Off to a 2-0 start, the Ohio State Buckeyes will head to Bloomington, Indiana, on Saturday to take on the Indiana Hoosiers to briefly open up their Big Ten schedule. Head coach Ryan Day met with the media on Tuesday for his weekly press conference to discuss his team’s performance against Cincinnati last Saturday and preview what lies ahead with Indiana.
“We’re excited to get going this week with practice today,” Day said to open up the press conference. “After looking at the film of Indiana the first couple of days, their first couple of games, they have a good team. (They’re) a couple of years into the system on defense, guys on that side are flying around. They’re doing a good job with the new coordinator there on offense.
“We know going on the road, first conference game in the Big Ten, every time we play Indiana, it’s a tough game. Those guys always come ready to play. So, we have our hands full early on.”
Unsuspecting road trips within the conference have cost the Buckeyes dearly in each of the past two seasons. Day was asked about how he keeps his team dialed in mentally in a game it is heavily favored to win.
“We talk about we want to be the best in the country,” Day said. “The message to the team is that the issues are still in the film, whether you win, you lose, whatever it is. The immature player, the immature coach looks at it and says everything is good, we won. We won pretty handily. The facts of the matter are that the issues are on film.
“As the level of play increases through conference play, as the season goes on, those issues aren’t going to go away. The seasoned coach, the veteran player, can identify that, be critical of themselves … If you’re worried about the process as opposed to the result, you’re going to be more focused on (fixing mistakes).”
Day was later asked a similar question about how the surprising upsets are able to happen, and how a head coach keeps them from happening.
“I think there’s a lot (to it),” Day said. “If there were an easy answer to that, it wouldn’t happen. There’s a lot that goes into that. It’s something we’re obviously aware of, (we) talk about it all the time. The mentality we have is if you’re the champ, you’re the boxer, they’re going to try to knock you out every time you go in the ring. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot, we know that. Don’t be surprised.
“We have to bring it every single week. The only way to do that is to make sure you’re preparing this week just like you did last week, find a chance to be a little bit better. If we ever take the shortcut on something or don’t do it the way we did it the week before, then we set ourselves up. That’s physically, emotionally and mentally.”
Indiana defensive coordinator Kane Wommack is in his first year leading the defense in Bloomington. However, Day said he hasn’t seen much difference in how the Hoosiers’ defense operates through two games.
“They’ve kind of been running the same defense they’ve run in the past,” Day said. “They have some guys in there, obviously (Marcelino) Ball is really good at what he does. He does a lot of things for them.
“Their secondary is really, really strong. Some good, strong guys up front. The linebackers played really hard the last couple weeks. They’re running the same thing. They got the same system, but they have a lot in the system, a lot of different looks, coverages, pressures. As you get into year two, year three into a system, you can start to get more intricate. That’s where they are right now.”
Offensively, Indiana has turned to a freshman quarterback to lead them in Michael Penix Jr., a dual-threat playmaker who has been effective in the early going. Day, who recruited Penix, said he hasn’t been at all surprised by how well Penix has played thus far.
“He’s very talented … Very mobile, very productive coming out of high school … Now he’s stepping in as a youngster. He had a good first couple of games. I think he’s going to have a really good career. He’s very talented and very versatile.”
As for his own quarterback, Day said Justin Fields picked up where he left off in the season opener. He said Fields continued to make good decisions in the passing game and in his reads in the running game.
“Overall, I thought it was a pretty clean game,” Day said of Fields’ performance. “It’s the same thing, there’s going to be things that show up (on film). He got away with a couple throws that maybe as the competition increases, he won’t. But overall it was solid, and we have to keep building on it.”
He added, “I think the good thing is he’s had some success the first two games. I think he has some confidence, which is really important for a quarterback, especially going on the road in a conference game, there has to be confidence there.”
Day applauded quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich’s work in “putting the game plan together in terms of making it clean, clear, and concise so that Justin can play the way he is on Saturdays.”
Fields has had the benefit of throwing to a group of receivers playing at a high level so far, led by senior Binjimen Victor and sophomore Chris Olave. Day said of Victor’s fast start, “I think Ben is important for us as we go forward … If he’s in a one-on-one matchup, he can win that, that changes schematically how teams are going to defend us.
“But he’s got to be that guy. He’s got to be the Terry McLaurin for us, Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon. When he makes those big plays, that got us going on those drives (the last two weeks). He’s done that so far. Now that we get into the conference play, he’s got to continue to do that.”
Senior K.J. Hill is not off to quite as hot a start, although much of that has been due to defenses refusing to give the Ohio State offense the crossing routes in which Hill is so effective. Asked about the lack of crossing routes through two games, Day said they’re still very much a part of the offense, but defensive schemes dictate when they are used and how effective they can be, as does Fields’ lack of experience.
“What we focus on, what we decide to give Justin is based on a game plan deal. But it’s also based on the fact he’s only played two games,” Day said. “We have buckets of plays … We have all those (crossing routes). We have them all. When the time is right, we’ll use them. That hasn’t been the right game plan that we think in those first couple games.
“We’ll continue to install those things as the time is right and we feel like the scheme fits. We have been seeing a lot more zone recently. So, we’ll just keep rolling from there.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.