After downing Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday, Ohio State returns to the road this weekend when it travels to take on the improved, bowl-eligible Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-2) in a matchup that carries a little more intrigue than past meetings between the two programs.
On Tuesday, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day met with the media to recap his team’s performance last week and preview the challenges the Buckeyes will face at Rutgers as they look to remain undefeated.
“Anytime you go on the road in the Big Ten in November, you gotta bring it,” Day said. “They’re doing a great job, (head coach) Greg (Schiano) does a great job, and they’re playing well on both sides of the ball. They have a great identity and are going to challenge you in all three phases. I don’t think it’s a concern other than the fact that we gotta go and continue to take the next step as a team.”
Speaking on the Rutgers defense, which ranks ninth in the country in total defense, Day believes the talent has been upgraded since Schiano returned. Combined with a quality scheme, Ohio State will have its work cut out for it on Saturday. “Each week has its own challenge, and this is just another version of it,” Day said.
Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord struggled in the first half last week, throwing two interceptions that allowed Wisconsin to remain in the game. Day said McCord had some “really good snaps” with a lot of plus grades on various plays. However, Ohio State can’t afford the mistakes McCord made in the weeks to come.
“The hard thing about playing quarterback is one play can ruin your whole day, and there were some critical errors in there that hurt us,” Day said. “And he knows that. Nobody is more critical of himself than he is, but there were still a lot of good things in there.”
McCord was also banged up in the second half, appearing to aggravate a left ankle injury he suffered against Notre Dame on Sept. 23. Day credited McCord’s toughness, noting there was never a moment during the game when McCord questioned his ability to play through the injury. Asked if the injury could affect how he handles McCord in practice and during the game this week, Day said, “You gotta do what you gotta do to win the game.”
Should Ohio State need to rely heavily on its running game, there is plenty of momentum to build upon after rushing for 181 yards against Wisconsin on Saturday. The performance was a desperately needed sign of improvement for what has been a definitive weakness this season.
“I think we took a step last week,” Day said. “Where we go from here, we’ll see, but I thought we ran off the ball better. I thought we had good movement. I thought TreVeyon (Henderson) ran hard. That combination of things really helped to boost our run game. We’ll see where that takes us on Saturday against Rutgers, but we want to be playing our best football down the stretch, and that’s a big part of what we’ve been focusing on.”
Henderson rushed for 162 yards and a touchdown last week, showing the explosiveness Ohio State has lacked in the run game over this four-game absence. With Miyan Williams now out for the season after undergoing surgery for an undisclosed injury, Henderson may be in line for a workload similar to the 24 carries he received a week ago.
“We always have to find ways to get TreVeyon the ball,” Day said. “He ran 24 times in that game, and that was a healthy bit for him, especially coming off all that time where he wasn’t on the field. But we’ve worked hard to get his wind up so he’s able to do that.”
Ohio State may be in line to get another one of its premier offensive weapons back this week in receiver Emeka Egbuka, who has missed the last three games after suffering an ankle injury against Maryland on Oct. 7. Day said Egbuka is expected to practice this week and was available to play last week.
“We just didn’t feel like he was quite where we needed him to be,” Day said. “We’re looking for a full day of work for him today and then a full week going in (to the game). We want him to be full-go, but he was ready, and he’s working hard.”
Day added of Egbuka, “He’s a tremendous young man with the attitude he has, and he wants to get on the field. He’s forced others to pull him back, and that’s the attitude you want to have. It’s a great sign for your team when guys are just fighting to get back on the field, and he’s one of them.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.