What We Learned from Ryan Day, Buckeyes quarterback room

Spencer Holbrook11 months
Ohio State Athletics- Justin Fields
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is prepping for the season opener. (Courtesy/Ohio State Dept. of Athletics)

COLUMBUS — The normal is beginning to creep back in for Ryan Day and Ohio State.

After the strangest offseason college football has ever seen, things are beginning to feel normal again. The fall air feels like football season. The Buckeyes are preparing for a conference opponent in October. Ohio State seems set for another run at a national title.

Everything about this offseason was different. But the football is still the same, and in less than two weeks, the Buckeyes will be back on the turf inside the Horseshoe.

“Some days, it seems like everything is different,” Day said. “But it’s not. The timing is different in terms of not having a typical preseason. The start of the season is different. The schedule is different. But at the end of the day, it comes down to football. And nothing has changed with that. If you turn the ball over, you have a chance to lose the game. If you don’t tackle, you have a chance to lose the game. If you don’t win the line of scrimmage, you have a chance to lose the game. You have a lot of penalties, you put yourself at risk. So that hasn’t changed.

“The game is the game. But it’s going to be different.”

As the Buckeyes continued to prepare to welcome Nebraska to Ohio Stadium on Oct. 24, Day, quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis and quarterback Justin Fields met with the media to discuss the offensive progress, fundamentals and more. Lettermen Row is breaking it all down with What We Learned from the quarterback room.

Backup quarterback spot not settled for Buckeyes

The Buckeyes are in an interesting spot behind Justin Fields.

Ohio State has one veteran who knows the offense and can be a decent backup quarterback. Gunnar Hoak has been in the program for two years now, knows the playbook and has the trust of the coaching staff. The Buckeyes also have two talented freshman quarterbacks who are jockeying for an inside track to be the starter once Fields leaves for the NFL.

It makes for an interesting backup quarterback job. And with just days until the first game of the season, that battle isn’t settled.

“Every single day they come in, they work hard, they grind,” quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis said. “Not only the two freshman but Gunnar Hoak, he’s been around a while. He’s seen a lot of football. He knows our offense in and out. But everybody’s preparing and everybody’s going to be ready to go if their number is called.”

The Buckeyes wouldn’t show their hand and announce a backup quarterback. And maybe it doesn’t matter. But the backup quarterback decisions this year could have a major impact on the future of the program.

C.J. Stroud-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Ohio State has two talented freshman quarterbacks in C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller. (Courtesy/Ohio State Dept. of Athletics)

Buckeyes back to basics in Nebraska buildup

Ryan Day has had time so far this fall to watch some college football he might not normally get to watch. The product on the field around the country has certainly been sloppy. Missed tackles. Special teams errors. Bad defense. Ohio State has to avoid all of those things in less than two weeks when it kicks off against Nebraska.

The Buckeyes are going back to the fundamentals to make sure they’re ready to play, both offensively and defensively.

On offense: “You can’t get too far ahead of yourself,” Day said. “You start thinking like that, you’ll get knocked out in the first round. We have to make sure we’re doing all the little things, not the flashy things, really well. The big things will come. The big plays will come. We have got to take care of the football, whether it’s the quarterback, the running back, the receivers, the tight ends, whoever’s touching the football. That ball has to be secured.”

On defense: “Having an emphasis on pad-level, tackling, I think are critically important,” he said. “It’s more than just tackling. It’s guys running to the football and being in great shape and playing on contact strong. It’s all things that we’re bringing up on a weekly basis, showing them clips and hopefully we’ll learn from what’s been out there.”

Justin Fields going deeper into offensive understanding

Justin Fields was a Heisman Trophy finalist and the best player in the Big Ten last season. And that was only in Year One as a starter for the program.

As the quarantine dragged on this summer, Fields studied. And studied. And studied. He’s ready to be great for the Buckeyes. Now with a deeper understanding of the offense, he’s not just asking how to run the offense. He wants to know why he’s doing certain things in order to understand Ryan Day’s offense..

“It was more of a want to get better,” Fields said. “I don’t think it was more of a thought. I want to be the best quarterback in college football. I want to be the best quarterback I can be. So that was what goes into it. I don’t think it’s complicated. I think it it’s a simple want and need. What do you want to get accomplished? Do you want to be the best quarterback? Do you want to win a national championship? Do you want to do all this with your teammates?

“Then you have to sit down and say to yourself, ‘How do I get there? How do I get better as a player or a person?’ And improve on it … and that’s what I did this offseason. I wrote down what I wanted to accomplish and how to accomplish it. It’s just another step in the journey. I’m excited.”

Jaxon Smith-Njigba-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Jaxon Smith-Njigba is one of four talented freshman wide receivers at Ohio State. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State should be deep at offensive skill positions

The Buckeyes have perfected a six-man wide receiver rotation for a few years now, and despite losing six pass-catchers to the NFL in the last two offseasons, the six-man rotation will likely work again.

Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson will certainly be the headliners of that. And Jameson Williams seems to be a player who has made a huge leap entering Year Two. Then there’s Kamryn Babb, who is coming off back-to-back-to-back ACL injuries but has progressed. And obviously the freshman wide receivers are making a push to play early in their careers; the four of them will have to be on the field at some point. Six has worked for the Buckeyes in the past.

It might just be the number this year, too.

“That’s typically been the number that we’ve used,” Day said. “We also have multiple tight ends that we feel comfortable using as well. The combination of having six receivers and multiple tight ends I think is the right recipe for us. Also multiple running backs on the field at the same time is something that we’ve looked at. So the good news is we have some different options, which is great.”

Ohio State might have to get creative to get all of its playmakers on the field. That’s a good problem to have.