COLUMBUS — Coming off their best performance of the season at Rutgers a week ago, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and the Buckeyes will carry some momentum into Saturday’s contest against the Maryland Terrapins.
On Tuesday, Day met with the media to recap his team’s performance last week while previewing the week ahead.
Now more than a third of the way through the season, Ohio State appears to have stabilized after a tumultuous start that included a loss to Oregon and a reshuffling of the defensive game plan. Day said on Tuesday he has seen growth and, perhaps most notably, stability in his program despite the rough road it’s traveled thus far.
“We started off with a young team. I knew we were a little bit behind in the spring and preseason, but you really don’t know until you get into games,” Day said. “I think that anytime you’re at Ohio State, the expectations are to win every game, they’re very, very high. But we’ll see how the season shakes out. I’m proud of the development over the last month. It’s been a little bumpy at times, but guys have come to work every day. The coaching staff has been steady, the leaders have been steady, and we’re getting better. We’re growing and we have a bright future. And the more these guys play, the better off we’re going to be.
“The question is how quickly can we get to where we know we can be? How quickly can we get to being a team that can win a championship? Well, we have another challenge this week. Maryland is going to come in here and they have really good personnel, really good schemes. So, we’re going to have to play good again. I thought we played better last week, but we have to take that next step this week.”
While Day has liked what he has seen from his players and coaches alike in response to a difficult couple of weeks last month, by no means is he suggesting Ohio State is entirely out from under the issues that had plagued it through the first three weeks of the season.
Asked if he felt September’s issues were behind them, Day said, “I don’t want to say that because we’ve had one good week. Now we have to go do it again and prove that we can do it again. But there is momentum there. I think you can see it in the way we practice. If we don’t have a good week of practice, it’s not going to continue. We still have a young team. We’re not all of the sudden out of the woods here. This is still a work in progress, and so we have to bring it every week now.”
Day added, “The more times we can do that, the more we can grow upon and have experiences we can look back on and say, ‘Ok, we’ve done it here. We’ve been down in games at halftime, we’ve been up in games at halftime where we finished teams off. We’ve had some different things where in the past, we didn’t exactly have all of those experiences. I think in the last month we have grown. But where we’re at? We’ll see as we head into (the) Maryland (game).”
If Ohio State wants to keep its momentum going into next week, particularly on defense, it will have to contend with the best passing quarterback the Buckeyes have seen this year in Taulia Tagovailoa. The junior has thrown for 1,500 yards already, which ranks 10th in the country.
Tagovailoa is coming off of the worst performance of his career, however, after being intercepted five times by Iowa last Friday in a 51-14 loss. Despite the dreadful showing, Day said Tuesday that there is plenty to like about the younger brother of NFL quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
“He gets the ball out quick, he’s competitive, he sees the field, he’s accurate … You can tell he’s a student of the game,” Day said. “He has a little bit of the ‘it’ factor to him. He understands situations and is a very good quarterback.”
If Tagovailoa is to throw his into a Terrapins upset, he will have to do so without his leading receiver and one of the better pass catchers in the Big Ten. Dontay Demus Jr., an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer in each of the last two seasons, saw his year come to an end in the Iowa loss after suffering a season-ending injury.
Demus had 28 catches for 503 yards and three touchdowns through Maryland’s first five games.
Day said the team won’t put too much stock into Maryland’s blowout loss to Iowa last week, understanding they’re better than what they showed in the game. He added that much of what the Buckeyes are able to accomplish on Saturday will be decided on their own practice field this week.
“It really comes down to how well we practice this week. That’s a big part of how well we do on Saturday … The better we play, the more confidence we can play with on Saturday,” Day said. “It’s another big challenge for us, a conference game against a good team. They have good skill, good athleticism, a good quarterback. They’ve played some teams really tough. Last week (against Iowa), we just throw that game out and go off what we’ve seen in the past with them because they’re dangerous.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.