Justin Fields’ eyes lit up at the mere mention of Chris Olave.
Not having one of his best receivers seemed to impact Fields in Ohio State’s tougher-than-expected Big Ten Championship game victory over Northwestern.
“I just missed Chris being out on the field,” Fields said Monday over Zoom. “He is a great leader for the receivers and of course a great player. I think having him back will make our offense better as a whole.”
The 6-foot-1 Olave was one of 22 players who didn’t dress for the game against Northwestern due to what is believed to be issues with COVID-19. Ohio State doesn’t say why players miss games. Without Olave, Fields threw for a season-low 114 yards and was picked off twice. Olave caught 36 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns in five games during the regular season.
Olave was back on the practice field on Sunday in advance of Friday night’s College Football Playoff semifinal against No. 2 Clemson in New Orleans and is expected to play. The Big Ten recently modified its rule for players who test positive from the virus, shortening the time they have to sit out from 21 days to 17.
Olave was involved in the game-sealing play in last year’s semifinal loss to Clemson. Down six points with just over a half-minute left, he cut off his route, thinking Fields was going to scramble. Instead, Fields threw the ball into the end zone and Nolan Turner picked it off to close out the Tigers’ come-from-behind victory.
“I know he took last year personal, maybe a little bit more personal than he should have,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said.
Olave isn’t the only player Ohio State hopes to have back this week. Coach Ryan Day wasn’t specific, but did say the third-seeded Buckeyes have “a bunch” of players returning to practice this week. In addition to Olave, starting linebacker Baron Browning, starting punter Drue Chrisman and safety Marcus Hooker were held out of the Big Ten title game.
Fields doesn’t seem very concerned about his sprained right thumb, saying it would be fine by Friday night. Receiver Garrett Wilson hasn’t noticed it bothering the quarterback either.
“He’s looked good throwing the ball all last week and so far this week and that’s all I’ll really say on that,” Wilson said.
Fields suffered the injury against Northwestern.
Turner, the hero of last year’s semifinal matchup with his game-sealing interception in the end zone, will miss the first half of Friday night’s showdown. He was called for targeting in the ACC Championship game rout of Notre Dame. He was flagged for a hit to the head of Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer.
“It’s frustrating,” the senior safety and second-team All-ACC selection said. “I really want to play in this game, and I’ll get to in the second half. I can’t control that. I’ll go into it coaching guys up and being supportive on the sideline and bringing the energy we need.”
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