Just moments before Ryan Day took the podium to discuss Ohio State's blowout win against Cincinnati, Michigan completed its double-overtime win against Army.
With such a clear difference in how the games went for the Big Ten rivals, it wasn't unreasonable to compare the two performances. One team barely eked by an Army team it was favored to beat by 23.5 points, and the other dominated a team it was favored to beat by 15 points.
When asked whether he had seen the result of the Wolverines' close call, Day said he hadn't yet.
“We were singing and dancing in the locker room,” Day said.
Naturally, pitching a shutout was one of the causes for celebration.
The Buckeyes came close to allowing a late score, but a forced fumble at the 1-yard line ensured Cincinnati wouldn't put any points on the scoreboard. To Day and Jeff Hafley, the impressive performance didn't come as a major shock.
“I think they staff did a great job preparing them,” Hafley said. “We knew exactly what we were going to get, and our players were confident in that. They were confident in the technique, the scheme. And then you've just got to give those guys credit. They played fast and physical for the whole entire game today. And I think the players deserve a ton of credit.”
“It's another step in the journey,” Day said. “It's what we see in practice every day. Going up against them in spring and during preseason, I knew they were going to be tough, and they're getting there.”
“I thought we owned the line of scrimmage today, did a great job,” Day said. “They were flying around. That's what we envisioned when we put this together, we all got together I guess back in January when it all came about. But this is a great start for those guys. I thought they were running around tackling well and creating turnovers against a good Cincinnati team.”
“We're happy, but we're not content,” Tuf Borland said.
Two games into the season, the Buckeyes have shown significant defensive improvement after such a dismal 2018 season, filled with lows.
Jeff Okudah, along with the rest of the players on his side of the ball, spent much of the last year hearing about their failures and entered this fall hoping to expunge those memories from his head.
“I think we had a whole winter, whole spring to deal with kind of letting down the Silver Bullets,” Okudah said. “We heard a lot of stuff from former players letting us know that they still had faith in us, even though we didn't have a good year. To have to hear that from former players is kind of embarrassing. I think that everyone took it to heart and just wanted to come out and be able to make kind of a statement that we're not going be the group that kind of let the Silver Bullets slip away.”
Okudah and the rest of Ohio State's secondary have showed a propensity to deliver hard hits, coming up from their cornerback and safety positions to do so. Last year, tackling was a problem in the secondary, and that issue hasn't materialized in the first two games.
“I wish I could take credit for that,” Hafley said. “I just think, again, I think it comes down to they were playing fast, they were playing physical. What coach Day and the rest of the staff has been doing is preaching about being tough, and I think that's what you're seeing.”
“I don't think we have to talk about that, necessarily, because coach Hafley, you're not going to get on the field if you're not willing to tackle,” Okudah said. “That's kind of what he stressed. He's been in the NFL, so he knows what teams are looking for. They want corners that are wanting to tackle, safeties that can come down and make that open-field tackle. When you have 11 guys flying to the ball and four guys in the back end that all want to tackle, I think it makes it for a nice defense.”
Chase Young now has back-to-back games with 1.5 sacks to open the season, putting him on pace to have a chance to challenge Vernon Gholston's Ohio State record of 14 sacks in a single season.
Once again on Saturday, Young became a mainstay in the opposition's backfield. He now has eight tackles and three sacks to open the season.
“Chase is playing lights out,” Okudah said. “I know that I can tell that he's really comfortable. And his skillset, it shows. I mean, he's playing really fast.”
“You get them behind the sticks or you get them to 3rd down and good luck,” Hafley said. “I mean, that's what it looked like today from upstairs.”
“He's playing at a different level because I think his preparation is elite,” Al Washington said. “He has an elite coach in Larry Johnson. I think that he's a player who not only is he playing at a high level, he's trying to get his people around him to play at higher level. So naturally, when you're leading, your play elevates. He's talented, he works hard. But I think that right now is his leadership and his efforts to try to get people around him better is kind of what separates him right now.”
Young did, however, leave one play on the field.
