The Iowa game has been pointed toward for the last month as both a checkpoint and a starting line for the Buckeyes.
It marks the end of the first half of the regular season and the start of the second half, but it has also been seen as the time when the Ohio State offense would be its healthiest since the first week of the season.
Injuries have been part of the Buckeyes’ story all season long, and no chapter has been more difficult to read than that of Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s hamstring situation.
Smith-Njigba was injured against Notre Dame and tried to go a couple of weeks later, but had to be shut down following the Toledo game. The Buckeyes wanted to be careful with their top playmaker, and they have been. Now, however, the time has come for that care to bear fruit.
Or has it?
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day is notorious for not wanting to speak about injuries and whether or not players will be “good to go” for a particular game. But when asked on Thursday if he had seen enough from Smith-Njigba this week in practice to feel better about his situation than he had in previous weeks, Day gladly provided an answer.
“Yeah, I can answer that. And the answer is yes,” he laughed, declining to go any further.
Does that mean Smith-Njigba is playing? Not necessarily, but it would follow the kind of progress needed for him to be good to go this weekend. And if he’s practicing, logic would follow that he’ll be playing as well.
Day did answer a question about the status of running backs Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson. Williams missed the last game against Michigan State and Henderson had to leave the game with a leg injury. Both will be back on the field Saturday for the Buckeyes.
“It’s great to have both of those guys back,” he said. “I think that the bye week really helped both of them. Looking to have a full strength running back corps.”
The Buckeyes will also be getting defensive tackle Mike Hall back at full strength. He was on a pitch count against Michigan State and played just seven snaps. Hall managed to sack the quarterback on three of those snaps — and a fourth was wiped out via a hands-to-the-face penalty by a teammate.
One Ohio State defender whose prognosis is not as good is safety Kourt Williams, who has been banged up all season long and was seen on Wednesday wearing an apparatus on his arm. On Thursday, Day said Williams suffered a “long-term injury” and didn’t know exactly when he’d be back.
Sophomore cornerback Jordan Hancock was in full pads for practice on Wednesday, which is a good sign for his possible return as well. He has missed the entire season to this point.
The Ohio State coaches have previously said that they thought Hancock would be able to compete for a starting position in the preseason. He wasn’t healthy enough to do that, but once he gets back on the field, consider the competition back on.
Of course, just because somebody is finally back on the field playing in games, doesn’t mean that people should expect them to play the entire game. That was the case with Mike Hall two weeks ago and will likely be the case with others this week as well.
“We try to take a lot of the gray out of it and just say that they’re available, or they’re not available to play,” Day explained. “But I think to your point, whether they’re available to play for an entire game or not, like for instance with Mike, that’s different. So those are the decisions that we continue to, for all of our guys, look at, and try to figure out how many plays is the right number of plays for a guy.
“You hear people talk about a pitch count and things like that. We talk about those things all the time. So that’ll be the case for some guys — and not in particular to Jaxon — but that is part of the discussions going into games for some players.”