COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State receiver Chris Olave took a wrong turn in the end zone last December and has been itching to get back on the football field ever since. He’s not the only one.
Olave’s miscommunication with quarterback Justin Fields led to an interception and sank a comeback bid by the Buckeyes late in the playoff semifinal game against Clemson.
“I don’t think I’ve gotten over it still,” Olave said recently.
Expect the junior wideout to be a favorite target for Fields again as No. 5 Ohio State opens its pandemic-delayed season Saturday against a Nebraska team struggling for relevance again under third-year coach Scott Frost.
“It’s here,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “It’s on us — finally.”
Olave and Fields — a 2019 Heisman Trophy finalist — are not the only returning big guns for the Buckeyes. The offensive line is stocked with NFL talent and the seasoned defense features All-American cornerback Shaun Wade.
“The biggest challenge preparing for Ohio State is just the talent they have on the team,” Frost said. “We know this is one of the best teams in the country.”
Frost named Adrian Martinez the starting quarterback this week. Martinez, who had a great freshman season in 2018 but was slowed by a knee injury last year, beat out Luke McCaffrey, brother of NFL star Christian McCaffrey and son of former pro receiver Ed McCaffrey.
Ohio Stadium, which usually packs in more than 100,000 fans for Buckeyes games, will have only about 1,600 in the whole place because of coronavirus restrictions. Family and friends of the players and coaches will be spread out through the lower deck and additional crowd noise will be piped in. No band, no cheerleaders, no Brutus Buckeye.
Campus police have issued strict warnings against tailgating.
“It’s just going to be weird all the way around,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said.
Nebraska (0-0) at No. 5 Ohio State (0-0), Saturday at 12 p.m. ET (FOX).
Series Record: Ohio State leads 7-1.
Day said watching other college teams play on TV while Ohio State waited was “torture,” but he’s been using clips from some of those sloppy games as a teaching tool. With preseason preparation limited for teams that started in September, many of the games have been high-scoring and marred by missed tackles and turnovers.
“Watching these games, it certainly makes you reemphasize as a coach those basic things,” Day said.
TOUGH SLEDDING ON ROAD
The last time Nebraska won a true road game against a Top 10 opponent was in 1997, at then-No. 2 Washington. Frost was the Huskers’ quarterback in the 27-14 victory. Nebraska has lost 11 straight against Top 25 opponents, home or away, since 2016. However, the Huskers have won their last four openers against a ranked opponent, defeating No. 11 Florida State in 1986, No. 10 Texas A&M in 1987, No. 24 West Virginia in 1994 and No. 24 Oklahoma State in 2003.
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WARNER ON RISE
Kade Warner arrived at Nebraska in 2017 as a walk-on known locally only for being the son of NFL Hall of Famer and Super Bowl champion Kurt Warner. He’s starting to carve his own identity, having been placed on scholarship this fall and voted a team captain last week. The junior from Scottsdale, Arizona, also is one of the most experienced receivers, even though he enters the season with just 25 career catches.
“My dad texts me all the time,” he said. “He sends me videos of concepts he sees in the NFL or routes he sees. So he’s constantly trying to teach me.”
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‘BLOCK O’ FOR COOPER
Fifth-year defensive end Jonathon Cooper is wearing uniform No. 0 in honor of a former Buckeye who was one of the four African Americans to break the NFL color barrier in 1946. James Willis was an Ohio State defensive lineman from 1942-44 and went on to play for the Cleveland Browns. His No. 99 is retired at Ohio State but the team decided to award the 0 jersey — referred to as the “Block O” — to a deserving player every season in his honor. Cooper traded in his No. 18 and returns as a captain after hurting his ankle in the preseason last year, missing most of the season and eventually getting a medical redshirt. His rehab this year was interrupted by the virus outbreak.