Shaun Wade delivered a major hit on a running back as the ball landed in his hands, shooting it into the air and directly into Young's hands. He couldn't hang on, falling to his knees and grabbing his head at the missed opportunity for his first career interception.
“I almost blew out my Achilles' jumping up and down because I thought we had that,” Day said. “Still feel a little loose there.”
“I was sick, man,” Young said. “I knew it was coming. It's all good, though. Still a lot more games. You never know, I might have another opportunity.”
“I left money on the field today,” Young said. “I can't do that.”
Baron Browning played a quality game, too, lining up at multiple linebacker positions. He had five tackles.
“Proud of him. Love him,” Washington said. “My assessment of Baron is he's closer to his potential. Absolutely love him as a kid. He's worked his tail off. I'm proud of him.”
“Confidence,” Hafley said. “He knows what he's doing. He's playing very fast and very physical. But I think the biggest thing for him is he's confident. I think coach Washington's done a great job in preparing him to play, and I think you're seeing that now. From upstairs, it looked like he played pretty well.”
Though Pete Werner is listed as a linebacker and technically starts at strongside linebacker, Ohio State often treats him as though he's a bullet.
On multiple occasions during Saturday's game, he lined up at the second level of the defense, then sprinted backward to become the single deep safety as Jordan Fuller ran up toward the line of scrimmage to cover somebody. A 6-foot-3, 239-pound safety? Hafley feels confident enough in Werner's abilities to put him in that position.
“He's athletic,” Hafley said. “He's way more athletic than anybody gives him credit for. So that gives us a little bit of a weapon that he can move around and do things that you or people don't think that he can do. Pete's an athletic guy. He can play a lot of different spots, so it's fun to have him out there. He can do different things.”
“If there was risk, I don't think we'd run it,” Hafley said. “So I think we feel pretty confident in Pete doing that.”
Late in the second half, Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder finally hit a deep ball on the Buckeyes, tossing a beautiful 46-yard pass to Alec Pierce. Damon Arnette was in coverage on Pierce.
Hafley took blame for the completion.
“I want to make sure that I say this is you guys saw Damon Arnette got hit on that go ball at the end of the game, and I know he was frustrated,” Hafley said. “I had told Damon he was done for the game. Damon had actually unbuckled his shoulder pads. Sevyn Banks was going in. Sevyn got hurt on the kickoff, so Damon ran on the field. Unfortunately, I'm not using that as an excuse for Damon by any means. But I credit him for going in, and as a coach, I take responsibility for that. I told a player he was out, so I admit my mistake. I just want to have Damon's back on that so everybody understands that.”
“As far as what happened at the end of the game, I credit him for going in,” Hafley said. “I felt bad for that. I won't talk about that again, but I want to say that's on me, and I respect Damon, and I thought Damon played a really good game.”
Offensively, the Buckeyes ran the ball with much more efficiency that they did in the first game of the season.
J.K. Dobbins had 17 rushes for 141 yards and two touchdowns, and Justin Fields added a pair of rushing touchdowns. After the game, Day gave immense credit to the offensive line for its performance.
“I think we worked on the mistakes we made last week and then just went from there,” Josh Myers said. “I think we did a better job of sustaining good offensive plays throughout the game.”
“They were stunting from a three-down defense to a four-down, back and forth,” Myers said. “I don't have time to say anything when they do that. Our guys did a great job across the board from adjusting to that.”
“We were preparing really hard all this week for what they do up front with all the movement around, blitzing,” Wyatt Davis said. “We were preparing hard for it this week. And sure enough, the first series, that's what they were giving us. And we were prepared for it, and we just came out and did what we were coached to do.”
Binjimen Victor caught five passes for a team-leading 69 yards, including a back-shoulder fade that Day called one of the best passing play of the game.
“I'll tell you what, the back shoulder fade between he and Ben Victor is something else,” Day said. “It's something we work hard on. We talk about all the different things that come with this. It didn't just happen. Challenged Ben. If Ben can win those one-on-one battles for us, we'll go. It starts with the extra receiver. He makes that play and we go to score that drive and kickstarted us a little bit too.”