Unless you were surfing Ohio State message boards on Friday night (and if you were... don’t you have something better to do?), you might have been a bit taken aback when the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0) released their availability report on Saturday morning ahead of their tussle with the Michigan State Spartans (2-3, 0-2) at 4 p.m. ET on ABC.
Included in the unavailable portion of the list was RB1(?) Miyan Williams. He joined No. 1 wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, defensive end Tyler Friday, linebacker Teradja Mitchell, and cornerback Jordan Hancock as the major contributors out this week.
There had been reports that Williams was wearing a brace on his right knee for Wednesday’s practice, but he did in fact practice. Smith-Njigba also appeared to have practiced — to some extent — on Wednesday when the media was at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for post-practice interviews.
Additionally, head coach Ryan Day straight up told the beat reporters that Hancock was also back to being a full participant in practice, but that they were going to hold him out until following the upcoming bye week in order to give him as much time as possible before working him back into the cornerback rotation. Between these, TreVeyon Henderson being in and out of the lineup, and a whole host of other injuries this season, it does feel like the Buckeyes are dealing with an abnormally large number of injuries this year... but are they really?
Last month, I posited that how cautious the Ohio State coaching staff was being with injuries this season was a good thing because it showed that their goal was more than just winning on a weekly basis, more than just winning the Big Ten. They were focusing on being healthy and full strength for the College Football Playoff, something that I think had been lacking in recent years.
However, as more and more starters and major rotational players have missed time, there has been a noticeable increase in Buckeye Nation’s collective agita. Is this team soft? Are they practicing too hard mid-week? Is the strength and conditioning staff focusing too much on strength and not enough on conditioning?
I’m here to tell you that I have absolutely zero answers to those questions, and — unless you are a member of the OSU football program — neither do you. While I am going to give myself a carveout for the cornerback position, because of how thin that group was coming into the season, other than that, I simply don’t care about how or why so many Buckeyes are unavailable at this point in the season.
I’m just kind of bored and, honestly, getting a bit annoyed with all of the hand-wringing over a situation that we have next to no information about. At this point, I am of the opinion that the vast majority of these guys who are unavailable on any given week would play if it was against a team that had even a puncher’s chance to win the game; wake me up when OSU plays someone with a pulse and if JSN, Chop, Henderson, Hancock, or anyone else is out, then I’ll start worrying about it.
None of us know what’s actually going on with these injuries, or how protective the team is being in order to preserve players for the postseason. So, for now, I’m just kind of over all of the worrying about something that we have almost no insight into. Under Day, the football program has gotten progressively more tight-lipped about injuries with each passing season, which means that fans and the media have gotten fewer and fewer details about what is actually going on with each banged-up player.
Now, I don’t fault Day, the team, or the players for that at all; they don’t owe us that information, and if they believe that it gives them some sort of strategic advantage to withhold that information, or if it protects players’ privacy, go for it. But that means that when we get worked up over injuries, we are getting worked up over things that we know nearly nothing about. If a ton of guys are suffering season-ending injuries on a weekly basis, then yes, it is time to push the panic button. But if a bunch of players are just week-to-week against teams that are more than four-touchdown underdogs, I’m not inclined to be particularly concerned.
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 needing surgery and 1 being a slight bruise, we don’t know if most of these injuries are closer to 3s or 8s. We can all have our opinions about what’s going on — and I am certainly not here to tell you how to be a fan — but they are, at best, minimally informed opinions.
I can have an opinion on the United States’ military strategy when it comes to how they are supporting Ukrainian efforts to fend off the invading Russian army, and my opinion might actually be correct, but I’m not arriving at said opinion with any particular insight or information about the specific machinations going on behind the scenes — and the people who are on the inside and fully understand the particulars have no desire or incentive to let me in the details.
The same is true with Ohio State’s injury situation, could all of these guys be out because they are having too many full-contact practices on a weekly basis? Maybe. Could it be that by going good-on-good more often they are more beat up than normal? Perhaps. Has OSU recruited players who are inherently more fragile than the average college football player? No, that’s dumb and not a real thing. Is it possible that Mickey Marotti has so emphasized strength during off-season workouts that players’ ligaments aren’t as flexible as they should be, leading to more strains and pulls? Possibly. But it is also just as possible that Day and company are erring on the side of caution in order to prevent minor injuries from becoming major ones while the team is taking on overmatched competition.
Until five guys have to get surgery in as many weeks, or players start missing games against Penn State, TTUN, or in the postseason, I just honestly don’t care anymore. To be frank, I don’t even need to see Jaxon, Miyan, Jordan, or anyone else who isn’t 100% against Iowa coming off of the bye either. Yes, their defense is pretty stout, but have you seen their offense?
The answer is “No,” you haven’t seen their offense, because they don’t have one.
While I know that anything can happen on any given week, because these injuries have become such a regular thing, it is now a non-story for me. It’s like any time a new starter is unavailable it is just a dog biting a man, rather than the other way around.
Since the team gives little to no specifics on the legit level of severity, there’s no real way to gauge how big of a deal any particular injury is. So I am choosing not to get frustrated by them; I’m too old to spend any energy or emotion worrying about something that I know barely even the bare minimum about.
Of course, there are varying degrees of injuries and some of these guys will obviously be worse off than others, but on the whole, I will start worrying when 12 guys from the two-deep are inactive against Penn State. The Buckeyes don’t need Miyan Williams or Jaxon Smith-Njigba to beat Michigan State today, so I’ll start worrying when those guys are out for a game in which that is not the case.
Like I said earlier, I’m not here to tell you what you should or should not worry about — you are an adult and capable of making your own decisions — but I just have no interest in investing in a storyline that I truly don’t know anything about, especially when it would cause me anger and annoyance to do so.