COLUMBUS — Ryan Day might not have been born into the rivalry, but the first-year Ohio State coach is certainly aware of what it means now.
The responsibilities that come with his position leading the Buckeyes were never a secret for him before he took over from Urban Meyer, and Day’s stint working for a guy who parlayed a maniacal devotion to beating Michigan into a perfect record certainly helped.
So, Day might have grown up with a better understanding of the professional feuds in New England before he spent his playing days at New Hampshire fighting over a musket with Maine. But he knows what rivalries are all about, and he’s spend every day since he’s been at Ohio State making sure his team is ready to live up to the standard against the Wolverines.
“If you’re working on it all year, then you’re prepared,” Day said on Tuesday. “You’ve worked on it the spring, the preseason, certain periods that you set aside just to work on the Team Up North.Â You talk to guys all the time about what it means, so they understand coming into the game what to expect.
“It’s always on the schedule that way. We have the countdown in the building. I think everyone understands the importance of it, that’s the first thing.”
It’s no mystery to Day by now. And heading into his first edition as the head coach of the Buckeyes, here’s what Lettermen Row learned during the media session with Day and a handful of key players as they previewed the trip to the Big House on Saturday.
Buckeyes expect Justin Fields to be ready to go
Ohio State went through a couple scary moments with Justin Fields laying on the field requiring medical attention late in the fourth quarter against Penn State. But the starting quarterback has checked out all right for the program since bouncing off the turf, jogging to the sideline — and ultimately sprinting to the locker room after clinching the division title in the win last week.
The Buckeyes rode Fields hard with 21 rushing attempts and 22 passes, and at this point, there are no plans from Day to ease off the throttle with the focal point of the offense.
“For sure, any time you see your starting quarterback on the ground, it’s not a good feeling,” Day said. “He was able to shake it off, run off the field. We expect him to be fine.
“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.Â 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.”
Chris Olave poised to keep building Ohio State legacy
Not even through his sophomore season with the program, Chris Olave is already building a remarkable reputation for delivering big-time performances for Ohio State in big-time games. That all started with his coming-out party last year in The Game, of course, with his two touchdowns and a punt block sparking the Buckeyes to a huge win on the way to the Big Ten championship.
Olave followed that up with another score in the conference title game, and his knack for delivering in meaningful situations has continued with two touchdowns against Wisconsin and a jaw-dropping snag last week against Penn State.
“I believe [last year] changed my career,” Olave said. “Having that game, and specifically doing it in that game where we kind of build our program around that [rivalry] with that everywhere in our building, that changed my career.”
Pete Werner thriving in one-on-one matchups for Ohio State
The formation and individual matchup left no doubt that Penn State wanted to test Pete Werner, and he was well aware of what was coming his way. But just like he did a year ago against Michigan, the junior linebacker was twice up for the challenge of breaking up passes thrown on him — and along with his 10 tackles, the co-defensive player of the week might have just delivered the best outing of his career so far.
That was good timing for the Buckeyes in the East Division title game. And Werner will almost certainly find himself again isolated against tight ends in his role at linebacker for Ohio State, providing him another chance to showcase just how valuable he is for the Silver Bullets.
“I see some formations, and I know the ball is coming to me,” Werner said with a smile. “I’m kind of twitched up, and I know what’s coming. So, I see those and I try to take advantage of that and make the best play I can. They’ll get some, I’ll get some — but it’s a great feeling to know that you have that opportunity to make a play.
“Let’s go do it. That’s how I feel.”
Ohio State secondary putting extra emphasis on hands
Nothing is different about the goal in the Ohio State secondary, which wants to create turnovers every week and is hungry for more interceptions. But after having multiple opportunities to nab picks last week against Penn State and letting them slip out of their fingers, the Buckeyes might just squeeze in a couple extra drills to make sure their hands are sure heading to Michigan.
Buckeyes captain Jordan Fuller had one of those near-turnovers after making the right read on a route but failing to secure the catch through contact and all the way to the ground. And while he still had plenty to feel good about after another steady outing at safety, he certainly doesn’t want to come up short if more chances come his way against Michigan.
“I know I’ve been working on catching the ball,” Fuller said. “Maybe this week I’ll work on contested catches, maybe. I feel like I caught it, but it just got knocked out at the end. Probably extra [reps on the] JUGS, then just never relaxing and looking the ball in.”