INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The Ohio State Buckeyes are back in a familiar position as they arrived in Indianapolis on Friday ahead of tonight’s Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin.
Winners of the Big Ten East Division for the third consecutive year, Ohio State has made itself at home in the confines of Lucas Oil Stadium. But, while there are plenty of familiarities to go around for the Buckeyes this weekend, this particular trip is vastly different for Ryan Day.
Day spent the last two trips to Indy leading the Buckeye offense. Now, he arrives as the leader of the entire program and, as such, took the podium on Friday to address the media as part of the head coaches’ media session.
Given the game will be a rematch of their October meeting, Day was asked how he might change his approach, if at all.
“You can’t all of a sudden start changing everything that you do, but you also can’t do the same exact thing that you did before,” Day said. “So, we’re somewhere in between, that’s the balance that you try to find. What kind of wrinkles can we show but then allow the guys to play. At the end of the day, in an environment like this and this kind of atmosphere, it’s about players, not plays.”
Much of the discussion leading up to the game figures to center on Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and the status of his knee. Fields has left each of the last two games after hurting it and will wear a protective brace.
“We talked to the training staff, talked to our people, asked all those questions of what the risks are and aren’t,” Day said. “Everything we’ve heard back is it’s 100 percent a go.”
He added, “If there was any question on (his health), we would certainly take the precautions. But we feel great, he’s had a great week of practice, and we’re ready to roll.”
The addition of defensive back Shaun Wade figures to be a boost to the Ohio State defense against Wisconsin. Wade was held out of last week’s game as Day said the staff felt he wasn’t fully healthy. As a result, others in the secondary were asked to play out of position, which led to them giving up some explosive plays in the passing game.
With Wade back, the Ohio State secondary will be at full strength against a Wisconsin passing attack that has been decent at best this season.
“He brings a certain level of calmness to that defense because he has so much experience there,” Day said of Wade’s return. “He can identify what’s happening … he’s played a lot of football, he’s versatile, good in the run and the passing game.”
As the Big Ten Conference announced its All-Conference teams and individual awards earlier this week, a slew of Buckeyes made appearances, including running back J.K. Dobbins, although he was beaten out by Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor for the best back in the Big Ten.
Asked what has led to such a monster season from Dobbins, Day said it hasn’t been any one particular thing.
“I think it’s been a combination of things,” Day said. “I think our blocking with the offensive line has been outstanding. But he’s running with edge, he’s running with a chip on his shoulder all season. He’s been running harder, so those 4-yard runs are becoming 5, 6-yard runs … the big thing for him is just taking care of that ball, which, for the most part, he’s done a great job of this year.”
As for Dobbins seemingly being overlooked nationally, Day said, “If it were me, I’d ask, ‘what else do I need to do?’ I think he deserves to be considered the best running back in the country but that hasn’t necessarily been the case. That bothers him, and he runs with a chip on his shoulder because of that. You’d have to ask him (how he feels about being snubbed), but I know it bothers me.”
A major part of the success Ohio State has seen in running the ball between the tackles this season can be attributed to the play of center Josh Myers, who has emerged as one of the better players at his position in his first year as a starter.
Day said of what Myers has meant this season, “I don’t know if I can really put it into words … what he’s done this year has been excellent. He’s as good as I’ve been around at that age. His communication and ability to make the calls from tackle to tackle … his pad level, his strength, his protection, his athleticism, his leadership.”
As is the case in every football game, turnovers figure to be crucial. While Ohio State has done a good job of protecting the football overall this season, one possible developing trend has been freshman Garrett Wilson failing to secure punts.
In such a high-stakes game, Day was asked if, perhaps, he would turn to a different returner in place of Wilson. Day issued his full support of Wilson, however, saying he would still be the team’s primary punt returner.
“We believe in him, we trust in him, we think he has the ability to be an elite returner … we know what he’s capable of, we see him in practice,” Day said of Wilson.
Asked about Wilson’s rise this season as a receiver, Day said Wilson is practicing better and to see him make the plays he did against Michigan was “big.” He said there is a process these players must go through, as talented as they may be, and Wilson is still going through it.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.