Presser Bullets: Ryan Day, Jeff Hafley, Justin Fields and Others Review Ohio State's Win over Nebraska, Preview Sixth Game Against Michigan State

By Dan Hope on October 1, 2019 at 12:36 pm

Fresh off another blowout win over Nebraska and looking ahead to this week's game against Michigan State (7:30 p.m., ABC), Ohio State coach Ryan Day and several Buckeyes coaches and players, including co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, linebacker Baron Browning, offensive tackle Joshua Alabi and quarterback Justin Fields, met with the media on Tuesday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith also met with the media on Tuesday to discuss California's Fair Pay to Play Act and his work with the NCAA as the co-chair of a working group looking into name, image and likeness benefits.

Bullet-point updates from what each of them had to say during today's press conference are below.

Gene Smith:

  • Smith said his working group will present its report to the NCAA's Board of Governors on Oct. 29.
  • Smith said his concern with the California law is that it "moves toward pay-for-play." He said he can't get into specifics about what the working group has discussed, but said it is imperative for everyone to be playing by the same rules in all 50 states.
  • Smith reiterated that if there are differences between the rules California schools are operating under and the rules Ohio State has to comply with, he would not schedule games against California schools.
  • Smith acknowledged that the NCAA has been slow to to modernize in a lot of areas regarding benefits to student athletes. "Cost of attendance has taken longer than it should have."

Ryan Day:

  • Day said he would be surprised if any of Ohio State's assistant coaches left after this season. "I don't expect anybody to leave anytime soon ... I think those guys are going to be here for awhile." Like Urban Meyer, Day expects his assistant coaches to stay for at least two years.
  • Day said Jeff Okudah has "really embraced the style of defense" Ohio State is playing and believes he has gotten better with another year of experience.
  • On Joshua Alabi's performance filling in for Branden Bowen at right tackle: "It was a tribute to his attitude and what he's done up and to this point. In a world of people wanting to run to the transfer portal, this is a guy who stuck with it."
  • Day said the Buckeyes knew "pretty much all week" that Alabi, who has been practicing at both left and right tackle, would start in place of Bowen at right tackle.
  • Asked whether it was possible if Taron Vincent and C.J. Saunders will not play this year, Day – whose policy remains not to talk about injuries – responded, "I don't know about that."
  • Day said his thoughts on the name, image and likeness situation are "very much aligned" with Smith's thoughts.
  • Day said the Buckeyes look at it as a positive when recruits play multiple positions in high schools. Day can't talk about specific recruits, but was asked the question in regards to defensive end commit Jack Sawyer currently playing quarterback at Pickerington North.
  • On Michigan State's defense: "They have answers to everything you do."
  • “All we can guarantee is that there’s going to be three other guys in the room with you,” Day said when asked about what he tells quarterback recruits. "Whether they’re freshmen, seniors, transfers – you just don’t know. You don’t have a crystal ball."
  • Day said he believes it is important for his team to know about the history between Ohio State and Michigan State and what has happened in some of the previous games between them.
  • On Michigan State defensive end Kenny Willekes: "He's really productive. I feel like he's in on every play when I watch him ... He plays really hard. His motor is off-the-chart. He's really difficult to block."
  • When asked where he ranked Ohio State, Day said he would not reveal his ballot for the Coaches Poll but "we're getting better every week."
  • On Jeff Hafley, Day said "I knew I'd coach with him again" when he left the San Francisco 49ers but didn't know it would be as one of his assistant coaches at Ohio State.
  • On how well Ohio State's coaching staff is working together: "Our team can feel the staff's chemistry."

Jeff Hafley:

