Ohio State AD optimistic for Michigan game: 'They have a lot to play for'

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Michigan football was forced to cancel this week's game against Maryland and pause practice until next Monday due to rising COVID-19 numbers within the program, casting the season-finale against Ohio State into question.

But Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is optimistic The Game will go on.

“The team up north, they have a lot to play for,” Smith said Thursday on his podcast. “I know they're having some challenges this week because they had to shut down. But I think they'll be back. I know they enhanced their protocols. They stopped on Monday, so that gives them a good seven days to try and basically do what we did, try and make the corrections that need to be made."

The Buckeyes had to cancel their game against Illinois last week when head coach Ryan Day and several other team members tested positive for COVID-19, but they're prepared to play Michigan State on Saturday.

Michigan paused in-person activities on Monday "out of an abundance of caution," said Jim Harbaugh. The team ultimately had at least 12 positive COVID-19 cases within the program, according to the Associated Press.

Michigan-Ohio State is scheduled for next Saturday at noon in Columbus.

"I think they’ll be back and we should be able to play unless they have a rash that's uncontrollable," Smith said. "I know they want to play, and I’m sure that they’re working hard to make sure they have the chance to play."

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel expressed a similar sentiment on Wednesday.

"We hope to play, as we hoped to play every game this year," he said. "Any team in the league that has stopped thus far had the goal of paying every game this year. It is disheartening that we are not going to be able to play Maryland. Our hope is that we can play Ohio State and finish the season in the final week."

As for the Ohio State-Michigan State game Saturday in East Lansing, Smith confirmed the Buckeyes will play and said it'll be a 'tough' matchup.

"Michigan State is much better. Mel Tucker was a great hire," he said. "There are some holdover players from the Dantonio days, so they’re tough kids anyway because that’s what Mark recruited. And they’re buying into (Tucker's) system. So I think they're going to be a really tough challenge for us."