Presser Bullets: Ryan Day, Jeff Hafley, Justin Fields, Branden Bowen and Robert Landers Preview This Week's Game Against Penn State

By Dan Hope and Colin Hass-Hill on November 19, 2019 at 12:38 pm
Ryan Day

Ohio State is knee-deep in preparation for Saturday's big game against Penn State, but Buckeyes coach Ryan Day, co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley, quarterback Justin Fields, right tackle Branden Bowen and defensive tackle Robert Landers still took time out of their schedules to answer questions from the media and look ahead to this week's showdown with the Nittany Lions.

Updates from each of the Buckeyes' four representatives are below.

Ryan Day:

  • Day said he is "certainly optimistic" that Ohio State will get some of its injured players such as Jonathon Cooper, Austin Mack and Baron Browning back on the field this week. Day said they might have been "overly cautious" last week holding some players out of action.
  • On playing Penn State and Michigan back-to-back to end the season: "We don't make the schedule ... We're worried about the things we can control."
  • Day described Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford as "competitive, tough, well-prepared and a good leader." He said he is impressed by Clifford's escapability and pocket awareness.
  • On Justin Fields: "I think every week he gets a little better in each area."
  • Day said Saturday will be emotional because it's the last game in Ohio Stadium for the Buckeyes' seniors, but they will try to stay focused on the task at hand.
  • On having so many seniors this year, including more than a dozen fifth-year seniors on scholarship: "I think the maturity level is off-the-charts."
  • On K.J. Hill: "He understands space, he knows how to get open ... the production that he's had is off-the-charts. He's not 4.3, he's not 6-5, but he just has a way. I think Bill Belichick says, the best thing about a receiver is he gets open and he catches the ball, and that's what he does."
  • Day said that while Hill doesn't always get the external spotlight, he gets the spotlight inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center because he is a team captain.
  • Day said Justin Fields has to be ready to put the team on his back and win the game in the fourth quarter on Saturday, just like J.T. Barrett did in 2017 and Dwayne Haskins did in 2018.
  • Day said Ohio State passing the ball more over the past couple weeks wasn't calculated specifically to prepare for Penn State, but was something the Buckeyes worked on during the bye week because they knew they might need to do it more down the stretch of the season.
  • Day said there won't be any limits placed on Chase Young in his return to the field on Saturday.
  • "This is a talent-equated game ... The team that's more prepared will win the game."
  • Day said James Franklin is an "excellent coach" who will have his team prepared in all three phases.
  • On Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson: "I think Dotson's as good of a wide receiver as there is in the Big Ten."
  • On Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons: "Micah Parsons is as talented as there is in the conference."
  • Day said he has talked to the Buckeyes about getting out to a fast start so they don't end up in the same position they were in the past two years when they had to come back in the fourth quarter. He said the Buckeyes didn't execute as well as they needed to early in those games.
  • "You just have to have understand how important every play is in a game" in a game like this where one play could change the game. "I can't really say that we've been in a game where that would have been the case this year."
  • Day's message to Ohio State fans: "We need everybody in the seats. We need everyone to be really loud ... Every time Penn State has the ball, we need them to be as loud as they possibly can ... If our crowd's loud, it makes it very hard for them to communicate."
  • On J.K. Dobbins' comment that Saturday doesn't have to be a four-quarter game, Day said he appreciates that confidence but believes Dobbins knows what the Buckeyes are getting into this week and is excited to play for four quarters.
  • On Saturday's game: "For so many reasons, this is the biggest one of the year."
  • Day said Harry Miller has done an "unbelievable job" getting himself ready to play as needed at center "which for a freshman, is unheard of." He said he would prefer for players who are going to be centers in the future develop at center, and that it's easier to move a center to guard than the other way around.
  • On Garrett Wilson's muffed punt: "We have confidence in Garrett. He's a young player who made a mistake, and he'll work on it in practice."
  • Day said he didn't realize the gravity of what just happened in last year's fourth-quarter comeback against Penn State until the game was over because of how he focused he was on just doing his job and calling plays.
  • Although it's a big recruiting weekend for the Buckeyes, Day said "it's very difficult to spend a lot of time with those guys" this week because it's such a high-stakes game, and he thinks the recruits understand that. They're coming to this week's game because they want to experience the atmosphere of a big game, not because they want a lot of one-on-one time with the coaches.

Jeff Hafley:

