COLUMBUS — Just two short weeks ago, No. 5 Ohio State’s Halloween weekend showdown with the Penn State Nittany Lions was set to carry significant implications on both the Big Ten East Division race and the College Football Playoff rankings.
But after two consecutive losses, including an embarrassing home defeat at the hands of lowly Illinois this past Saturday, Penn State now comes to Columbus in hopes of maneuvering itself out of a tailspin that is teetering on all-out disaster.
The challenge will be quite large for Penn State on Saturday as awaiting them is an Ohio State team that is beginning to fire on all cylinders after a rather bumpy opening to the season. However, while the two teams will enter Saturday’s contest with seasons heading in entirely different trajectories, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day is determined not to allow his team to let its guard down this week.
“When you look at the games we’ve had with them in the past, they’re always a dog fight,” Day said during his Tuesday press conference. “That’s just the way it’s been, and I know it’s going to be that way. They have a lot of pride. They’re a very good program. (Head) coach (James) Franklin does a very good job. I have a lot of respect for the two coordinators, Brent Pry and, obviously, Mike Yurcich, who we know well.
“They’re one of the best programs in the country, so it’s hard to beat these types of teams. We know when Penn State comes to town, we have to be on our game. This is going to be one of those games, it’s going to be physical back and forth, and we have to start fast and be ready to play for four quarters.”
While the Penn State offense is an unmitigated disaster at the moment, with quarterback Sean Clifford’s health uncertainties headlining a laundry list of issues, the Nittany Lions defense has more than held its own this season. They are giving up an average of just 324 yards per game, and are sixth in the nation in scoring defense. Although Penn State has yet to face an offense in the same class as what Ohio State will put on the field this week, Day sang the praises of the unit on Tuesday.
“I think the defense has played well. They really only gave up 10 points again last week, and I think they’re averaging 14 points a game they’re giving up,” he said. “It’s a very good defense. Brent Pry is an excellent defensive coordinator and has been for a long time. They have a very good scheme, very good players. I think when you look at their front they are very active, the linebackers are very good, and their back end is veteran now; they’ve played a lot of football. They’re one of the better defenses in the country, in my opinion.”
Perhaps most responsible for Day’s ability to remain dialed into the task at hand is what he calls a “wipeout” approach, which he said allows him to enter each week with no preconceived notions or expectations. Day said entering weeks with certain expectations can lead to trouble fast in a game where anything can happen in a given week.
“I just think that over the years, when you do that, you get yourself out of whack,” Day said. “You start to think something is going to happen and you can’t do that. You can’t make any assumptions and you can’t take anything for granted. That’s just the way this game is. The minute you start to do things like that, this game will catch you. You have to stay humble, you have to continually focus on those little things, and not expect anything other than great effort and focusing on those types of things. But other than that, you just don’t know what to expect on a daily basis, and you’ve seen that this year in college football.”