Open weeks often provide coaching staffs with an opportunity for reflection and evaluation.
Coming off his team's bye and facing a gauntlet of eight straight conference contests to close the regular season – with the potential for nine in-a-row if the Buckeyes make the Big Ten Championship Game – Ryan Day addressed the Ohio State media on areas of focus during the off week and the challenges presented by Maryland.
Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles also gave his thoughts on the Terrapins, talked about the schematic advantage Denzel Burke provides and discussed lessons the defense learned from the Notre Dame game.
- On his quarterback sneak philosophy: "When you line up under-center in a short-yardage situation, that's probably the first thing that everybody tries to take away. ... With Justin Fields we did it a lot, he could really move the pile. ... It's in our package."
- Ohio State still "has to be better" in short yardage, Day said. "We want to be 100 percent. But 3rd-and-1, 3rd-and-2, we've got to at least be over 80 percent."
- "Any time you're in those (short-yardage) situations, you look at matchups. You've got to win your one-on-one matchups ... sometimes you've just got to get bigger than the other guy, get stronger than the other guy and move him.
- On Kyle McCord: "There were a lot of good things in the game, certainly at the end. ... He's got to grow and get better in a lot of areas, just like everybody else."
- Day said that winning a job, whether at quarterback or elsewhere in life is not an "accomplishment" but an "opportunity." He's excited to see what McCord does with his opportunity the rest of the season.
- Ohio State is starting to find its "personality," Day said. "We've got to continue to take steps forward."
- On avoiding a dropoff in play following the bye week: "Certainly no complacency here. We know that we've got to continue to get better."
- In addition to the self-evaluation, Day felt it was also important to give his players a bit of a break: "We did give our guys time to cleanse their minds, their bodies, their souls, because it's going to be a heck of a run here."
- Day said he expects Marvin Harrison Jr. to be full go against Maryland.
- "You're seeing what Kyle can do, so now the expectations are mounting up."
- On the challenges presented by Maryland and quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa: "Taulia's played a lot of football. He makes a lot of plays. They have a lot of weapons. ... Ultimately it comes down to winning the game up front, but our secondary is going to be challenged this week."
- On the Big Ten: "I think the product on the field right now is the best it's ever been."
- "Sound. Strong up front. Athletic in the back end. ... They don't give up a lot of big plays and (they) get turnovers."
- Maryland's offensive line has done a good job protecting Tagovailoa, Day feels, and the offense can be explosive. "We're always trying to get a pass rush, we're always trying to prevent big plays. But that's a challenge this week because they do that well."
- On if the offensive line is growing at the rate he expected: "Always want them to be better. There has been progress made, we've seen that for sure. ... We have to play better, we have to coach better. ... We have to upgrade every week. We've got to be Ohio State 5.0."
- On where Ohio State is coming off its bye week: "We're 4-0, but there are all kinds of areas that we want to get better. ... We want to be more efficient and execute better in all three phases."
- Ohio State will feel out whether its open week was well-timed after the Maryland game, Day said. He leans both ways in terms of wanting a break but also wanting to continue building on the Notre Dame win. "There's parts of me that likes a little mental break, physical break. But there's a part of me that wants to keep the momentum going."
- "I'm very proud of the fact that we're 2-0 against Notre Dame in the last two years. I'm proud of the way the team played (in that game), their grit."
- Still work to do, but Day feels the defense has improved significantly in limiting big plays: "We talked constantly about the pluses and the minuses (during the offseason). When you look back on a season, it's easy to overreact. ... There's bigger challenges ahead. First four games in the books, there's been some improvement there."
- On what was special about TreVeyon Henderson's 61-yard touchdown run against Notre Dame: "The play bounced. ... Whenever the defensive end crashes hard like that, you can bounce the run outside. ... That's a gain of 10 or a touchdown. Marvin put his body in there, and that was the block that sprung him. ... Once (Henderson) broke free, you can see what a home run hitter he is."
- With JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer playing every snap against Notre Dame, "Those guys are becoming warriors. ... The more depth that we can play with, the fresher we can be. There's a fine line there."
