Fresh off their 38-7 dismantling of Wisconsin last Saturday, the Ohio State Buckeyes are now enjoying their second of two scheduled bye weeks as they prepare for the November stretch run.
Head coach Ryan Day met with the media on Tuesday to discuss where his team currently stands with four games remaining between them and an undefeated regular season.
Asked about the toughness his team has shown through eight games, Day said he felt his team played as tough as it has all year against Wisconsin.
“To handle the elements the way that we did, I thought that the rain and the whole situation was lining up towards Wisconsin’s strengths,” he said. “So, we just had to say to ourselves, ‘that doesn’t matter to us, how tough can we possibly play?’”
Day said getting the punt blocked in the third quarter and the subsequent touchdown by Wisconsin to cut the Ohio State lead to three points was the first time he felt his team had their backs up against the wall this season. But the Buckeyes responded immediately, finding the endzone on their next drive to up the lead back to 10 points, and Day said he felt his team dominated through the remainder of the game.
“It was good to get that feeling of, ‘okay, boys, where are we at?’ Where is this team really at? And the response was solid,” Day said.
Of course, there wasn’t a player more dominate on Saturday than defensive end Chase Young, who recorded four sacks and two forced fumbles in an effort that has gotten him firmly in Heisman Trophy discussions.
Day said of Young, “Having a player like Chase play the way that he has clearly changes the game and makes everybody on the defense better because you have to account for him on every play. But that’s only good if he plays that way, and he is … I thought his intensity and the way he approached that game was special.”
Day said Young deserves a lot of credit for being consistently elite every week, although he added, “But now we’re into the teeth of this thing, and he’s going to have to continue to play that way because now he has the biggest bullseye he’s ever had on his chest.”
Now 8-0, the positive momentum being created by Ohio State is being reciprocated by the national media, where the praise continues to come in droves. Day said of guarding against his team buying into the noise, “All it means is you have a lot more to lose if you let it get away from you … The more this builds, the more we have to lose.”
He went on to say, “We know we have a bigger bullseye on our chest, week in and week out, and we have to work harder and harder and be more invested every week. But I think this is something we’ve been talking about for a long time. We expected to be in this position. And now we have to act accordingly, and what that means is just staying locked in, week in and week out, on this game preparing the same way, playing with the same energy, playing together, taking care of the football, tackling well, and playing tough. If we do that, then we’re going to have a chance. If we don’t, then we put ourselves at risk.”
With Young and J.K. Dobbins’ huge days against Wisconsin leading to their names being included with Justin Fields in Heisman talks, Day was asked how he embraces having three players being talked about for the game’s most coveted award.
“When you’re at Ohio State, this is what the norm should be, and it always has been and hopefully always will be,” Day said of his three Heisman candidates. “When you come to Ohio State and you’re a tailback or a quarterback, then you should be in the Heisman Trophy conversation.”
Day said that in regard to Young, “that’s a different deal” given how rare it is for defensive players to even receive the invite to New York as a Heisman finalist. He said Young is obviously a special player who deserves a lot of credit for even being in the discussion.
However, Day said he feels strongly that neither of the three is too caught up in what might happen with the Heisman Trophy in December, and he added he would be “shocked” if winning the Heisman Trophy was on any of their preseason lists of goals.
“I think if you ask those guys, they’ll tell you they’re not worried about individual accolades at all,” Day said. “It’s all about a singular goal and that’s winning championships. And if we do (win championships), I think there will be a lot of those (awards) to go around.”
Ohio State currently sits at third in the AP Poll and, given the bye week, won’t play again before the first College Football Playoff rankings are revealed next Tuesday. Asked if he is at all worried about where his team currently sits, Day shrugged off the question, noting the goal is to be the top-ranked team at the end of the season.
“If you’re number one right now and you lose next week, you’re not number one anymore,” he said. “So, (rankings) are for everyone else to talk about. That has nothing to do with us right now. It doesn’t mean anything. You don’t get anything for being number one, two, or three at this point in the year. You get it for the end of the season.”
Ohio State returns to action next Saturday, Nov. 9, when the Buckeyes host the Maryland Terrapins. Kickoff for that game has been set for noon.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.