  • On the defense's performance through five games: "Really proud and pleased so far." Said the players that were recruited to Ohio State by previous coaches are really talented, which made his job easier coming in.
  • Asked about how long he expects to be at Ohio State, Hafley said all he's thinking about is today. "Just to think about tomorrow would be hard for me." Said he's loved his time at Ohio State so far. "This is the most fun I've had coaching in a long time ... I love coming to work every day. I haven't been able to say that in a long time."
  • Hafley said Jonathon Cooper has been "one of the most impressive guys" he has coached since he's arrived at Ohio State because of the attitude, toughness and leadership that he has.
  • Hafley said Baron Browning is "getting better" and he is pleased with the strides he's made since the beginning of the season.
  • On Michigan State: "This is a really good football team. Well-coached." Said quarterback Brian Lewerke does a great job managing the game and making smart decisions.
  • Hafley said he doesn't want to take away credit from the secondary for the interceptions they've made but "everything starts up front" with the defensive line.
  • After his first couple Tuesday practices, Hafley was surprised by how hard they went and asked Mickey Marotti, "Are we gonna be alright?" Marotti responded, "We'll be just fine."
  • "The culture here, I think, is special."
  • On playing press man coverage against Nebraska: "I love press man ... and the thing I love right now is we're getting better at it. I just think you have to be able to play both ... I think it makes it difficult (for the offense) to change things up." Hafley believes that rotating between press man and zone has allowed them to stay fresh, play more plays and make more plays.
  • Hafley said he believes the rotation between Tuf Borland and Baron Browning is "working really well" right now. Who would play in the fourth quarter with the game on the line? Hafley said that really depends on what the opponent does well, in terms of pass vs. run, and who's playing better against what in that game.
  • Hafley said the family environment that Day has fostered at Ohio State makes his job better and makes everyone enjoy being in the building more and working together. "You see the way he coaches them. He's hard on them, but he does love them."
  • On Jeff Okudah: "I do think every game so far, he has gotten better."

Baron Browning:

  • Are the linebackers much better than last year? "Absolutely. I think we've been growing and growing each week."
  • Browning said he thinks the linebackers have done a better job using their hands, filling gaps and getting off blocks than they did last year.
  • Working on using his hands better has been a point of emphasis for Browning, so he and his coaches work on it a lot throughout the week.
  • Browning said he believes there is a level of camaraderie that the Buckeyes have on defense now that they did not have before.
  • Browning said Ohio State's defensive tackles do a great job of making the linebackers' jobs easier.
  • Browning said the Real Life Wednesdays program was the biggest selling point of Ohio State to him as a recruit.
  • Asked about whether he feels any different wearing the black uniforms, Browning said, "I'm not a big fashion guy."

Joshua Alabi:

  • Alabi said it was tough when he realized he would not be a starter this year, but his faith kept him on course and he did not look to transfer for his final season so he would play more. "It's all God's plan."
  • Alabi said he is not surprised by how well Justin Fields has played to this point.
  • Playing as well as he did in the Rose Bowl and against Nebraska on Saturday has built his confidence up, he said.
  • On playing right tackle after primarily practicing at left tackle over the past couple years: "Everything is backward." Said he felt awkward in his stance when he first start practicing at right tackle, but got used to it with more reps over the course of the week of practice. He said Thursday was when he really felt comfortable at right tackle and ready to go start the game on Saturday, and now he's ready to go step in and play either position as needed this season.

Justin Fields:

  • Fields said the Buckeyes refer to their Tuesday practices as "Bloody Tuesdays."
  • On how well Ohio State's offensive line is playing: "Coach Stud does a great job with the O-line, and they're working hard ... I think that all contributes to their performances on Saturday."
  • Fields smiled when he was asked about Jeff Okudah: "He always talks a little bit of trash, but we're pretty good buds, and when I do complete a ball on him, I talk trash back at him."
  • Fields said learning when to throw the ball away has made him a better quarterback and decision-maker.
  • Fields said Day talks to him a little bit during the game but not too much since he has so much on his plate. Whenever Fields needs to ask Day a question, though, he knows he can.
  • On the Buckeyes' 5-0 start and continued expectations: "I think we can become one of the best teams that has ever played at Ohio State."
  • Fields said his approach for this week doesn't change much from any other week even though the Buckeyes are playing a better defense in Michigan State.
  • "I think my ceiling is very high, so as I continue to work each and every week, I think I'll continue to get better each and every week."
  • Fields said he and J.K. Dobbins took Ohio State's offensive line to Benihana for dinner the other day as thanks for how well they've protected and opened up holes for them.
  • On the sacks he's taken: "I think some are reasonable but some I should have thrown the ball away ... Some of the sacks this year, they were really on me and I should have thrown the ball away."
  • Fields complimented Master Teague's speed, power, elusiveness and ability to run through guys as a running back. Said the combination of Teague and Dobbins really opens up the running game.
  • "We definitely have weaknesses on the team. We're not where we need to be yet to win a national championship."
  • "I think we're definitely one of the best teams in the country."
  • Fields on whether he believes student-athletes should be able to profit off their name, image and likeness: "Of course the players want to get paid, but our focus is really not on getting paid, our focus is on winning games. So I think as long as we keep winning games, everyone will be happy around him." Said he recognizes, though, there are student-athletes who come from different backgrounds than him that need the money more than he does.
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