COLUMBUS — The stretch run is upon the Ohio State Buckeyes and all of college football as the calendar has flipped to November. Following a 33-26 win over Penn State last week in which Ohio State was challenged in ways it hadn’t been for several weeks, head coach Ryan Day held his weekly press conference on Tuesday to recap the game and look ahead to Saturday’s matchup at Nebraska.
Nebraska is in the midst of yet another disappointing season under coach Scott Frost, having won just three games this year and needing to win out just to become bowl eligible. However, despite the lack of wins, the Cornhuskers have shown a propensity for rising to the occasion against the best teams on their schedule. In losses to Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Michigan this season, Nebraska has been beaten by a total of just 13 points, including one overtime loss.
Given the fight and capabilities Nebraska has shown against their best competition this season, Day will not get caught overlooking Saturday’s opponent.
“I’ve watched the film and this is a very good team,” he said of Nebraska. “First off, statistically ranking on both sides of the ball, they’re very good. I think they’re 27th in the country in scoring. They played the team up north tough, they played Oklahoma tough, they played Michigan State tough. So I’ve been very impressed with them and think they’re doing a great job.
“Just like any other game in the Big Ten, especially when you go on the road, this is going to be a battle. It is truly like March Madness right now. If you win, you move on … I don’t care what the record says, I’ve watched the film and they’re good and have good coaches.”
Asked how he intends to ensure his team isn’t taking Nebraska lightly, Day said all he needs to do is show his players film of the Huskers. In addition to seeing their talent on film, Day continued to push the importance of understanding the stakes and the repercussions of losing a game from here on out.
“You watch across the country week in and week out, a lot of things have happened this year. We can’t let that happen to us,” Day said. “We can’t have any regrets, and the only way to do that is to focus on right now and not be distracted. When you start looking ahead to tomorrow, that’s when you get distracted, and we have to stay disciplined in that area.”
The Ohio State offense came into last week’s game against Penn State firing on all cylinders, having scored at least 52 points in each of their previous four contests. That was not the case against Penn State, however, as Ohio State struggled to run the ball and converted just one of six red zones opportunities into a touchdown.
Day said the lack of red zone efficiency was equal parts playcalling and execution from the offense, particularly in their inability to have success running the ball deep in Penn State territory. The lackluster offensive performance led to just one player —receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba — being graded out as an offensive champion by the coaching staff after the game, underscoring the unit’s inability to meet their standards.
But while better efforts will surely be needed over the final month of the season, Day said there is also plenty to take away from how the team was able to win last week despite all the mistakes committed on both sides of the ball.
“I think the message is also that to win ugly like that says a lot about our character and who we are as a team,” Day said. “We didn’t just fall apart and start pointing fingers. We played against a good defense. We didn’t execute as well as we would have liked to, but we still won the game against a very good opponent. That says a lot about this team.”
Day went on to say he hopes his team can benefit from the win over Penn State by reminding his players what they’re capable of when playing well.
“We have a chance to be really good. We beat a good Penn State and didn’t play our best football. I hope that catapults us into this week and this game and really helps us to take off in the month of November,” he said.
Day said he likes the different experiences his team has gained throughout the season, from big wins and losses to different venues and kickoff times. He added that he’s been impressed with how his team approaches practice and their will to prepare at high levels, which should bode well for them down the stretch.
“Now, we have to really improve how consistent we are here in November because this is where championships are won,” he said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.