We’ve got the routine down now. With another Tuesday in the books, Ryan Day has completed his third meeting with the media this season prior to the Ohio State Buckeyes facing their next opponent.
After a 42-0 blanking of the Cincinnati Bearcats, the Bucks will hit the road this weekend to face the Indiana Hoosiers in the first Big Ten conference game for either side. Over the first two weeks, the men of the Scarlet and Gray have improved their game. Coach Day noted that, but there’s also more things to iron out as the season keeps on moving along.
It was another lengthy chat at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, but like always, some knowledge and insight into the team was sifted. Let’s take a look at the five biggest takeaways from the press conference.
1. “That one drive, we threw a back-shoulder fade to him. That kind of got us going. He’s the X receiver. If he’s in a one-on-one matchup, he can win that, that changes schematically how teams are going to defend us... But he’s got to be that guy.”
Binjimen Victor is one of the biggest keys on the offense. So far, he’s second on the team for receptions (7) and leads the receiving corps with 134 yards. With the loss of Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon, the Buckeyes needed guys to step up this season.
While K.J. Hill is still a top target, having someone like Victor make a plan down the stretch is absolutely critical. There will be a time where OSU isn’t cruising to victory, unlike what we saw against Florida Atlantic and Cincinnati. They are going to need someone to make a big catch with the game on the line. Justin Fields may be a new starting quarterback in a new system, but having experienced pass catchers makes life easier all around.
With Indiana being the first road game, it’ll be a good test to see how the offense reacts away from home. Day mentioned it in his presser about how away games are different; the routine established gets messed with, and the general fact of being away from your normal fall home can throw off the rhythm.
If Ohio State finds themselves in a jam at Indiana, Fields may have to make a play in the air. If that does happen, don’t be too surprised if it’s Victor who is coming down with the ball.
2. “We have buckets of plays. One of them is what you’re talking about. We have all those. We have them all. When the time is right, we’ll use them. That hasn’t been the right game plan that we think in those first couple games.”
In his two games as starting quarterback, Fields has fired for 458 yards and six touchdowns. That’s not bad, considering the play calls haven’t reached their full potential.
Day is an offensive guru, especially when it comes to QBs. There has to be some tricks up his sleeves, but since he hasn’t needed them, there’s no point in showing what his guys can do. I like this strategy, as these early season games is a balance between winning the game, effectively playing the game, and not showing too much of what you can do. Ideally, you’d like to win comfortably with the most vanilla play calling possible. Ohio State has come close to doing that, as they ran out to a 28-0 first quarter against FAU, and worked the Bearcats into a 42-0 submission.
Going back to the comment on Victor, it wouldn’t be too wild to expect a complicated series of plays revolving around the guys who can best catch the ball/run the best routes. Indiana may not be the game we see these “buckets of plays” get executed, but come October or November, high-level plays may be dialed up. Part of this is Fields being new to the system, and part of it is not giving future opponents any film on what you’re working on. Pulling out the hidden ‘Ace’ card is what makes the likes of Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State squad so hard to beat; you know the trick is coming, but not the when.
There probably aren’t any real tricks that Day has on the play call, but a different play design could be what we see—causing just enough havoc on an opponent to pull off a big, game-changing play.
3. “Year three into the program, he’s killing it. We’re in the second half, it’s a pooch punt, he jumps in there, runs down, almost gets the thing on the one yardline. Goes to show you what kind of kid Jeff is. He has to keep building as the competition increases, but he’s off to a really good start.”
Someone who has really stepped up on defense this season is Jeffrey Okudah. After not really having a lights-out career at OSU, he’s pulled together a nice set of games in 2019. In fact, he’s currently tied for second on the team in tackles, securing 10 (five solo). He’s also got a tackle for loss, pass breakup and forced fumble—the latter two happening against FAU.
Against Cincinnati, Okudah made this really nice tackle to stop a sizeable positive yard reception from happening:
After giving up the big reception the play before, Jeff Okudah with a really nice open-field tackle. pic.twitter.com/AS0XlghoGw— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) September 7, 2019
He’s definitely getting better, and a solid four or five tackles against Indiana will really get the eyeballs on him. Okudah stock is definitely rising, and by midseason, he may be one of the best defensive backs in the Big Ten.
4. “He’s mobile. He can run. He’s accurate throwing the ball. He’s pretty decisive throwing the ball. He’s smart... It’s still early in his career. But he’s talented.”
Changing things up, one of the biggest takeaways was actually about the opposing QB. Michael Penix Jr. will be quarterbacking the Hoosiers this weekend, and Day had some high regards for the redshirt freshman.
The Buckeyes haven’t faced a QB yet that can throw and run the ball. Cinci’s Desmond Ridder may have been the best, but he didn’t have the greatest of games against UCLA to open the season, and didn’t have a great game on the road versus Ohio State. Granted, OSU is one of the best teams in the country.
Penix Jr. has the ability, but being able to actually pull it off into something tangible for the box score and scoreboard is a whole different story. If receivers Nick Westbrook and Whop Philyor are covered, he’s gonna have to make do with the run.
However, during the presser on Tuesday, Day also brought up the ethos for what he wanted out of his new defensive coaches when he hired them:
The first thing was stopping the run. I mean, I know that sounds like: No kidding. But that was a huge emphasis. Being really sound in our fits in the run game.
If Ohio State DBs can hold their own against IU’s wideouts, and the defensive line can break through or at least force Penix into duress outside of the pocket, I’m not really sure how the Hoosier offense will function this weekend. I’m guessing not well.
5. “They’re a very prideful group. They were kind of just working and not talking much about it, trying to be quiet about it. At the same time they were angry. They feel like they have something to prove, they have a chip on their shoulder. I love being around guys like that.”
Ohio State’s defense looks and feels like a different unit this season. Last season, especially in pass coverage, you could expect a couple chunk plays to tear through the secondary. Purdue’s Rondale Moore was exhibit A of a secondary being ripped to shreds.
This time around, it’s like there’s a new pep in their step. Okudah and the linebackers are stopping plays before they turn into big gains. Tackle angles have gotten better, and pass coverage has improved. In Week 1 against FAU, tight end Harrison Bryant was covered early and often, and didn’t make as huge of an impact as he could’ve. Against Cincinnati, eight total chunk plays were completed, but down the stretch, the defense came alive to stop the Bearcats from scoring any points.
A new coaching staff has the ability to change the morale, and that seems to be the big ingredient change from before. Jeff Hafley, Greg Mattison and Al Washington are just three new faces on the defensive side of the ball, and already they are having success.
Improvements will be made with each practice, but there’s at least promise this time around. By November, this could be a scary top-4 defense in the country.