Presser Bullets: Ryan Day, Justin Fields, Other Buckeyes Explain What Went Wrong In National Championship Loss To Alabama

By Colin Hass-Hill on January 12, 2021 at 12:49 am

That didn't go as planned.

Alabama, in a much-anticipated matchup of Big Ten and SEC powers, steamrolled Ohio State for a 52-24 win in the national title game. Afterward, head coach Ryan Day and several players – including Justin Fields, Shaun Wade, Chris Olave and Jonathon Cooper – spoke to reporters to address what went wrong on Monday night and reflect on the season.

A bullet-point rundown of what each of them said (with video on the way):

Ryan Day

  • Opening statement: "Tough night. I'm proud of our team, proud of our seniors, proud of the year that we had, but that was a tough night." ... "When you look at team in the eye after the long season we've been through, it's hard to be focusing on one or two plays." ... "You've got to give credit to Alabama. Certainly a very good team. They played really, really well tonight."
  • Day says this season has been "crazy, disruptive, all of the above," and they tried to "just keep pushing forward" throughout the year.
  • On the importance of taking a step back after this long season: "We all just need a break. We've already started to put together the schedule for the spring, but we all need to get away for a while." ... "Guys miss their families."
  • He says Alabama is "really good schematically" and has "really good personnel." The Buckeyes didn't execute well enough on either side of the ball, he says.
  • Asked why the game got away in the second half, Day says Ohio State didn't finish a couple drives and didn't convert fourth downs, and Alabama "continued to make big plays." ... "I just think it's a combination of things."
  • On Justin Fields: "Justin's been unbelievable. He's as competitively tough of a player as I've been around." Day says Fields was "not 100 percent tonight" and noted he took some shots to his hip. "He's an unbelievable player. I'm going to miss him."
  • Day on the defensive issues: "There were obviously just way too many big plays. And on offense, we couldn't go score for score with them."
  • The importance of getting out to a quick start: "I think that there's a feeling of if you don't score, you're going to get down."
  • On DeVonta Smith: "I don't know if I've seen one better than that." ... "He plays stronger than he looks." ... "He's a great player."
  • On the defense: "We did do some different things. We changed up some of the looks and played some two-high, which is not something we do a lot of." He says he thought Ohio State mixed it up defensively a bit, but the execution was an issue.
  • Day says losing Trey Sermon and missing Tommy Togiai, among others, was an issue." Like I told our guys, nobody feels sorry for you, but you've got to keep pushing forward." He says that was the theme of the season.
  • He says if it was 4th-and-short early in the game, he might have gone for it on fourth down, but he decided to kick the field goal at that point because the expected conversion rate was too low.
  • Day says Ohio State will remember this game into the offseason: "Going to use that as a motivation in the offseason."
  • Day: "The goal was not to get here. The goal was to win the game. But with that all being said, could not be prouder of our culture, our players and where the program's headed."
  • Wyatt Davis "kind of re-injured that knee," Day says. He's not sure the diagnosis, but he's sore and in pain.

Justin Fields

  • Asked how much his hip injury affected him: "At the end of the day, I was able to play, and I didn't get the job done." He says he "could have been healthier" but was "healthy enough."
  • Fields says he couldn't practice early in the week due to his injury.
  • "Definitely wanted a different outcome. I'm going to miss everybody."
  • How losing Trey Sermon early on affected the game plan: "With or without him, we've still got to execute."
  • Fields says he was telling the young guys on the team to "remember this feeling" walking off the field after a loss and to "never let it happen to this again."
  • On the loss: "We've just got to be better."

Shaun Wade

  • Why DeVonta Smith had such a big game: "Really, they just gave him the ball in open space and he made plays."
  • On the loss: "They just came out and outplayed us today."
  • If it was worth coming back: "Oh, yeah, definitely it was worth it." He says he sees himself growing as a man. "I'm definitely happy I came back." He's proud of this team for accomplishing what he did, he says.
  • He wants this team to be remembered for going through all of the adversity it went through to "fight" and get to this point. He's "really looking forward" to seeing the younger guys in Ohio State's secondary next year.