  • Hafley said he believes shutting down big plays and tackling are the keys to being able to play great defense against any opponent.
  • On Chase Young's return this week: "I think everybody should be excited." He said Young didn't get as many reps last week because he wasn't playing, but Hafley is confident he'll be ready to go.
  • Hafley said the Buckeyes' senior leaders are "the most important players on the team."
  • On Penn State's offense: "I think Penn State's really well-coached." He said offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne does a great job and they have a lot of good players. Sean Clifford has a good arm and can keep plays alive with his feet, and Penn State's wide receivers and tight ends are probably the best Ohio State has seen all season.
  • Hafley is confident Shaun Wade won't give up any big plays like he did against K.J. Hamler last year because he's a better player now. He said Wade has to forget what happened last year, and Hafley will make sure he doesn't think about it. "He'll be ready to play."
  • Hafley said Chase Young was "great" during his suspension. "He came to work every day ... he hasn't changed who he is at all." Hafley said he believes Young will be better in the long run for going through that experience.
  • Hafley said the Buckeyes have been experimenting with Cade Stover playing defensive end in practice, so they wanted to see what he could do in a game, as he did on Saturday at Rutgers. Where he will ultimately play for Ohio State in the long run is still to be determined.
  • Hafley said he'll preach to the defense not to change anything they're doing because of who they're playing this week. They need to stick to the scheme and trust what's worked for them all year.
  • Hafley said he believes the biggest difference in this year's defense from last year has been how much the players have bought in to what they are being coached. Another year of experience for those players has been crucial, too.
  • Hafley said he hopes Chase Young is extra motivated and coming off the ball even faster this week than he has before "because that would be really fast."
  • On Penn State: "This is the best football team we've played so far."
  • As much as Jeff Okudah has improved, Hafley believes he can continue to develop into a completely different player even two games from now.
  • Hafley said he saw some deeper-developing routes and running backs and tight ends running more routes from opponents over the past two weeks because Young was out, but he pointed out that the Buckeyes had seven sacks without Young against Maryland, so that might have been a mistake on the Terrapins' part.

Justin Fields: 

  • He says he had a "great relationship" with Penn State's coaches and had a belief in the offensive system, which led to him committing to the Nittany Lions originally before choosing Georgia out of high school.
  • Fields says Ryan Day and the other coaches told him about Hill when he arrived. "I think K.J. is one of the smarter receivers on the team." He says Hill mirrors him and finds a way to get open.
  • He enjoys throwing a pass and getting hit before hearing the crowd to tell whether it was completed or not.
  • "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win." 
  • Fields called Day "probably one of the best coaches in the nation." He says it's important for the offense to put its full trust in its head coach.
  • "I'm kind of an even-keel guy. My emotions don't really change." He says he's entering this game with the same attitude he has every week. He says Day always says it'll come down to who prepares the best.
  • Fields remembers the nerves of calling James Franklin to decommit from Penn State. "I really didn't want to go that far, in terms of leaving home." He says he felt bad because he was blowing up as a recruit and talking to other universities. He compares it to breaking up with your girlfriend.
  • On Sean Clifford receiving death threats: "I think that's just crazy to me. I think people don't understand athletes and our points of view." He says he doesn't even know what to say to that and he wouldn't know what to say to that. He also says he's friends with Clifford.
  • He says he and his teammates were around Young throughout the week and playing for him on Saturday.
  • "Chase is always full of energy and always talking trash." He says he's the same player as always.
  • Fields says he won't play any differently, whether it's the beginning or end of a game.
  • He says he hasn't had to drive the ball late in a game since his junior year of high school.
  • "I don't really have a favorite receiver here." He says each of Ohio State's receiver bring something different to the game.

Branden Bowen:

  • On the emotions of Saturday: "Probably on Saturday, this far into the season, I won't think about it too much." That said, he thinks it'll be "crazy" to run out of the tunnel at Ohio Stadium for the final time.
  • On Saturday: "Definitely very special. Just Ohio State is the reason I have my son and the reason I have my fiancee." He says his mother is the reason he's here. He says the moment will be "heavy."
  • Bowen says he and Thayer Munford want outside zone plays called to their own side because they have such explosive potential. They often talk about how they're going to be on SportsCenter.
  • He says Josh Myers getting to the second level and cracking somebody has happened frequently.
  • "I could've have dreamed of a better senior year so far, especially on the offensive line." He says they're often smiling on the offensive line during games regardless of what's happening on the scoreboard. 
  • Bowen says he's excited to "prove what we need to prove."
  • He says he's been in all online courses the past two semesters. "Being able to be in those online classes for my second degree, it's been very helpful." He says he fit in schoolwork wherever he could.

Robert Landers:

  • "We always know Penn State is going to be a rough game, whether it's at home or on the road."
  • He says defenses never want to allow a quarterback to win with his feet. 
  • Landers thinks Penn State's interior offensive line is "tough."
  • He says that even though Ohio State has had consistent "good performances," it hasn't had "elite performances." Therefore, he thinks there's much to be improved.
  • "Chase has still been Chase." He says Young hasn't had a drop-off in "who he is and his character." He doesn't think the dynamics of the room changed whatsoever without him.
  • Without Young, how did the defense respond? "I say a lot of guys stepped up to the plate. Everybody's level of play had to rise."
  • "One thing coach Day talks about a lot is if talent equates, you've got to revert back to your training." He says players have worked hard to perfect elements of their craft and made practices as hard as possible that the fourth quarter of competitive games can be simulated.
  • "I'm excited to see how this week's game plays out, how it goes."
  • On the trio of fifth-year senior defensive tackles: "We are three guys who have been here five years, which is outrageous." Due to Young's absence, the line was able to lean on the veterans, he said, given their past experiences.
  • On this being his last home game: "Honestly, it hasn't even hit me yet." He says it might not hit him until after the game.
  • He says it's important to not look ahead. November, he says, is the time for championships, but if you look too far to the championships, it could be dangerous.
  • Landers says he's curious to see how Penn State schemes up Ohio State's defensive front.
  • On the 2015 recruiting class' path: "It's been a unique journey." He says they got close through "trials and tribulations in the offseason." 
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