leave those decisions up to the medical staff here at Ohio State, but certainly we’re anxious to get Tre back,” Day said.
• Burke working hard: Cornerback Denzel Burke has given up some big pass plays this season after being one of the few bright spots on last year’s Ohio State defense.
Day said a hand injury might have contributed to Burke’s slow start and that he is not far from returning to the level he played last season.
“He’s been right there for a lot of these plays, he just hasn’t finished them. It’s an area he has to work on,” Day said.
“The good news is he’s right there. His footwork and the way he is moving are really good and his cover ability is really strong. He just has to finish at the point of attack. I know he understands he has to work on that this week.”
• High expectations: Day said he embraces high expectations, even the kind like a fan telling him before last week’s game that OSU was going to beat Rutgers 63-0.
“We look at it as a good thing, that people expect us to win at a certain level. If we score seven touchdowns in our first nine possessions (against Rutgers) and we’re talking about how things were a little clunky, that’s a good thing because we’re holding ourselves to a very high standard. I embrace that, we embrace that. We didn’t come to Ohio State to be average. We want to be great.”
That doesn’t mean high expectations are always easy to live with, though.
“I feel that every day when I wake up – we’ve got to win them all. It’s not always easy to live that way but it’s just the way it is. You have to wake up running every day or somebody is going to get you,” Day said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.