Fall camp has wrapped up and the 2021 college football season has officially arrived for the fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
In preparation for their season opener on Thursday, Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day met with the media on Monday to preview his team’s tilt with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
“I’m looking forward to game week. We’ve had a good preseason, and I think the guys are ready to get to work here in terms of playing their first game,” Day said. “Going on the road is going to be a challenge for us. It’s the first time in a while that we’ve played in front of a packed house, which I’m sure it will be, on the road and a night game against a very, very good opponent.”
Day said preparation for Minnesota began all the way back in the spring after the announcement of the schedule and seeing that his team would be opening up the season on the road with a conference opponent. He said it was a challenge through the spring spending a lot of time on fundamentals in order to use camp to get as many game repetitions as possible.
“We’ve put in a lot of hard work, a lot of physical practices out there. So I’m proud of the work we’ve put in. I feel good going into this game, but you just don’t know what you’ve got until you get out there,” Day said.
Asked what he’s most excited about looking ahead to Thursday’s game, Day said he’s excited to see what exactly he has in his 2021 football team, while also being able to get started on fixing the issues that arise. Day said diving into and improving on those issues he sees with his team is the “fun part of coaching.”
However, Day said the process of correcting issues is a little more difficult at a place like Ohio State because “you’re not allowed to lose around here, so you have to find a way to win the game and get out of that environment 1-0.”
“I told the team the other day in our first meeting of the (game) week that that’s the goal here, to go 1-0. There are no other expectations. You don’t know how it’s going to go. Whether we go up, go down, or it’s even, we’re going to get that game into the fourth quarter and then find a way to win the game,” Day said.
Day called Minnesota “a veteran team that has experience,” noting it was a top-10 team just two years ago with many of the players from that team still on the roster. Day credited Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck for the discipline with which the Gophers play, saying they will make the Buckeyes earn it if they are to come away with a win.
If Minnesota is to hang with the Buckeyes on Thursday, much of the honus figures to fall on the Gophers’ offensive line and returning Big Ten Running Back of the Year award recipient Mohamed Ibrahim. Responding to a question about his concern level taking an inexperienced group of linebackers to Minnesota to try and shut down the talented back, Day said that’s life in the Big Ten.
“Anytime you’re playing in the Big Ten, you gotta go against really good running backs. We’ve played against good running backs before. But this guy is built low to the ground, and he breaks tackles,” Day said.
Day said in watching this past weekend’s slate of games, he noticed that many of the explosive plays he saw were a result of a missed tackle, further emphasizing the importance of his team being able to get Ibrahim on the ground.
“He’s a very good running back. He runs hard, their offensive line does a good job of getting movement. We’re going to have to defeat blocks and tackle well,” he said.
Ohio State won’t be without its own talent at the running back position, although it remains to be seen how the carries are split up among the group. Day said he and running backs coach Tony Alford will lean on the more experienced rushers such as Master Teague III, Miyan Williams, and Marcus Crowley, but he added that highly-touted true freshman TreVeyon Henderson “is going to get in there quickly.”
Day said another highly-touted true freshman, defensive end Jack Sawyer, will also likely be in the mix to see his first snaps as a college football player. Day said defensive line coach Larry Johnson will likely bring around 12 defensive linemen with him on the travel roster, and if those players get on the plane to Minnesota, they’ll be expected to contribute.
While there are varying degrees of experience returning at different positions for the Buckeyes, or inexperience for that matter, Day said the time for worrying about whether or not his players are game-ready has passed.
“It’s time to play. I guess we could prepare for another week, but I think they are tired of hitting each other. You hear that year in and year out heading into the first game but it’s true,” Day said. “It’s time to go play. We’re as prepared as we’re going to be, and now it’s time to go put it on the field and the come in the day after, make the corrections, and continue to build.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.