- On why the defense won't play in a "bend-but-don't break" style: "We always want to be aggressive. We're a style of defense that always wants to be aggressive. But at the same time, we don't want to give up big plays. So there's a balance there."
- Reflecting on his postgame comments about Lou Holtz, Day said there's a balance to strike between not responding to criticism and sticking up for one's team. "You bite your tongue a lot, that's part of the job. ... You've got to stand up for what you believe in."
- Notre Dame's quality of tackle play had something to do with Ohio State's lack of sack production in that game, Day said. "There were some really good pass rushes again and we were close. This week gives us another opportunity to see where that goes."
- On Tagovailoa: "He's always been a dynamic player. He creates offense, he has a really strong arm. He can make the throws from sideline-to-sideline. ... He's a great player, but he's also making good decisions."
- Ohio State will have to be disciplined, but needs to get after Tagovailoa in pass rush, Knowles said. "You have to try to keep them off-balance. At the same time, it's got to be a coordinated rush, because you see multiple instances of (Tagovailoa) coming free."
- "I'm seeing a lot of resiliency. I'm seeing a get-better approach. Accountability in mistakes across the board, if they're made. How we fix them. Everybody's working together."
- On Tommy Eichenberg's importance despite the decrease in blitzes: "We're using him more to be a quarterback on the field. He's become that guy that can see things that I see, he can think like me. He can make changes and adjustments on the field. ... Maybe we're using him more for his mind and less for his aggression."
- Ohio State's difficulties covering the tight end were somewhat based on the talent Notre Dame had at tight end, but there are still considerations to be made schematically. Sonny Styles is a "possibility" to be moved around for such purposes.
- On how he keeps his players focused when plays extend: "I yell at them a lot (in practice). Against the scout team, we try to have the quarterback extend plays to simulate it and I yell at them."
- On improvements to make after Notre Dame: "Some of those long drives, I could have adjusted better to some of the things they were doing, motioning the tight end and creating those gaps. It's just really on me to keep learning and getting better at it."
- Tyleik Williams emergence has occurred as he's gotten more experience after he missed some time during the offseason. "He's actually still behind in reps. So the more reps he gets, it's game shape."
- Knowles feels Maryland's offense is "pretty similar" to the scheme it played last year.
- On what allowed JT Tuimoloau to break up Notre Dame's screen pass on its final drive: "Coach Johnson has his plan and he works it beautifully. That was a situation where, you're on that hash mark, you do prefer JT to be there against a non-scrambling quarterback because he's a playmaker a lot of times in the boundary."
- While he stated he "loves" sacks, Ohio State's most important defensive metric is "limiting big plays" and "winning third down," Knowles said.
- "It's that competitive excellence, stepping up in those most important moments. I don't know so much that you coach that. ... You've got to let him play and trust that he's going to show up when the moment counts the most."
- On Cody Simon: "Cody has shown some really good things. He's a great team guy and he's shown in practice and he produces in some moments. It's about me trying to put him in spots where you know you can count on him."
- Denzel Burke was only targeted once by Notre Dame on Saturday. Knowles feels having a lockdown corner of that caliber is a huge schematic advantage. "It gives everybody confidence. Denzel is really playing at a high level, and when you scheme up the coverages and you know you can count on him and take that out of the equation, it allows you to set things up for the other guys."
- On stopping the Fighting Irish's 4th-and-1 quarterback sneak: "You try to do the push inside, and you see Tommy (jump) over the top. But part of the plan is you got to have those escape hatches. ... Sonny went right to an escape hatch and that was awesome."
- On Davison Igbinosun: "Very aggressive. I think you feel him out there, you feel his presence there. He's continuing to get better, but he's aggressive. And you can count on him to show up in the running game."
- On Jordan Hancock: "Jordan is really talented. Moving to that nickel position, it's really not that easy. ... He's just continued to improve, he's going to get better every game."
- On Ohio State's defensive end rotation: "You're constantly weighing, 'I want to play more guys'... then you find yourself falling back into (the guys you trust). ... It's about what's working."
- On Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers' struggles against Notre Dame: "Really good offensive line and a premier opponent. They can play better. They both know it. When you win a game like that, you can learn a lot from it that's going to help your game overall."