The ritual continued, as Tuesday brought another Ryan Day press conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Speaking at length with members of the media, the Q&A session reviewed the latest victory for the Ohio State Buckeyes, while also looking ahead to their final non-conference opponent of the regular season.
Day talked offense, defense, and general coaching philosophies. While many of the answers offered insight into how the OSU football machine operates, let’s take a look at the five biggest takeaways from the presser, and see what they mean for the Bucks as they get set to do battle with the Miami (OH) RedHawks.
1. “On the long one to Chris, he had a guy coming right under his arm, and then the touchdown that he missed to Austin, same thing, there was a guy right in his face...So there’s a lot that goes with that. We’ve got to clean up the protection. We’ve got to clean up the throws. He’s going to have to make throws, when he gets hurt and he gets pressured and he gets hit, but overall he’s managing the game well, and just keep watching the film and learning from it.”
In his first Big Ten game, the marksmanship of quarterback Justin Fields went down—albeit slightly. A 14-of-24 afternoon in Bloomington, Ind., yielded 199 and three touchdowns. Still, those are pretty solid numbers for a quarterback, regardless of what Power 5 team they are up against.
Day mentioned that Fields was “light years” ahead of schedule, and we’ve already seen what he can do in the early going as OSU’s top quarterback. Through three games, though, we’re at the juncture where opposing teams now have ample film on Fields and the Buckeye offense. Adjustments will need to be made, especially in pass protection, when bigger games get played.
With Miami (OH) making the trip from Oxford, Ohio this weekend, it’s not the greatest of tests for the OSU offense. The RedHawks got shutdown 35-13 at Cincinnati last week—and two weeks ago, the Buckeyes shutout the Bearcats.
Pass protection is critical down the stretch for Ohio State. While you don’t see the struggles now, they’ll pop up when you can least afford them. Whether it be Fields throwing with guys barreling down on him, or lineman struggling to hold their assignment from breaking through, these are the things Day and the offensive brain trust have to work on.
The bright side is that Fields is a solid QB (and potential great QB) in the making. He’s making smart decisions, and hasn’t made any back-breaking mistakes at this point in the season. If he can continue to learn fast, and the O-line can finetune the adjustments on pass (and run) protection, buddy, there’s a good chance this OSU squad makes a run for a perfect regular season.
2. “I think he’s playing strong, and as we start getting into tougher games and the season wears on and his body starts to get worn down a little bit, that’s going to be a big challenge for Branden.”
On top of making improvements throughout the season, staying healthy is also an important criteria for teams looking to make a run for a conference title and College Football Playoff opportunity.
Right tackle Branden Bowen has more than his share of injuries, and while 100 percent right now, the rigors of a regular season could take its toll. Day mentioned that he was practicing at a high level, and having a healthy Bowen on the line will do wonders for the team.
But playing Devil’s Advocate: what if something were to happen to Bowen? Or someone on the line?
Fortunately, the Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, and Indiana games allowed the Buckeyes to put second-string guys into real games. While it’s hard to gauge how impactful those reps are, the fact they get to play gives some feedback to the coaching staff. Nicholas Petit-Frere is the backup at RT, and the rest of the O-line has highly talent underclassmen waiting in the wings.
Ideally, Bowen going the full season at (or close) to 100 percent is the goal. And I don’t think the Bucks will have to go too deep into the depth chart at RT because Bowen is going to do everything he can to stay healthy and be part of this juggernaut assembled at the line of scrimmage.
3. “Yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s relief as much as it was just excitement to see him get going because I think we all kind of had an idea what we had, but it was hard because of these nagging things that were going on and we couldn’t get him practicing and get him going.”
It took a third game, but we finally got to see what Master Teague is capable of doing. For the Buckeye faithful, he’s a power rusher and perfect compliment to J.K. Dobbins. For the Big Ten East (and teams that’ll have to face OSU), he’s another skill player that must be accounted for when he gets on the field.
Indiana’s rush defense was blistered by the Buckeye RBs. Dobbins broke off 193 yards, and Teague exploded onto the scene with 106 yards on 10 carries. Just think about that. Over 10 yards per pop when Teague got the ball. That’s first down starting distance, just like that.
If the Hoosiers were having problems containing the rush game, then Miami will absolutely have their hands full—and that’s not accounting for Fields. Could we see a repeat 100-yard day from Teague this weekend? I think that’s a very real possibility.
Like with Bowen, a healthy Master Teague in November will be huge for the Bucks.
4. “He’s flying around, he’s doing a great job, but there’s a lot of guys over there that are working at it. I think as a defense, we’ve been able to play some of that depth. The depth is getting better.”
On the defense this season, it’s been an all-around effort to get better. Run stopping has improved. Linebacking play has improved. And, arguably the most important, pass defense has improved.
Jeffrey Okudah, Jordan Fuller and Damon Arnette are three guys in the secondary doing work. But they aren’t the only ones.
Josh Proctor may not have recorded a tackle against Indiana, but he had two pass breakups in the 51-10 win. On a second-and-10 pass from Peyton Ramsey to Whop Philyor, Proctor was there to break up the completion. That would lead to a third-and-10 situation that IU failed to complete. In the fourth quarter, Proctor made another pass breakup. This time, his stop ended the Hoosiers’ drive as it came on fourth down. Of the eight pass breakups last Saturday, a quarter of them belonged to Proctor.
Last season, this OSU defense would’ve given up big plays and more points. Proctor is just one example of how Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley have transformed the defensive side of the ball for the better.
Miami will be tune-up game before Nebraska. While Cornhusker QB Adrian Martinez is no Justin Fields, JD Spielman is a real threat on the receiving end. That’ll be the first real litmus test in determining how much this OSU defense has improved. Preliminary results, though, look good.
5. “I don’t know how much respect we had throughout the country coming into the season, but we said, ignore the noise. Well, it’s the same thing now; just because we’ve won a couple games, it hasn’t changed anything for us, so we need to stay focused on right now.”
Unlike the previous three games, the Miami contest doesn’t have a lot going for it in terms of excitement. FAU was the season opener, Cincinnati was supposed to be a legit in-state contender, and IU was the first road game. The Buckeyes have cruised to W’s in all their games this season, and the line for Saturday’s game has the Buckeyes favored by nearly 40 points. This should be an easy win—but that doesn’t mean the team can lose focus on the task.
As Day mentioned, ignoring the noise is paramount. When you think about teams that suffer that stunner of a loss, it comes after all the hype. Granted, it’s hard to tune this stuff out, but the message (and mindset) that Day is trying to establish is a good one. We get to see what his approach is, and by Saturday evening, we’ll know how well the approach goes.