After running roughshod over yet another opponent last week at Northwestern, the Ohio State Buckeyes will return home for their biggest test to date as they welcome the Wisconsin Badgers to Columbus.
Ahead of the matchup, head coach Ryan Day met with the media for his weekly press conference on Tuesday to discuss how his team is currently playing and to preview the looming showdown with Wisconsin.
Perhaps the most impressive feat this Ohio State team has shown thus far is its ability to refocus and be dialed into the task at hand every week. Last week, Day emphasized a “white belt mentality,” meaning his team needs to get back to the basics and what has gotten them to this point.
Day said of his team’s approach, “I think our staff has done a great job, week in and week out, of talking to the guys about how important it is to come every week, and the leadership is really the guys who drive that on the team. And their buy-in right now is pretty high.
He added, “You’re only as good as your last game, so we have to keep that going. But, up to this point, I think we’ve played with energy. But that goes back to how we practice, so we have to get out there today and have a great practice.”
Wisconsin’s shocking loss to 30-point underdog Illinois last weekend may have taken some of the luster away from what was expected to be a t0p-10 matchup from a national viewpoint, but Day said the challenge that awaits his team on Saturday is still very real.
“We know how good they are on both sides of the ball and in all three phases, and they have great players on both sides of the ball, NFL players,” Day said. “Last week is what it is, but this is college football. You have to bring it every week, and that’s the same thing with us. We have to bring it this week, it has to be our best game of the year. It’s going to be our biggest challenge on both sides of the ball … We have to prepare better than we have all year.”
While the Ohio State offense has rolled through its first seven games, Wisconsin figures to pose the most opposition yet with a defensive unit that leads the entire country in total defense and is seventh in total sacks with 27. Asked about their ability to get to the quarterback, Day said it’s more than just having talented pass rushers, although that certainly helps.
“They have really good rushers on the edge,” he said. “Baun does a great job in one-on-one situations. He’s very active, powerful, especially on third down. Those linebackers do a great job, as well, adding on or blitzing in different situations.
“But the secondary is very talented, as well. You have to hang onto the ball maybe a little bit longer than you want to. But again, it goes back to personnel and scheme. When you combine the two of those things, you get what you see in terms of the statistics.”
As one of the best offenses in the country gets set to go up against, statistically, the best defense in the country, Day called the matchup a “benchmark” for the Ohio State offense, adding, “It’s going to be a challenge for our guys. We have to answer the bell.”
Of course, things won’t be any easier for the Ohio State defense as it must contend with a Heisman Trophy candidate in Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor. Asked what makes Taylor so good, Day responded, “Why isn’t he good?”
He went on to say of Taylor, “He’s strong, fast, can change direction, powerful, guys bounce off of him, he runs with an attitude. A lot of guys that big don’t have the agility he has. He has good agility. He can run away. He’s good out of the backfield. He’s caught the ball. He’s kind of an all-purpose back.”
After struggling mightily at times last season to stop the run, the Ohio State defense is giving up just under 93 yards per game this season, which ranks ninth in the country. But just how good the Buckeyes are at stopping the run will be tested more than it has at any point so far and possibly even more so than at any point during this regular season.
Linebacker Baron Browning, who has been strong for the Buckeyes this season, missed last week’s game with an undisclosed injury. In a game that is guaranteed to be physical and decided in the trenches, Browning’s return would provide a boost. While Day refuses to share injury information throughout the week, he said Browning “looks good so far,” which bodes well for having all hands on deck come Saturday.
“It’s a major challenge for the guys up front, the front seven, and the secondary,” Day said of limiting the Wisconsin running game. “These guys are big, strong, and physical. They’re going to try to move us off the ball. Obviously, Taylor is as good as there is in the country.
“We’ll find out after Saturday, find out where we’re at with this thing. I think we’ve done a good job of defeating blocks, winning the line of scrimmage. This will be the ultimate test when you play Wisconsin.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.