SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Prior postseason experience as the head coach at Ohio State probably wouldn’t have helped Ryan Day much this month.
The first-year boss of the Buckeyes already knows what a normal bowl schedule should look like anyway, and the program quite simply hasn’t had the chance to use one as it gears up for the Fiesta Bowl.
Thanks to the Big Ten title game, a stressful final week of recruiting and a somewhat compressed schedule, Ohio State has had to get creative with the plan to be fully ready for Clemson on Saturday night. But after walking off the plane and going straight to the practice field on Sunday afternoon in Arizona, by now Day has fully embraced the blueprint his program has put in place.
“Very unique — this is a unique time frame in terms of coming off of the Big Ten championship game, getting ready for this,” Day said. “There’s really no precedence for this one, because typically in the past, the plan has always been — Phase One: Development of the young guys, get rest for the older guys. And then Phase Two is kind of game plan the week before, go home for a little break, and come back. Phase Three is at the bowl site.
“We really didn’t have time for that. So this was somewhere between getting ready for a bowl game and a bye week. We practiced Friday, Saturday, took Sunday off. Went Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday real hard. Gave them three days off, and now we’re back to work here. So, talked to a lot of people about this. I think it’s a really good plan to keep them fresh and also on top of their game.”
The truth will be revealed on Saturday evening when the semifinal kicks off in Glendale. Until then, Lettermen Row is starting the busy week off like normal with Five Questions for the Buckeyes.
Did Justin Fields get enough recovery time for Ohio State?
Even if the Buckeyes might have liked a little extra time to prepare, the three weeks they’ll have available before the Fiesta Bowl was certainly put to good use for the health of the roster. Day is expecting Ohio State to be as close to full strength as it has been all season — and that includes getting Justin Fields back to 100 percent by Saturday. The Buckeyes have indicated repeatedly that the sophomore quarterback had enough time to recover and ditch the bulky knee brace that irritates him so much, but certainly all eyes will be on him over the next few days to see if that’s the case and his dual-threat mobility is back after he was limited in the Big Ten title game. Ohio State can win without Fields being fully operational, but the ceiling goes up if he gets to that level.
Can Ohio State superstars shine on CFP stage?
Considering how much the decorated junior class has already accomplished with Ohio State after winning a Big Ten championship in all three seasons with the program, it’s a bit weird that guys like Chase Young, J.K. Dobbins and Jeff Okudah haven’t yet had a chance to play in the College Football Playoff. Obviously those superstars have thrived in pressure situations and on big stages during their careers, but this will be a new experience for them as they take the next step to chasing a national championship. Legends are born on this type of stage, and Ohio State will need its best players to live up to the moment to get past Clemson and continue the journey.
How aggressive will Ryan Day be in high-stakes battle?
Ryan Day showed no fear with a gutsy fake punt with the Buckeyes reeling a bit and trailing in the Big Ten title game. He also had one stretch in the de facto East Division championship against Penn State where he seemed willing to play a conservative style and ride that to a hard-fought win. Other than perhaps that one afternoon and with some understandable logic, for the most part Day has coached with an aggressive mindset that suggests he won’t be fazed by the pressure of the playoffs. But this is another situation where there’s no real way to know how the Buckeyes will handle it until the time actually comes against Clemson.
Will J.K. Dobbins harness motivational fuel for Buckeyes?
The perceived slights and award snubs piled up over the last couple weeks, and there’s no question that J.K. Dobbins has paid attention to every single one of them as he geared up for the biggest game of his career. Every time he’s been challenged this season, the junior tailback has answered the bell — and he’ll have no shortage of motivational fuel available. The trick for Dobbins is making sure to manage it well and remember the lessons from the sophomore season he called a “failure” when he was trying to hard to make big plays, getting out of his rhythm and hurting the rushing attack. This is the moment Dobbins has been building for his whole career, and it’s a safe bet that he’ll empty the tank trying to lead the Buckeyes.
Who will emerge in key moments for Ohio State?
The last time the Buckeyes successfully navigated the College Football Playoff, certainly the stars played a huge part in the national championship effort. But without an unexpected defensive touchdown from Steve Miller or a trick play from wide receiver Evan Spencer, the Buckeyes might not have even survived the first leg against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. There might not be a deeper team in the country than Ohio State right now, and pulling out wins of this magnitude often come down to unlikely candidates stepping up to become heroes. Who is ready to step to the forefront for the Buckeyes and swing the matchup? The answer is just a few days away now.