Presser Bullets: Ryan Day, Jeff Hafley, Kevin Wilson and Ohio State Players Preview Saturday's Season Opener vs. Florida Atlantic

By Dan Hope on August 27, 2019 at 12:56 pm

With game week officially underway, several Ohio State coaches and players are meeting with the media on Tuesday to discuss the Buckeyes' season opener against Florida Atlantic.

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day kicked off the interview session with his first game-week press conference of the year, and he was followed by interview sessions with co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley, offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Kevin Wilson, right tackle Branden Bowen, defensive tackle Robert Landers and linebacker Tuf Borland.

Before the press conference, Ohio State announced that it will release a status report each Friday for players who will be unavailable to play or are game-time decisions for Saturday's game. Depth charts will also be announced on Fridays. Day and the Buckeyes will continue not to discuss the specifics of injuries. Ohio State sports information director Jerry Emig said the medical staff has advised the coaching staff not to discuss injuries.

Updates from Day, Hafley, Wilson, Bowen, Landers and Borland can be found below.

Ryan Day:

  • On FAU coach Lane Kiffin's offense: “He's innovative in terms of what he's doing over there.”
  • “At the end of the day, we're just fired up to play a game.”
  • Most important things for the Buckeyes to accomplish on Saturday: "First thing is tackling. We have to tackle. We have to take care of the football, and we have to block."
  • On Justin Fields: "This will be the first time he's live. We haven't taken him to the ground. So that'll be new, and we have to see how a lot of guys respond." Said the Buckeyes haven't done much tackling in preseason camp with their first-team units in order to protect them from injuries.
  • Day said he doesn't plan to change any of Ohio State's gameday traditions. "One of the greatest things about Ohio State is the tradition."
  • Day said he expects 7-8 offensive linemen to play on Saturday, but Thayer Munford will start at left tackle and Branden Bowen will start at right tackle. Joshua Alabi will rotate in at left tackle, Nicholas Petit-Frere will rotate in at right tackle and true freshman center Harry Miller could also see playing time on Saturday: "Harry Miller, don't be surprised if you see him in there as well."
  • Mike Yurcich, Kevin Wilson and Jeff Hafley will coach from the press box for Saturday's game, while Greg Mattison will be on the sideline.
  • "You have to go into games expecting to win the game in the fourth quarter," so Day said the Buckeyes can't be overly cautious with trying to prevent Justin Fields from getting hurt. If he has to run the ball, he will, but the Buckeyes will also scheme accordingly to use his talents most effectively.
  • On Justin Fields: "The good thing about Justin is he throws it just as good as he runs it, and vice versa."
  • Ryan Day said that when he runs out of the tunnel with the team on Saturday for his first game as Ohio State's official head coach, he expects to be a special moment.
  • Gene Smith was in attendance at the press conference, and the athletic director asked Ryan Day, "When did you shave your beard, and why?" Day responded: "That was a camp beard. That was only supposed to be one week."
  • On the depth at defensive end behind Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper, Day said Javontae Jean-Baptiste "has done a really good job this preseason," Zach Harrison will play as a true freshman and Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday will also both work in the rotation. Jashon Cornell could also swing outside to defensive end as needed.
  • "There's going to be certain things in game one, you're going to see things in the game that you didn't see in practice. That's just the way it works."
  • On Branden Bowen: "First off, his attitude was as good as I've been around ... He has been through a lot ... I just love his approach right now. He's practicing at a high level ... This is a guy who I think is going to have a great year."
  • Day said he will have "very little" involvement in the defensive game plan, and trusts the defensive coaching staff to get the job done on that side of the ball.
  • On Ohio State's injury policy: "We just had discussions with the administration, with the medical staff and sat down and made the decision, that was the best for us moving forward."
  • Day said that when he drives to and from the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, he turns the radio off and his phone off for 20 minutes so he can just think about what he needs to do for the team without being distracted.
  • Day said backup quarterback Gunnar Hoak doesn't quite have the grasp of the offense that Justin Fields and Chris Chugunov do because he's only been on campus for a couple months.
  • Asked if he would have left the NFL to go to another major college football program, Day winked and said, "Only Columbus."

Jeff Hafley:

  • Hafley said he likes coaching the game from the press box because it takes the crowd out of it and allows him to focus more on what's happening in the game. While he would like to be on the field working directly with his players, he trusts the coaches the Buckeyes will have on the field.
  • Will the Buckeyes rotate their cornerbacks? Hafley didn't answer directly, but said they have to balance having their best players out there while also keeping their starting cornerbacks fresh.
  • Hafley said the Buckeyes' primary focus going into this week is on doing what they need to do, not on their opponent. That's no slight at FAU, because he said he has a lot of respect for Lane Kiffin as an offensive coach and he believes the Owls that several good players, including their tight end (Harrison Bryant), quarterback (Chris Robison) and slot receiver, but that would have been the case no matter who they were playing this week because it's their first game.
  • Do you know who's going to start at linebacker? "I do. I think we'll share that when the depth chart comes out on Friday."
  • On the potential for Jeff Okudah and other Buckeyes to be future NFL players: "I try to guide those guys on what it takes. Not just to be a pro, but to be an exceptional pro." Hafley spent the last seven years coaching in the NFL. He said he doesn't talk to them, however, about their future decisions on whether they should leave early for the NFL, because they're focused on the season.
  • On calling the right defensive play: "It feels great ... it feels like, 'Shit, I got it.'"
  • On facing Lane Kiffin's offense, which has a reputation for being aggressive: "He will be challenging. Because we have a lot of respect for him." Hafley said he expects FAU will hit some plays on Saturday, but 'that's OK.' It's all about how the Buckeyes respond and making sure they don't panic.
  • Hafley noted that in NFL preseason games, there are typically a lot of missed tackles, so one of his biggest concerns entering Saturday's game is how well the Buckeyes will tackle.
  • Even though he has been in the NFL, "I'm a college guy," Hafley said.

