Fresh off their first of two bye weeks, the Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0) are back into game week as they prepare to take on the Northwestern Wildcats (1-4) Friday night in Evanston, Illinois. Head coach Ryan Day met with the media for his weekly press conference Monday to preview the Wildcats and discuss where his fourth-ranked team currently stands as it enters the second half of the schedule.
Last week’s bye set off an odd four-week stretch of scheduling for Ohio State; Friday’s game will mark just the second time in program history Ohio State has played a Friday regular-season game, and two weeks later the team will again be off for its second bye week, leaving the Oct. 26 game against Wisconsin as the only Saturday game over those four weeks.
Asked about the quirks of the schedule, particularly the two bye weeks being so close together, Day said, “I think it gives us the chance to kind of regroup a little bit, kind of take some self-assessment of where we’re at during the season, and also heal up. I think any time you can get a bye week, it’s great.”
Day said there are some ailments with players, as there are with any team after six games, but he felt that, overall, the team is healthy as it heads to Northwestern. He added the number of guys that have been able to play throughout the first half of the schedule has also created depth to aid in dealing with any lingering injuries.
Following a question about the team assessment he did during the bye week, Day said there wasn’t anything that was glaringly evident that needed to be fixed. Rather, he said, there are still some small things that need to be cleaned up as the team enters the backstretch.
“When you play six games, you start to create some tendencies, you do different things, so you just want to look and see, first off, personnel-wise if you’re doing things the right way,” he said. “And then, secondly, schematically, what are our tells? What are some things we need to clean up?”
Day said each player received a list of three things they need to improve on as part of the individual assessment during the bye week for a more targeted approach to how they can get better.
The announcement of the Friday night game irked many high school football coaches throughout the state of Ohio, where high school football plays such a large part in the fabric of communities. Day was asked whether he was sympathetic to their concerns, but he said the decision wasn’t up to them and, therefore, he hasn’t spent too much time worrying about it.
“I’m sure they don’t appreciate it, but that’s out of our hands, out of our control, and there’s not much we can do about it,” Day said.
Later asked where he stands on Ohio State playing Friday games, Day said, “Again, I try not to worry about that. When the schedule comes out, we’re going to go play wherever they tell us to go play. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that because it’s not under my control or something that I can worry about.”
What Day can worry about is keeping his team focused on Northwestern and not looking ahead to the looming showdown with Wisconsin in two weeks. Asked how he plans to make sure his team is dialed in on the task at hand, Day said, “The same thing that we’ve been talking about all along, which is all you’re worried about is the game right here. And we all know what happens when you start to lose focus and we cannot do that.”
He added, “This week, we’ve talked about having a white belt mentality, which is a mentality that you’re starting out from scratch and that you don’t take anything for granted, you don’t make any assumptions. And if we do that, we’ll be fine. If we start to look ahead or start to let our egos get in the way, that’s when we’ll get in trouble.”
Northwestern has struggled this season, especially on offense, but Day expressed a great deal of respect for the Wildcats’ defense and the job Pat Fitzgerald is doing with them.
“I think they do a tremendous job on defense,” Day said. “Really, that whole defense is back from last year’s team, a Big Ten Championship game appearance. Pat (Fitzgerald) is as good a coach as there is in the country, that’s documented. It’s hard to find a yard against them … They know exactly how you’re trying to attack them, and they make adjustments. It’s a defense that’s been around for a long, long time. They’re sound at what they do.
“But it goes back to Pat. He’s one of the more thorough coaches. He obviously played there and understands what he wants to get done, and they play that way. They’re sound, and they don’t give you anything.”
Friday’s kickoff in Evanston is set for 8:30 p.m. and will air on FS1.