Standing in the back corner of the jam-packed visiting team’s media room at Ryan Field after Ohio State walloped Northwestern, sports information director Jerry Emig told the gathered media that after fielding eight minutes of questions, Ryan Day only had time for one more. Day’s wife, Nina, was waiting for him outside, and he needed to get back to the locker room.
Day answered one final question about contributions from younger players in the second half of the game before wrapping his press conference up and squeezing his way through the jumbled mess of cameras, reporters and wires to greet Nina.
Maybe it happened then, maybe it was during the following day or two. But at some point while speaking to her husband, Nina referenced Ohio State’s “tough first quarter” in its 52-3 win against the Wildcats.
“Four minutes into the game we scored a touchdown. It wasn't that bad,” Day said with a smile while recounting the moment on Tuesday afternoon. “The standard is pretty high around here. We score 52 and it's like we were really slow in the first quarter. Okay, that's a good problem to have. Nobody rises to low expectations.”
He’s right. It is a good problem to have, and it is a problem that has arisen before with the Buckeyes.
More specifically, though, it’s a problem – if we can even use that word to describe it – that this year’s Ohio State team has had to deal with especially. The Buckeyes are going through their ninth week of practices and are days before playing their eighth game of the season, and not only is it difficult to figure out what might trip them up at some point, but it’s hard to even pinpoint anything even resembling a weakness.
“Let's not let it take a loss for us to understand issues because they're always there on film. That's what Sundays are for.”– Ryan Day
Its quarterback? A Heisman Trophy candidate. Running back? One of the best in the country. Wide receiver? Five reliable options. Tight end? Tons of depth. Defensive line? As strong as ever, led by Chase Young. Linebackers? Significantly improved from last year. Cornerbacks? Multiple possible first-round draft picks. Safety? A two-time captain and second-team All-Big Ten honoree. Special teams? No major issues.
Maybe, if somebody wanted to nitpick, the sack rate of two per game being higher than expected for a team with a touted quarterback and strong offensive line could be viewed as an issue. Yet on Tuesday, Day said Fields has often held onto the ball “by design.” Rarely, if ever, do teams enter the last week of October without a single glaring concern.
That flawlessness has gotten Ohio State to the point where it has seven blowout wins – all of which came by at least 24 points – and an average margin of victory of 41.7 points.
When asked what's the most adversity Ohio State has faced yet, Day said, “I don't know if it's any one thing. There's different things that come up on a week-to-week basis.”
That’s coach speak for “We haven’t faced any adversity yet.”
Therefore, Ohio State has found itself in the odd predicament of trying to focus on self-improvement and its week-to-week approach while blowing out seven teams in a row. With the way the Buckeyes consistently dominated the first month and a half of the season, that hasn’t proven to be much of an issue, though.
“I think our staff has done a good job week in and week out of talking to the guys about how important it is to come every week,” Day said. “The leadership is the guys who drive that on the team. Their buy-in right now is pretty high. You're only as good as your last game. We have to keep that going. I think up to this point we've been playing with energy, but that goes to how we have been practicing. We have to go out today and have a great practice.”
Every week, after each of his team’s seven victories, Day has stood at the podium in the meeting room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for his weekly Tuesday press conference to harp on continual improvement and the constant need to fix whatever had cropped up a few days prior.
“There were issues in the Northwestern game,” Day said. “Can we address those issues and get better from those issues and understand and be open to criticism and be self-reflective in order to get those issues addressed?”
Oftentimes, the areas that need improvement – including those the Buckeyes are focused on this week – are just facets of the game that could lead to exploitation when facing a team with equal talent. To the team, it’s better to address those now before they blossom and cripple the Buckeyes.
And if needed, Ohio State has shown no problem manufacturing areas of improvement or possible motivators. Take what Greg Mattison said on Tuesday about Ohio State's run defense, for example.
“As far as the run, I don't know that it had anything to do with somebody not being in there or somebody being in there,” Mattison said. “There was a number of little things in it. That is not acceptable. We all know as a defense that we don't want to give up yardage like that on a run. That's not our deal. That's not our backbone.”
Tuf Borland agreed, saying there were “definitely some things we need to clean up.”
Listening to Mattison and Borland, it might have seemed that the Buckeyes had allowed Northwestern to run up and down the field at will. In reality, the Wildcats had 47 carries for 157 yards without a touchdown. That’s just 3.3 yards per carry, which is lower than the average of any Big Ten team not named Rutgers.
Better now than later, though, for Ohio State to fix any issues that might arise.
“Sometimes after a loss, they're a little bit more attentive to those things, something that we've been hammering with our guys,” Day said. “Let's not let it take a loss for us to understand issues because they're always there on film.
“That's what Sundays are for.”