Kevin Wilson:

  • Wilson said the Buckeyes will use social media and other media sources to find information on their opponents going into each week's game.
  • On Justin Fields: "When he takes off running, he's maybe as fast as I've seen at quarterback ... "Been around some talented players, but his skillset is about as high as I've been around."
  • Wilson said he is "happy and proud" of Branden Bowen and said he is "practicing as tough as he's ever practiced," but said Nicholas Petit-Frere also had a good preseason camp and the competition continues between them at right tackle. "I think Nick will get in the mix and play a lot too this year."
  • Wilson said the Buckeyes will rely on the flow of the game to determine when they will rotate offensive linemen, but he, like Day, believes they have more than five offensive linemen who are ready to play, with Petit-Frere, Joshua Alabi, Harry Miller and Gavin Cupp all being candidates to come in and play off the bench.
  • One of the biggest challenges in preparing for FAU's defense, Wilson said, has been trying to mesh what FAU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer did as Charlotte's defensive coordinator last year with what FAU's returning players did last year under a different defensive coordinator. He also acknowledged, though, that opponents often do things that are different than what they showed on film, and they have to adjust on the fly.
  • On using his previous experience as a head coach at Indiana to help Ryan Day: "Somebody told me years ago, as an assistant coach, your job is to assist the coach, so I'm trying to do everything I can to help him."
  • Wilson said the Buckeyes have their own goals on offense "but in this day and age, you have to adapt to the defensive structures that you're going to see."
  • On FAU's defense: "It's going to be a challenge. These guys can present a lot of problems."

Branden Bowen:

  • On the emotions of starting at right tackle after the injuries he dealt with: "It was hard not to break down and cry, because it's been a long road." Said he is glad he had to deal with the challenges he did, though, because it made him a stronger person.
  • Bowen said he just found out he was starting at right tackle when Ryan Day told the media today.
  • Bowen said he and Nicholas Petit-Frere "both push each other and make each other better."
  • Bowen said he is more grateful to have the opportunity to get to play again because of everything he had to go through over the past two years since breaking his leg in 2017.
  • On being engaged and being a father: "The support system is so much better, having my fiancee to go home to and my son to look up at me every night."
  • "It's my senior year. I know what it takes to start here."
  • Bowen said he believes his biggest area of improvement has been his attitude. He used to get down on himself when something bad happens, but now he's learned how to shake it off and move on to the next play.
  • Bowen named Gavin Cupp as a backup offensive lineman who deserves more credit than he gets. Said Cupp has had to battle through injuries, but the way he works hard brings up the whole offensive line room.
  • Bowen said there is great chemistry throughout the offensive line and they hang out often away from the field.
  • On how well Jonah Jackson has meshed in with the other offensive linemen since transferring in: "I'm absolutely surprised ... it's really easy for him to jell into a group because of his maturity ... it hasn't been a problem becoming friends with him."
  • On Thayer Munford being ready to play after undergoing back surgery this offseason: "He's hungry ... He absolutely has had a fire to get back because he's been out, and it's pushed him every day to get better and back to where he needed to be."

Robert Landers:

  • On defensive end Jonathon Cooper, who is currently sidelined with an undisclosed injury, Landers said Cooper is "taking it day-by-day" in his recovery but he expects Cooper "will be back soon."
  • Landers said true sophomore defensive tackle Togiai has "gotten a lot better" since last season.
  • On being prepared for the season without preseason games, Landers said "You can simulate practice to be as close to the game as possible, but practice is not the game ... I feel like we've played a lot of football and we've simulated a lot of football within practice," and believes Ohio State will revert back to its training when adversity hits in games, but acknowledged that games are a different beast from practice.
  • On FAU coach Lane Kiffin: "I feel like Coach Kiffin is one of the greats in college football, and he's going to have those boys ready."
  • Landers said he doesn't feel like Ryan Day needs to be as hard on the players as much as he might with some other teams because of how many veteran leaders the Buckeyes have all over their roster.
  • On Day: "He has his own separate style from Coach Meyer, but at the end of the day, he's been around here long enough that he understands how the ship works."

Tuf Borland:

  • On the defense: "We definitely have a chip on our shoulder, seeing the way things went over the course of the year last year."
  • Borland described Kiffin as "innovative" and a "great play caller."
  • As a defensive player in the college game, "you always have to account for the quarterback," Borland said.
  • Borland said there has been a "big emphasis" on tackling all offseason.
  • Borland said his mentality hasn't changed much from last year, "because I always felt like I had to reprove myself every year ... I've always had that feeling, having to reprove myself."
  • Asked if he's relieved he won't have to talk about last year anymore after Saturday, Tuf Borland simply replied "Yeah" with a smile.
  • Borland said he believes the defense has really come together this offseason and all said, "Let's be great."
  • "Within the system of defense, you have a set of rules that you rely on," and you to play within those rules, Borland said.
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