Week two of the college football season is here as the Ohio State Buckeyes prepare to welcome the Cincinnati Bearcats to Ohio Stadium on Saturday. Head coach Ryan Day met with the media Tuesday to discuss the 45-21 win over Florida Atlantic last week and look ahead to the challenges Cincinnati will present.
“Watching the film here for a couple of days, we have our hands full,” Day said of Cincinnati. “It’s a very good football team, very well-coached. (Head) coach (Luke) Fickell has done a very good job building toughness in the program. I think it’s a veteran group.”
Offensively, Cincinnati features a pair of talented playmakers in quarterback Desmond Ridder and running back Michael Warren II. Day said both players play “really, really hard” and are “tough.” He said the Cincinnati offense brings a lot of different things to the table that his defense must be prepared to handle.
On the other side of the ball, Day said the Cincinnati defense is “very sound in terms of their scheme.” He added they play hard and run to the football.
“New challenge this week,” Day said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Fickell and what he’s built down there. I think that’s a very strong program, (it’s) in great shape. We know they’re going to come in here hungry. Being in the same state, we know that means a lot. We’re up for the challenge.”
Asked about the play of Justin Fields after being able to digest the film from Saturday’s game, Day said Fields played well when it came to managing the game.
“He didn’t try to do stuff that wasn’t there,” Day said of Fields. “There were some times where we got that three-man rush. He didn’t force it, got us going. In those drives that we did end up scoring later on, it was because he kind of kept us on schedule.”
Day said the film confirmed his immediate assessment of Fields following the game Saturday. He said there were a few missed reads and protection issues that need to be cleaned up, but said Fields will get better in those areas as he gains more experience.
Day said the first-quarter performance on both sides of the ball was exactly how he envisioned his team playing in the game. He said the defense continued to play well in the second quarter, but the offense was “just ok.”
“Now we have to be able to sustain it for 60 minutes, play well through the second half,” he said.
Day was asked about coaching an athletic quarterback, such as Fields, to be comfortable in the pocket. He said Fields has made significant strides in pocket presence since arriving at Ohio State, and it showed at times during Saturday’s game.
“Learning to play in the pocket is something that happens over time,” Day said. “Playing seven-on-seven, going to different camps, that’s nothing like playing the game of football … I think from day one of spring practice to where Justin is right now is considerably different. And we have to keep building on that.
“He stood in there and took some shots (on Saturday). The one he threw to Chris Olave, he took it right in the chin, and I thought he threw one heck of a ball down the field. The touchdown to (Jeremy) Ruckert, he got hit right in the mouth. He stood in there. That’s playing in the Big Ten, and that’s what it’s going to be like moving forward.”
Of all the plays Fields made, especially early on Saturday, it was a play resulting in a punt Day said he was most fond of in evaluating Fields’ performance against Florida Atlantic.
“Believe it or not, it was one of his throwaways on third down,” Day said. “There was nothing there. It was something you maybe not even noticed. It was third and eight, a three-man rush, they got a guy through, there was nothing there and he took the ball and threw it in the stands. To me, that was my favorite play of the day because he’s understanding what it means.
“It’s very hard for somebody who hasn’t played a lot of football to understand that that play right there is just as important as the play you make. Because if you try to throw in the ball in the traffic and turn the ball over, it’s a disaster. We have a good defense. Punt, put them inside the 10-yard line, and we’ll get the ball back soon enough. We’ll have another shot.”
If there was any criticism to be dished out following Saturday’s performance, perhaps the offensive line’s lackluster play following the hot start was an appropriate place to start. However, Day said that after watching the game film, he was “more pleased with the way the offensive line blocked than I thought coming off the field.”
He said he felt there were more yards to be had in the running game than what showed on the stat sheet, suggesting the running backs weren’t always hitting the correct gaps, but for the most part, “we moved them” up front. Day later said he was uncomfortable with how many hits Fields took, something he said needs to be cleaned up, but was pleased with how Fields was able to get down and avoid additional hits when ran the football.
The use of the tight end had been a discussion all offseason, and with three capable tight ends ready to play this season, the expectation was that they would factor into the offense far more than they have in recent years. That came to fruition Saturday, particularly with Ruckert’s four-catch and two-touchdown day.
Asked if the tight end group’s performance last week was more indicative of the emphasis placed on getting them more involved or because the game plan to beat Florida Atlantic called for it, Day said both are true.
“A little bit of both,” he said of the circumstances surrounding the tight ends’ usage. “I thought that fit well in that game. That’s a little bit of a different feel, lining up a trying to snap it with 30 seconds on the play clock every play, as opposed to lining up with two tight ends and pounding somebody … I really think it’s important for us to have multiple identities and, so, we’re trying to build those identities as we go.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.