Jeremy Ruckert

  • Ohio State's tight end usage was not as heavy in the passing game against Alabama as it was against Clemson. Ruckert credited Alabama's defense, saying the Buckeyes wanted to "try and get into a rhythm" but weren't able to.
  • Ohio State tried to take what the Tide's defense gave it: "If the ball comes my way, I'm gonna do everything I can to make a play. But if it doesn't, I'm gonna do whatever it takes to help the team win."
  • Ruckert says his relationship with Justin Fields goes back to high school. He said Fields is "one of the toughest teammates I've ever played with. ... I feel like he didn't even give away that he was hurt. He did everything he could to try and help us win."
  • Ruckert called the loss of Trey Sermon "detrimental" to the offense but that you can't think about that during the game. That the Buckeyes had to "control what you can control" and move forward.
  • On whether or not the Crimson Tide's defense did anything specifically to slow the Buckeyes' offense down: "Nothing comes to mind. They just play very strong and very sound. ... I didn't notice anything. We just got out of rhythm. ... Much respect to those guys for coming ready to play."

Chris Olave

  • Olave credited Alabama with playing a strong game, simply saying, "they played better than us."
  • "It's tough. We have high standards for ourselves. High standards for each other. ... We didn't play our best today. ... You've just gotta soak it in and bounce back."
  • "He's a warrior. He's a guy you always want on your team. He's a leader on and off the field. ... I've got all love and respect for him and can't wait to see him do big things."
  • On Sermon being out: "Seeing him go down on that first drive was tough for us. He's been going uphill since that Big Ten Championship Game. ... Losing him was tough, and I think we felt that."
  • On the biggest stride Olave made during the 2020 season: "I feel like I got faster and put a little muscle on. ... Last year I was playing around 185, 186. I felt way better out there, especially strength-wise. ... I feel like I ran my routes more efficiently."
  • Olave said he has "all love for the (freshmen receivers)" and that they're very close. He said that seeing them come off the field after the loss was visibly hard on them: "They'll never forget this feeling. I saw their faces. I hope they work hard and bounce back next season."

Jonathon Cooper

  • As the last two players to leave the field after the game, Cooper said he and Thayer Munford were talking about “how much they care and love each other” after the game. Said he told the team after the game he was “sorry he couldn't do more.”
  • Cooper said the Buckeyes “didn't tackle as well as we needed to.”
  • He said he thought the other defensive linemen stepped up with Tommy Togiai and Tyreke Smith out; he didn't think Togiai and Smith being out should be an excuse for the Buckeyes.
  • “I feel like we had a good game plan. We just needed to execute better.”
  • On how he thinks the returning players will respond to this loss: “I think they will respond the same way they did to the Clemson game last year, honestly.” Said he's “disappointed” he won't have the opportunity to play for the Buckeyes again.
  • Cooper said he “couldn't be prouder” of his teammates for how hard they worked this season.

Tuf Borland

  • On DeVonta Smith's big night: “He's a Heisman Trophy winner, so give him credit.” He said the Buckeyes were in a three-deep zone on the play where he ended up in one-on-one coverage with Smith and gave up a 44-yard touchdown, and unfavorable matchups happen sometimes.
  • “This season was just so unique. In August, we didn't even have a season, so I think being here is a great accomplishment ... obviously as competitors we wanted to win ... but no one's hanging their heads.” Said he thinks the returning players next year will bounce back stronger.
  • “I'm so thankful to be a part of this program ... everyone's so elite at what they do.” Said the “thing that's gonna stay with me for a lifetime is the caliber of people we have here.”
  • “Alabama has great players, I give them all the credit. They executed better tonight. But to say they're more talented than this Ohio State team, I don't know. Hard disagree with that. Top to bottom, we felt like we had an extremely talented team. Guys that could compete with anyone in the country. Again, just credit Alabama, they had a great night.”

Nicholas Petit-Frere

  • Petit-Frere said the Buckeyes used the Clemson loss and everything they could this year to fuel them for this season, so he expects they'll do the same in response to this loss against Alabama.
  • Petit-Frere said everyone has to make the best decision for themselves in regards to whether they'll return next year, but if you're wondering whether guys will be convinced to come back for another College Football Playoff run, just look at how many guys stuck around this year even after the COVID-19 pandemic started.
  • He said it was “heartbreaking” when Trey Sermon went down with an injury on the first series, but they didn't change their game plan because of him being out.
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