Ohio State Buckeyes head football coach Ryan Day met with the media Tuesday to review his team’s 48-7 win over Nebraska last week and to preview this week’s matchup with the Michigan State Spartans (4-1).
“We’re excited to get back to work today,” Day said. “We have another big challenge ahead of us, one of the most well-coached teams not only in the Big Ten, but the country for a long time.”
Day said he has a lot of respect for Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and his coaching staff, calling him “one of the best coaches in the last couple of decades in college football.”
“We have our hands full, they’re a very good team,” Day said. “They don’t give you anything, they’re very sound, and, obviously, the history of what they’ve done against Ohio State is something that all of our guys are going to be aware of this week as we go to work today in practice.”
With the amount of success Ohio State is having at every position, Day was asked about his assistants and the likelihood of some of those coaches being lured away following the season for different gigs. His predecessor, Urban Meyer, asked his assistants for a two-year commitment to the program upon being hired at Ohio State.
“We talk about it when people bring their families here that we’d like them to be here for a long time, and I’d rather not them come here for one year and leave, but guys have opportunities, and I don’t want to get in the way of that,” Day said. “But at the same time, when you’re building relationships and you’re recruiting, we expect at least two years, sometimes more.”
He added, “The good news is our coaching staff is really entrenched in this community now, which is great. We love it here, and they’re happy. I don’t expect anybody to leave anytime soon.”
Tuesday’s practices typically mark the beginning of game preparation, and that practice is the toughest of the week for the team. Day said how his team will play on Saturday will be determined by how it prepares this week.
“Well, I believe that if you’re going to play hard and play tough on Saturday, it doesn’t just happen magically,” he said. “You can’t just give the team a really good speech and get them all fired up to play the game. It comes back to their training … I think sometimes guys think, ‘Well, I’m just going to get all juiced up before the game and then I’m going to go play really hard.’ It doesn’t work that way. It’s all about how you train and the practices during the week, and the decisions that are made during the week, and those types of things are what matter on Saturday.”
Depth along the offensive line was a top concern for the Buckeyes heading into the season. That depth was tested last week when starting right tackle Brandon Bowen missed the Nebraska game with an undisclosed injury. But Josh Alabi, who had previous experience being thrust into the starting lineup, filled in masterfully, even being named the offensive player of the game.
Day said Alabi’s success is a credit to his attitude and the work he puts in to stay ready.
“In the world of people just wanting to go to another school or transfer and go into the portal and try to run to someplace else, this is a guy who stuck with it, kept a great attitude, and when the team called on him he stepped up and played really well,” Day said. “I thought we all felt he deserved to be player of the game.”
Day said he knew “pretty much all week” that Bowen wasn’t going to play against Nebraska. Bowen’s status for Saturday’s game remains uncertain.
Whoever starts will have their hands full as the Michigan State front seven, led by All-Big Ten defensive end Kenny Willekes, will pose the biggest challenge to date for the Ohio State offensive line. Asked how much of offensive game planning for a team is spent on individual standouts such as Willekes or the Buckeyes’ own Chase Young, Day said there has to be a balance.
“If you spend too much time thinking about it, you can get yourself all distracted,” he said. “If you don’t spend enough time, it can beat you. I think that’s kind of the art of coaching, again, is how much do you spend time on a great player. There are a couple of great players on Michigan State; how much time are we going to spend figuring out how to neutralize those guys because they are the difference makers.”
Asked specifically about Willekes, Day said his production is what stands out the most.
“He’s really productive. I feel like he’s in on every play when I watch a clip of film,” Day said. “His hands, he’s got to be really, really strong because he gets off of blocks better than anybody I’ve ever seen in the last couple years on film in this conference. He plays really hard. His motor is off the chart. He’s very difficult to block. A really good player, really tough and strong. I mean, he’s in on every tackle it seems like.”
On the Spartans’ defense as an entire unit, Day said, “They have a defensive system that has been challenged for years and years, so they have answers. So, if you run a play against them, they have the answer right away. They’re really good at knowing what the defense is. They’re not super complicated, but they have answers to everything that you do … the minute you run a play, they’re on top of it and they’ve got it defended the next play. These are guys who have played in this system for a while, and there are coaches who have coached in this system for a while, so it’s a tremendous challenge.”
Michigan State will come into Ohio Stadium as nearly 20-point underdogs, but Day knows the Spartans won’t be enamored by the environment or the team lining up across from them.
“They’re not going to be intimidated by Ohio State … They’ve been in here plenty of times in the stadium and done a great job, and it’s one of the more storied histories in all of college football at Michigan State. Those guys know the recipe, and we’d better come to play, or else we’re going to be in it.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.