It is finally game week. Yesterday, the tradition of the Monday press conference continued—lifting the near-total media blackout over OSU football. Interim head coach Ryan Day spoke at length about the team, as did defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. While the media had only had brief glimpses of what this team will look like, they finally had time to ask questions and pick Day’s brain.
Day, who seemed as well-spoken as a coach in a position like this, answered a wide variety of questions. Here are the five biggest takeaways from the HC leading into Ohio State’s Week 1 clash with the Oregon State Beavers.
1. “Tate [Martell] made some great progress, he really did. Especially in the last two weeks he made a really big push. Dwayne will start on Saturday, he’s the starter. But the plan is to play Tate. How, when, or anything like that, we don’t know yet. But he’s been getting better.”
We knew that Dwayne Haskins was going to be the No. 1 signal-caller for the Buckeyes heading into the season. What we didn’t know, however, was how the QB system would be working. According to Day, Tate Martell, who was redshirted last season, made some serious progress in camp.
This may not be important for this week’s game, but it may be important when the Bucks head to Arlington, Texas in a couple weeks to take on TCU. Haskins has the arm to make plays, as well as the ability to take off on the ground; on the other hand, Martell could be the guy to bring in for an option play. Work up the pattern of what either QB can do, and defenses will be at a loss for words when Haskins and Martell are used differently—have Martell air it out, and Haskins running some QB reads like in the Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett eras.
Also, the improvement of the Las Vegas native shines a light on the development that occurs at the OSU. If guys see progress in this quick of a turnaround, others may look over and say, “Oh wow, they really know what they are doing in Columbus.”
2. “I think any time you’re dealing with recruiting it goes back to relationships... The communication has been, ‘Hey, listen, you can ask questions, but we may not have he the answers to them, but ask the hard questions.’”
Last weekend, Ohio State saw the first recruiting casualty since the fallout of the Urban Meyer/Zach Smith investigation. Kane Patterson, a linebacker from the 2019 class, decommitted from the Bucks, and reopened his commitment.
Day touched on the importance of the recruiting trail, and gave some insight on what the staff is doing to maintain relationships with future members of the Buckeyes. Constant communication has been key in making sure that the classes stay intact—and it seems to be working for the most part. Outside of Patterson, nobody else has decided to decommit from the Bucks, and it may be linked to the coaching staff picking up the phone and being honest with the recruits.
Asking probing questions into any tough situation is, well, a tough thing to do. You don’t really know what the reaction will be (on either end), or what thoughts/beliefs branch off after each question is asked and answered. But, for the staff to come out and say “ask the hard questions,” even though they may not have the answers shows that this program is willing to go forward and make sure recruits know what’s happening.
3. “So [Michael Jordan] is going to start at center as of right now. We have to still go through the week but coming out of preseason camp he is the starting center. Demetrius Knox will be at right guard. Malcolm Pridgeon will be at left guard. Isaiah Prince will be at right tackle. And then Thayer Munford and Josh Alabi will still be working through the week to see who plays there,”
Big news also came out in regards to how the offensive line will be shaping up. Michael Jordan, who’s had two seasons worth of snaps at left guard, is making the move to be under Haskins. If you’re looking for good omens as to what to expect from a center at Ohio State, you’re in for good news: the last two (Pat Elflein and Billy Price) won the Rimington Award for best center; and both moved to the position after starting at guard.
Malcolm Pridgeon will become Jordan’s successor at LG, while Demetrius Knox will be on the other side at right guard. Isaiah Prince will be the right tackle next to Knox; while at the left tackle position, there is still work to be done between Thayer Munford and Josh Alabi. While Alabi has redshirt junior status, Munford, a sophomore, is the early projection to win out the spot. However, if things change by Saturday, there could be some stiff competition to crack the starting line in the coming weeks at LT.
4. “Yeah, three-way decision making. When we’re in those situations I’ll refer with Kevin and Greg and we’ll make the best decision based on the situation, the time, and just try to do what’s best to give the team a chance to win.”
The question proposed to Day was: In a fourth-and-2 situation from midfield, how would a decision be made? While teamwork makes the dreamwork, Day’s answer of having a three-way decision-making scheme may turn out to be problematic if the fourth down hypothetical becomes reality.
Leaning on Kevin Wilson and Greg Schiano is a good move for strategy, but in the heat of the moment, Day needs to be the one ordering the play calls on offense. Both Wilson and Schiano have head coaching experience, but if they are playing mental chess with the game on the line, debating may cause adverse effects that splinter trust in future decision making—especially if the play calls come up as a whopper of a bad decision. Then again, if Day becomes the one-man band in winning time, that’s just as bad, too.
I think the best solution here is to practice out what scenarios they think they’ll be in, and have some sort of Plan A, Plan B on tap. That way, you know what you’re going to do; more importantly, you won’t overthink what you’re going to do because everything is premeditated.
We’ve seen many times before what happens when coaches overthink what they are going to do with the game on the line. Back in the 2013 Big Ten Championship against Michigan State, Meyer and then-offensive coordinator Tom Herman went with the sweep of Carlos Hyde on a fourth and short and got stopped.
While teamwork in decision making is a great, Day has to be the guy to have the answers when it matters most. He does that, he’s golden.
5. “[Branden Bowen] has been dealing with that leg injury and coming back from it has been a little bit slower than he’s liked.”
The last of the key takeaways focuses on the health of the team. While Day expressed his belief that the team is mostly healthy, there are some notables still recovering from injuries.
Tuf Borland had an Achilles injury back in the spring, and is ahead of schedule to make a return as linebacker. On the other hand, offensive lineman Branden Bowen is still out with a leg injury. Having Bowen out now doesn’t seem like a big problem, but having a lineman with some experience is never a bad thing—especially as the season progresses.
Bowen is slotted behind Prince at RT, so the more reinforced that line is, the better it will be for Haskins and/or Martell when they are in the pocket.