Ohio State football: Day optimistic injured defensive starters could return vs. Rutgers

COLUMBUS — After weeks of talking about injuries to some of his receivers, Ohio State football coach Ryan Day got to change things up Tuesday.

The health of his defensive backs was among the hottest topics Tuesday when Day met with the media for the first time ahead of a game against Rutgers.

Here are five takeaways from:

1. He hopes to have his starting cornerbacks available again this weekend.

Cam Brown and Denzel Burke did not play last Saturday as the Buckeyes spanked Wisconsin 52-21, but Day sounded optimistic they could return this week.

That also applies to Lathan Ransom, a regular at safety who didn’t play either despite his name not appearing on the pregame availability report from the school.

“We do we expect him back,” Day said. “We usually meet on the availability report like around Thursday, (but this week) we’re going to meet a little bit closer to game time so it’s a little bit more accurate.”

2. He was happy with the play of his young cornerbacks in emergency duty.

Jyaire Brown, a true freshman from Lakota West High School, and JK Johnson, a redshirt freshman from St. Louis, both drew their first career starts against the Badgers and held up fairly well.

“We knew it wasn’t gonna be perfect, but they played very well,” Day said. “And they’re both very talented. You can see it out there when they stepped into it. And so now they’ve got that first start under their belt in a huge environment, so now hopefully they can find the speed of the game.

“That first start for a lot of guys, it’s hectic. It’s a lot of emotion. It’s crazy. It’s exhausting, but now they can move on, get that past them and focus on getting better.”

3. The status of Jaxon Smith-Njigba sounds less certain.

After setting multiple Ohio State receiving records as a sophomore last season, Smith-Njigba was expected to be among the best in the country at his position this fall.

A hamstring injury early in the season-opening win over Notre Dame scrambled those plans, though, and Day made it sound like everyone will proceed with caution now after he played against Toledo a week ago then wasn’t able to go against Wisconsin.

“We always refer to the trainers and to the doctors and then get the feedback from the player,” Day said. “And we try to do the best we can to keep them as safe as we can in those moments, and we’ll continue to do that.”

He did not speculate on when fans might see Smith-Njigba in an Ohio State uniform again, but it did sound like he expects it to happen at some point.

“Jaxon still has a mindset of day to day, and we’re not going to put any kind of timetable on it,” Day said. “He and the training staff are going to work hard. I know he’s frustrated, but we’re not as far away as we think, and if he just has the mindset of showing up every day and getting as much treatment as he can, take care of his body, then this will be behind us soon and we still got a lot of football to play.”

4. The running game has pleased Day so far.

A major offseason project was reinvigorating the running game, and Ohio State’s 258 rushing yards against a stout Wisconsin defense were the best sign yet that is going well.

“We’re off to a good start there,” Day said. “We still have a long way to go. We still are building. We’re growing. There’s still a lot of things we need to get better at. A lot of things. But I think you can see that we’re targeted, we’re playing with an edge. We’re running off the football, and that has had a big impact on our offense and the way that we’re trying to strike that balance.”

5. He expects his team to remain focused this week

After playing three night games in four weeks, including marquee contests against Notre Dame and Wisconsin, Ohio State could be primed for a letdown against a Rutgers team that has never beaten the Buckeyes in eight tries.

Day has a plan to avoid that — or so he hopes.

“We have to be all over the human element,” he said. “The human element is to not be disciplined to do the same things that you’ve done the week before. But that’s exactly what we talked about on Sunday, and that’s what we’re gonna talk about today going into this week. Every time you go into a game, you have to get physically mentally and emotionally prepared to play in that game, and usually it takes 24-48 hours to come down off of that. That’s just how competitive it is to play in an environment like that in a game like that a conference game, so we got to do that again for 3:30 on Saturday against Rutgers.”


Rutgers at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m., BTN, 1410

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