COLUMBUS — With its 56-21 blowout of Rutgers on Saturday, Ohio State moved to 10-0 and arrived at the most difficult stretch of its schedule. On Tuesday, head coach Ryan Day took to the podium to preview Saturday’s game against Penn State and discuss where his team currently stands as the finish line nears.
“This is a talent-equated game,” Day said of the matchup with Penn State. “We all know we have been in some games that we have had more talent than some of the other teams we have played. This is a team that talent equates.
“So, when that happens it goes back to discipline, it goes back to fundamentals, it goes back to toughness, all of those things that come into play when your talent no longer matters. So, those are the things, and we have to do a good job putting a good game plan together, let the guys play, and then prepare them to go and then the team that’s more prepared will win the game.”
Day went on to say of Penn State, “(Penn State head coach) James (Franklin) is an excellent coach and does a great job with the program and motivating everybody involved there. He has done that for a long time. He knows how to win big games. He knows how to prepare guys in all three phases.”
Day called Penn State wide receiver K.J. Hamler “one of the more dynamic players in the country,” and said fellow receiver Jahan Dotson is “as good a wide receiver as there is in the Big Ten.”
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford’s play figures to go a long way in determining whether the Nittany Lions will be able to keep pace with Ohio State. Day said of Clifford, “I think as a quarterback, he has a good combination of escapability, good spacial awareness, can get himself out of trouble, accurate throwing the ball, you can tell he’s competitive and tough and well prepared and a good leader.”
Defensively, Penn State is among the best in the country at limiting opposing running games. Linebacker Micah Parsons plays a large part in that success, and Day said Parsons is as talented as any player in the entire conference.
As for how they plan to be able to run the ball against the stout Penn State defense, Day said, “It’s a challenge for us because they’re very, very good at what they do. You have to figure out ways schematically to go at them and figure out how you’re going to defeat their schemes.
“But then at the end of the day it comes back to what we talked about, which is toughness and getting the game to the fourth quarter and then wearing them down and then doing everything you can to go win the game in the fourth quarter.”
Running back J.K. Dobbins, who has rarely played in the second half this year due to lopsided scores, was asked following the Rutgers win about the upcoming games likely being four-quarter affairs. Dobbins responded, “Who says they have to be four-quarter games?”
Day, when asked about Dobbins’ comment and if he liked his confidence, said, “Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, J.K.’s played a lot of football, he knows exactly what we’re going to do this week. But I think he’s excited to play in four quarters. It’s been a couple of weeks since he’s been able to do that. He’s obviously very competitive and can’t wait to play in the game. He’s looking forward to it.”
The most important thing for Day and his team coming out of the Rutgers game was to keep everyone healthy. Day said Tuesday that the team was both “healthy and fresh” heading into week 11, adding they were overly cautious in not playing some players against Rutgers and are optimistic to have them back against Penn State.
Of course, those who were injured won’t be the only ones making their returns on Saturday. All-American defensive end Chase Young will be back in action after serving a two-game suspension, and Day said he doesn’t expect any rust from Young or for him to be limited in any way.
“He wasn’t really involved in the game plan the last couple weeks but he has been practicing,” Day said. “And Larry has been doing some extra work with him on the field, drill-wise, but now he’s right back to practicing with the defense.”
Co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, who followed Day’s interview, said of his thoughts on Young’s return, “(I’m) very excited … I think everybody should be excited, he’s one of the best players in all of college football.”
Asked how Young’s presence changes what the Ohio State defense can do, Hafley said Young being on the field has more of an effect on what opposing offenses have to do.
“They have to account for him,” Hafley said. “They might have to slide (protection) to him, they might have to keep a tight end on him. They might now have to keep a (running) back in on him. They’re now going to have to find ways so he’s not one-on-one. They might have to get rid of the ball quicker, not be able to sit in the pocket and throw those deep-developing routes that give you problems.”
As for Day’s message to Buckeye fans who will be in attendance on Saturday, he said, “This is, for so many reasons, the biggest one of the year, and we need everybody in their seat, we need everybody really loud, make it really hard for their offense to communicate. They’re going to do a lot of checking at the line of scrimmage and communicating, so we need everybody, every time Penn State has the ball, we need them to be as loud as they possibly can … anything we can do to be as loud as possible that will make it harder for them.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.