Ohio State coach Ryan Day is hopeful that “the worst part’s behind us” after the No. 4 Buckeyes returned to the field Saturday and beat Michigan State 52-12 despite being short-handed because of COVID-19.

The Buckeyes (5-0) played without three starting offensive lineman — tackles Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere, and center Josh Myers — and linebacker Tuf Borland, a three-time captain, in the win against Michigan State.

The team listed 23 players out for Saturday’s game without specifying any reason, but many of them had been active against No. 12 Indiana on Nov. 21. Day, who tested positive for COVID-19 late last week, watched the game from home, and three other full-time assistant coaches did not make the trip to East Lansing, Michigan.

“Hopefully, we start getting some guys back,” Day said on Zoom from his home. “We had a big number there. I get going here on Monday, and then we get some of the coaches back, and then we start getting some of these guys back in the building. That’s huge.

“If you’ve look at what we’ve done for the last four or five months, it’s been excellent. We’ve had this one mini outbreak that was hard. We managed it, we did a great job and here we are. I’m hoping that the worst part is behind us and we can move forward.”

Big Ten policy requires any players who tests positive to miss at least 21 days and go through cardiac screening and reconditioning. Coaches who test positive must follow CDC guidelines and complete at least 10 days of isolation.

Day said he hasn’t received an update on next week’s game against Michigan, which paused team activities Wednesday and canceled Saturday’s scheduled game against Maryland because of a rise in COVID-19 cases within the program.

Michigan has targeted Monday as a possible return to activities if the COVID situation improves.

Ohio State (5-0) needs to play one more game to meet the Big Ten’s threshold to qualify for the conference championship game, although the league’s athletic directors may reconsider the requirement as the Buckeyes already hold a multigame lead in the East Division.

The Big Ten on Saturday named No. 14 Northwestern as the West Division champion.

Day praised acting head coach Larry Johnson, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and the players for their performance against the Spartans following a week of uncertainty.

Ohio State paused team activities on Nov. 27 and canceled last week’s game at Illinois before returning to practice Tuesday. Day said all team meeting and staff meetings were held over Zoom this week.

“So many people had to step up this week,” Day said.

Johnson, the team’s defensive line coach, became the first Black head coach in Ohio State history and received a Gatorade shower in the closing minutes of Saturday’s win. Johnson said he thought about the significance of the win during the third quarter as Ohio State held a sizable lead.

“I had a tear in my eye because I felt so great for the players,” Johnson said. “They deserve an opportunity to play on Saturday and they did. You could see it in their eyes.”

Quarterback Justin Fields, who accounted for 303 yards of offense and four touchdowns in the win, said he felt fortunate not to get COVID-19 after both Day and quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis tested positive.

Day said he struggled to watch his team on television.

“I took a lot of notes, I yelled a lot, I got really, really excited on some other plays,” Day said. “Certainly [ Haskell Garrett‘s interception for a touchdown], I was running around the house. Other ones I was screaming and yelling. It was not easy. It’s all about the team, but it was a difficult day.”



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