COLUMBUS — Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and his team are 12-0 after a 56-27 thumping of Michigan last weekend, but the work remains as championship season has arrived.
During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Day reviewed the win in Ann Arbor while previewing this week’s rematch with Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
“To go win this thing undefeated would say a lot about our team,” Day said of what a Big Ten title would mean. “The last couple of years there’s been that trip-up along the way, then we had to rally to go win that … this one is a little bit different. Now, it’s more about can we sustain this level of play throughout this regular season, now into this championship season. That’s the challenge.
“That’s something that we’ve been focused on week in and week out. Now here we go. Head toward that finish line … the last home stretch. Then, after we get done with that, we come up for air and figure out what’s next. All our eyes are on that finish line.”
Much of the discussion leading up to Saturday’s game will center around the two teams’ matchup earlier this season, which ended in a 38-7 rout by the Buckeyes. Asked why Saturday’s rematch should be any different, Day cautioned that the wide margin of victory wasn’t entirely indicative of how the first meeting went.
“Well, they kicked our tails the first half on offense,” Day said of Wisconsin. “The defense played well. But we didn’t do very good on offense. It was a close game. It was 10-7 at one point in the third. They blocked a punt. That’s a good team. We kind of pulled away there at the end. That was a tough game. We know it’s going to be the same way.”
Day said he has a tremendous amount of respect for Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst and the system he has in place with the Badgers. He said a Chryst-coached team is going to be fundamentally sound, adding, “It’s just hard to find an inch on them because everything they do is so sound.”
He went on to say of a potential Big Ten title, “To win this conference is a huge deal. I know it’s been done before, but we don’t take any of that stuff for granted for a second. There are great teams, great coaches. It’s really hard to do.”
Of course, while his full attention has shifted to Wisconsin, Day offered some reflection on the week that was, one that was filled with a lot of stress and tension as he prepared for his first Michigan game as a head coach.
“People say, ‘what if you don’t win the game?’ There’s no choice. You have to win the game. You don’t have a choice when you’re a Buckeye. You have to win that game. Yeah, there’s a lot that came with that.”
Later asked if his emotions were more relief or happiness following his first win over Michigan, Day wasted no time in saying relief was the prevailing emotion.
“To say that I didn’t internalize a lot of emotions that week, leading up to that game, would not be accurate,” he said. “A lot went into that. It’s not just me, it’s my family, it’s the staff, it’s this team … There’s so much that goes into that, we play it year-round. To get that win the way we did means a lot.”
Day called it “humbling” to think about what has transpired in the rivalry over the last few years, but went on to say that now isn’t the time to think about it as all the focus is on the task at hand, as it was as soon as the team busses crossed the state line back into Ohio on Saturday evening.
“Our message has been to the team that the end of the first race is coming on Saturday night at 8 p.m.,” he said. “We have to accelerate through that finish line. As much as these games have been emotional, emotional wins — big wins — they don’t mean anything if we don’t win this game.”