COLUMBUS — While Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has been a part of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry for a couple of years now since joining the program in 2017, he will take the field on Saturday for the first time ever as a head coach in “The Game.” On Tuesday, he met with the media to preview Michigan and discuss the rivalry.
Day has aced his first season at the helm of the Ohio State program thus far, but what lies ahead for him on Saturday is something entirely different and unique to anything he has faced as a head coach. During his introductory press conference on Dec. 4, Day made it clear he understood the expectations that come with being the head coach at Ohio State: win the rivalry game, first and foremost, and then when every other game after that.
Asked Tuesday if Day has been thinking about this game since that day, he said, “Oh yeah. It’s no secret that part of your evaluation as the head coach at Ohio State is how you do in this game. We all know that. When you take this job, you understand it. You can win them all, not win this game, and feel like it’s a disappointment. I get that and embrace it. That’s why we’re working so hard this week.”
Although Day insists the upcoming game has his undivided attention, he also cautioned against getting caught trying to do too much.
“I’m trying to do the best I can to make it like every week, although we all know it’s not,” Day said. “Do a little extra here, there, to make sure we’re covering every single scenario we can, making sure we’re letting the guys have a great plan. But if you start to overdo things, then you can get yourself jammed up.
“That’s why all the work gets done ahead of time, that’s why we live it 365 (days of the year). When you get here during the week, you don’t have to all of a sudden come up with an unbelievable speech on Tuesday. The guys know what it is. You can put the focus more on giving them a good plan, making sure things are tight, spending your focus on making sure the guys are prepared.”
While he may not have grown up with the rivalry in the way some of his predecessors did, Day said that once he arrived at Ohio State and began to live the rivalry every day, he quickly began to grasp the magnitude of the rivalry.
Mixed into the avalanche of questions about Day’s understanding of the rivalry were some questions about the actual team Day and Ohio State are game-planning for this week, a team that seems to have evolved as the season has progressed.
Michigan’s season has taken on a much different feel of late after the Wolverines were embarrassed against Wisconsin in October and were floundering offensively. Since its loss at Penn State on Oct. 19, Michigan has won four straight and has scored at least 38 points in each of those wins.
Day said of the momentum Michigan has found, “I thought since the halftime of the Penn State game, they’ve really played good football … They found a rhythm in the second half of the season. (This game is) probably our biggest challenge again. As we’ve gone on in the season, we’ve been challenged more and more. This will be the most talented group we’ve seen by far.”
Last season, Michigan came to Columbus as favorites to beat Ohio State and clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. What ensued, however, was a 62-39 beatdown by Ohio State in which the Buckeyes offense routinely exposed Michigan’s defense by simply winning man-to-man matchups time and again.
Day said he has noticed Michigan has gone to zone coverage much more this season, although he added that Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown is as good as there is at mixing up coverages, and he expects Ohio State will see many different types on Saturday.
But no matter how many questions came about the game itself, Day couldn’t escape being hounded about his understanding of the rivalry and the emphasis he has placed on it as a head coach.
“I think for me, to see what this means to the people of Ohio and Buckeye Nation, that’s where it really hits home to me,” Day said. “It strikes in my heart strongly. I just see this (game) is everything … I know the Ohio State football team means everything to the people of Ohio. It runs deep in their blood. It’s who they are, it’s their identity, their pride. To be the head coach of the football team, that’s an unbelievable responsibility.”
He went on to say, “That’s why we stay late at night, we come early in the morning, make sure we do everything we can to make sure we’re successful in this game because it means so much to so many people. I take that to heart.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.