Defense Wins the Day in Ohio State's First Saturday Scrimmage

By Dan Hope on August 10, 2019 at 3:26 pm
Jeffrey Okudah and the Ohio State defense
Photo: Ohio State Dept. of Athletics

As a first-year head coach who has spent his entire coaching career until now on the offensive side of the ball, Ryan Day had reason to be unhappy with what he saw from Ohio State’s offense on Saturday.

In the Buckeyes’ first scrimmage of fall camp, Ohio State’s offense had several turnovers, including two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns and multiple fumbles. That left Day feeling “very disappointed” about that aspect of the scrimmage, and will make ball security a point of emphasis as the Buckeyes continue camp with just three weeks to go until the season opener.

“Defense got after the offense today for sure. Offense turned the ball over too many times, didn't run the ball the way that they should,” Ryan Day said in his press conference after Saturday’s scrimmage. “It's never as good or bad as you think, but we certainly can't turn the ball over like we did today.”

The thing about an intrasquad scrimmage, though, is that if the team had a bad day on one side of the ball, it usually means the team did well on the other side of the ball. So while there might be reason for Day to be concerned about what he saw from Ohio State’s offense on Saturday – and as a result, he said he isn’t any closer to naming a starting quarterback or a No. 2 running back than he was before the scrimmage – there’s also reason for the Buckeyes to like what they saw from their defense on Saturday.

“Defense won the day for sure,” Day said. “Defense is being really opportunistic. Throughout camp, they've done a great job of getting their hands on balls. Really good. So that's a positive right there.”

In particular, Day said he thought the defensive line “did a good job creating penetration.” At the linebacker level, Day was impressed with junior Baron Browning, who he said “has shown that he’s really made a lot of progress in a short period of time.” Sophomore linebacker K’Vaughan Pope and sophomore cornerback Sevyn Banks both had pick-sixes (Day did not specify which quarterbacks threw the passes to them), and he thought the secondary had a good day as a whole “getting their hands on a lot of balls.”

Day and the Buckeyes’ coaches will now review the film from Saturday’s scrimmage, give grades to each player – as they would after an actual game – and determine from there what they most need to work on entering their second full week of preseason camp. In the immediate aftermath of the first scrimmage, though, Day felt good about the overall effort he had seen from the team on Saturday, especially on defense.

A defense that is practicing hard every day and forcing Ohio State’s talented offense to make mistakes is exactly what the Buckeyes needed to see this preseason after last season, when their defense gave up the most yards and most points per game in school history.

“There's an energy to them,” Day said of Ohio State’s defense on Saturday. “I always like when guys are a little salty, have an edge to them and have something to prove … that makes them hungry. So I just like that spirit they have about them right now. They have something to prove every time they step on the field. And I think that makes for good football.”

“Defense is being really opportunistic. Throughout camp, they've done a great job of getting their hands on balls.”– Ryan Day after Saturday's scrimmage

Day has had a lot of good things to say about the defense since the beginning of camp, and there is a pervasive optimism throughout the program that Ohio State will be much better on that side of the ball this season. That’s not to say, though, that the defense has been ahead of the offense throughout the first eight days of practice. If that was the case, Day would be more concerned than he is about the offense. But as a whole, Day believes the competition between the two sides has been mostly even so far in camp, which is what a head coach wants to see.

“I don't know really who's ahead of the other, but I will say up to this point, it's kind of gone back and forth, which is a good sign,” Day said. “The offense will kind of get after the defense one day, and then vice versa. So that's healthy. I think if one side has dominated the other throughout camp then you may have an issue, but right now it's been a good battle."

“I think the guys are competing out there. I think we've got some really good skill guys, we got some good battles going on up front, and again, the whole thing is being physical and how tough can we play,” Day added. “Any time you're competing and you've got two sides going after each other, there's going to be some carnage in there, and you've just got to kind of sort through it and make corrections where you need to and then enhance it on the other side.”

Ohio State will now take a day off from practice on Sunday before returning to the field for six consecutive mornings of practice from Monday through Saturday.

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