COLUMBUS – Ryan Day knows he has a tough act to follow when he leads Ohio State into Michigan Stadium for the first time as OSU’s head football coach.
He talked about the pressure of maintaining the standard that has been set by Urban Meyer coaching Ohio State to seven wins over Michigan in his seven seasons as OSU’s coach and Ohio State winning 16 of the last 18 games against its biggest rival during his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
“I’m trying to do the best I can to make it like every week, although we all know it’s not. We might do a little extra here and there to make sure we’re covering every single scenario we can, making sure we’re letting the guys have a great plan,” Day said. “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. When you get here during the week, you don’t have to all of a sudden come up with an unbelievable speech on the Tuesday.
“I call it focus. I think when you look at someone’s eyes, you can tell if they’re focused or not. Based on how well you prepare, the more confidence you have. I look at it like if you’re taking a test, you know the answers to the test, you’re focused, but not you’re nervous. You’re locked in, know you’re going to do well, you have all the answers to the test. If you don’t know all the answers to the test, you start getting nervous, anxious.
“As long as our focus is right, we understand that. I’ll be shocked if it isn’t, and we prepare the best way, that gives us our best chance to be successful,” he said.
“I just know we’re focused on this game. I mean, a lot of people do a lot of what if scenarios and everything. I know that this game means everything to us. Nothing matters if we don’t win the game. That’s the only way I look at it. We’ve got to win the game.”
Ohio State is 11-0 overall and 8-0 in the Big Ten. Michigan is 9-2 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten. OSU has already clinched the East Division of the Big Ten and will play the West Division winner Dec. 7 in Indianpolis.
FIELDS READY TO GO: Quarterback Justin Fields will be ready to play on Saturday after throwing a huge scare into Ohio State fans by lying on the field for two or three minutes after being sacked late in last week’s 28-17 win over Penn State.
“Any time you see your starting quarterback on the ground, it’s not a good feeling. He was able to shake it off, run off the field. We expect him to be fine,” Day said.
“When we play in big games like that, we certainly rely on him to run some. He does a great job extending plays. Penn State kind of forced him to run the ball a little bit. He did a great job. Other than the two turnovers, I thought he was unbelievable. We’ll continue to do that when we think it’s appropriate.”
THREE FUMBLES ‘INEXCUSABLE’: Day obviously was not happy with the three fumbles Ohio State lost in its win over Penn State, two by Fields and one by J.K. Dobbins.
“It’s completely inexcusable. That’s how you ruin a whole season, right there. I think we were a little careless. I think a couple of them were really good (defensive) plays. The one by Justin at the goal line, the guy is pretty tight. The guy puts his helmet right on the ball. Not an excuse. It wasn’t being careless, but not good enough. We score right there, the game could be completely different,” he said.
“Then the two fumbles by J.K. and Justin in the third quarter, again, inexcusable. Were they good plays or not? I don’t know. All I know is they can’t give up the ball. We give someone the football, we put the whole team’s trust in their hands, the future in their hands. They know that.
“We talked about it. We’re going to get it fixed,” Day said.
WHEN TO USE COOPER: Defensive end Jonathon Cooper, who last week announced his intention to redshirt and come back to play the 2020 season, still can play one game this season under NCAA rules which allow a player to play four games and still count it as a redshirt season.
Day indicated Cooper will play at some point this season but did not say whether it would be this week, next week in the Big Ten championship game or in a College Football Playoff game if OSU is one of the four teams in that event.
“A lot of things come into play. The depth of our D-line. His overall health, if he’s exactly at 100%. What the game plan is. It’s good to know we have a game we can use him in if it fits,” Day said. “Certainly he’s going to play in another game this year, we just don’t know exactly which one yet.”
HASKINS’ FIRST BIG MOMENT: It all turned out well in the end but from his seat in the Ohio State coaches booth in the press box at Michigan Stadium, Day wasn’t sure what was going to happen when Dwayne Haskins had to replace an injured J.T. Barrett at quarterback two years ago in the last time the Buckeyes played in Michigan Stadium.
Michigan led 20-14 with six minutes left in the third quarter when Barrett was forced out of the game by a knee injury that happened before the game while he was warming up on the sideline. Haskins eventually led three scoring drives in the final 21 minutes of a 31-20 Ohio State win.
But before those three drives, Day was thinking about what happened with Haskins at quarterback a week earlier against Illinois.
“The week before we played Illinois at home in the pouring rain. Dwayne came into the game and fumbled on like the second snap. They returned it for a touchdown. We had to put J.T. and the starters back in the game, which was a complete nightmare. That’s my last memory of how Dwayne was doing on the field. Now we are in the rivalry game, trying to win the game,” Day said.
The turning point in Haskins’ day at Michigan was a 27-yard completion to Austin Mack on a third down, 13 yards to go situation.
“That was probably Dwayne’s moment to say ‘I’m here now.’ Up until that moment, I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go down,” Day said.