COLUMBUS — Ryan Day’s Ohio State coaching tenure has been a relative breeze through 14 games.
There were quite a few blowouts, and there haven’t been many tough in-game decisions for the first-year head coach. But Saturday against Penn State, Day had hard decisions to make that defined the Buckeyes 28-17 win to clinch the Big Ten East for the third straight season.
“Well, it was about what I expected, which was, from the beginning to the end, it was you couldn’t take a deep breath at all,” Day said. “Felt like you were holding your breath for 60 minutes of football. But that’s what you expect when you play a great team like Penn State. They came out and they battled really hard. They have really good players, really good scheme. But just to see the toughness of our guys, it was really great.”
Day was aggressive when he needed to be. He was conservative and strategic when he needed to be. There were mistakes, yes. But Day made tough — and correct — calls when necessary. Those calls included two fourth-downs: One near midfield that allowed the Buckeyes to extend a drive on a Justin Fields draw play and a fourth-and-goal handoff to J.K. Dobbins when Penn State expected a sneak play.
Day’s counterpart, James Franklin, punted twice inside Ohio State territory in the first half, showing which coach had the aggressive nature Saturday.
Day doesn’t have to prove anything. He is coaching one of the best teams in the country, and he is doing it well. But his game management showed that when the Buckeyes might get into tough situations, which is likely during the national title chase, Day knows which buttons to push to help Ohio State win big games. He did it as a coordinator, and he’s doing it as a head coach, too.
But he wasn’t the only guy for the Buckeyes who helped his cause in the massive division-clinching win over Penn State. Lettermen Row has four others who bumped their stock heading into the rivalry week.
RB J.K. Dobbins
After rarely getting the ball in the second half of any game this season, J.K. Dobbins wanted to do some heavy lifting. Well, 36 carries, 157 yards and two touchdowns later, Dobbins’ wish was granted — and he took full advantage of the carries he received. Dobbins took the opening carry of the game 22 yards, and from there, he torched a Penn State defense that was allowing just 75.9 yards per game. That changed in a hurry, and it was Dobbins who changed it. With the massive game, Dobbins continues to tear top defenses apart, and he might have ran his way to the Doak Walker Award.
LB Pete Werner
If Pete Werner didn’t have the best day of his career, Saturday against Penn State was close to it. Werner led the Buckeyes with nine tackles — eight of them solo — and two pass breakups, including a huge breakup that forced the first Penn State punt of the game. Werner has had his share of doubters dating back to last season’s debacle of a defense, but he proved just how valuable he is to the Silver Bullets defense this season with one of the best days a linebacker has had for the Buckeyes all season. He guarded the tight end well, and he was everywhere on the Ohio State defense that allowed scores only when it was put in tough situations.
LB Baron Browning
Browning went through pregame warmups as if he might not even play against Penn State. Odds are the Buckeyes are glad he played. After a couple weeks off, Browning terrorized the Penn State defense as he had seven tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He seemed to be in the backfield on every snap during the last two drives of the game when Penn State was desperately trying to make a comeback and Browning was tasked with blitzing. As Ohio State continues its march to the College Football Playoff, Browning made sure everyone knows how important he will be during the postseason run.
QB Justin Fields
There isn’t much left for Fields to prove as a quarterback. He has thrown the ball well and led the Buckeyes offense, guiding Ohio State to an 11-0 start to the season. But against Penn State, Fields made sure everyone around the college football world aware of how dangerous he can be as a runner. Fields picked up two third down conversions with his legs on the first drive of the game, which led to a 7-0 lead. He finished the day with 68 yards on 21 carries, but he lost yards on sacks, so that total subtracting sacks was 96. Fields certainly helped his cause as a runner — and as one of the toughest quarterbacks in the country — with his solid performance against the Nittany Lions.