Ryan Day met with the assembled media yesterday in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center ahead of Saturday's showdown with No. 13 Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Entering his first episode of The Game as Ohio State's head coach, Day talked about how his program has prepared for the rivalry during the course of the year and therefore this week can focus largely on game planning versus any need for rah-rah speeches or infomercials on what this contest is all about.
Day was asked a few questions about his starting quarterback, Justin Fields, logging a career-high 21 carries for 68 yards in last Saturday's 28-17 win over then-No. 8 Penn State and what that usage rate might signal for this weekend's contest.
Q. When Justin went down late in the fourth quarter, he bounced back up. What kind of conversation was that? Heart in your throat a little bit?
RYAN DAY: Yeah, for sure any time you see your starting quarterback on the ground, it’s not a good feeling. He was able to shake it off, run off the field. We expect him to be fine.
Q. With that volume of carries, in big games, you hold nothing back, is it too many for him? When you watched the film, what did you think?
RYAN DAY: When we play in big games like that, we certainly rely on him to run some. It’s not typically quarterback design runs, although we have some of those. A lot of them were reading somebody. He can either keep it or run it. Some of those are scrambles when you look at his numbers.
He does a great job extending plays. But Penn State kind of forced him to run the ball a little bit. He did a great job. Other than the two turnovers, I thought he was unbelievable.
We’ll continue to do that when we think it’s appropriate.
It was certainly interesting to see Fields register so many carries (three were sacks because the NCAA stupidly counts sacks as carries but whatevs) against a Penn State group that held Ohio State's collective offense to a sack-adjusted 4.4 yards per carry.
Backing out the three sacks and corresponding lost yardage, Fields ran 18 times for 95 yards, or 5.3 yards per carry. Only two if his 18 non-sack runs resulted in negative yardage (-2, -5).
In only three other Big Ten games had Fields carried the ball even 11 times – versus Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska – however in those three games the tandem of J.K. Dobbins and Master Teague ran wild.
The duo ran for 239 yards on 7.2 per carry against the Badgers, 262 yards on 6.9 a pop against the Spartans and 254 yards via 7.1 per try against the Cornhuskers.
Against Penn State, Dobbins and Teague generated 164 yards on just 4.3 per carry. The decreased production from those two against the Nittany Lions further explains Day's increased reliance on Fields to help move the ball on the ground which again was sometimes forced by defensive scheme.
The chief concern with Fields' running on Saturday was the two lost fumbles. One cost Ohio State an offensive touchdown as he coughed it up inside the 1-yard line. The other led directly to a Penn State field goal after Fields lost the ball giving the Nittany Lions excellent field position at the OSU 35.
On the season, Fields has fumbled eight times, losing four, while throwing just one interception.
The other concern was obviously Fields getting banged up, re-injuring his left thumb while fumbling near the goal line and having his leg rolled on awkwardly near the very end of the game when it made little sense for him to be carrying the ball.
As Day noted however, he plans to use Fields in the run game "when appropriate." If it was appropriate last weekend against a Penn State defense that entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country giving up just 2.19 yards per carry, it could again be appropriate this weekend. The Wolverines surrender just 2.77 yards per carry, good for No. 8 nationally.
Similar to what we saw last weekend, in addition to any designed runs specifically for Fields, the Wolverines may opt to essentially force the quarterback to keep on certain read option plays. Then of course there are pass plays that break down prompting Fields to tuck and run.
All of these factors, along with the potential for inclement weather, point to Fields most likely being asked once again play a larger role in the run game.
If called upon to do so, Fields' ability to duplicate the success realized against Penn State while eliminating any lost fumbles figures to put Ohio State in great position to remain undefeated entering the Big Ten championship game.