COLUMBUS — There are bumps and bruises at Ohio State, and the program is making sure to carve out time to let those heal during the off week.
But the Buckeyes also have a Big Ten road game next Friday night, the first of six more regular-season matchups on the schedule — a reminder that there is also plenty of work to be done for the two-time defending conference champions.
So, the trick for Ryan Day in his first full season leading Ohio State is finding the balance between rest and reps heading into the stretch run.
“That was a physical game we played on Saturday night,” Day said on Tuesday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. “So, guys need to get healthy again. We’re a little battered, but that’s what happens six weeks in and after you play a game like we did against Michigan State.
“But it’s all kind of you know how you craft it during the week, and the way we’re doing it is we’re trying to get those guys healthy as best we can and be smart about it. But we’re also really focusing on enhancing the things guys are doing well and improving on the things they need to improve on.”
The Buckeyes have been as close to perfect as any team in the country so far this season — but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few mistakes along the way that can still be improved. With more tough challenges coming down the pike, here’s what Lettermen Row learned about Ohio State and how it will manage the week ahead before shifting the attention to Northwestern.
Ohio State coaches hand out assignments
The Buckeyes will surely use a bit of their extra time to gear up for Northwestern. But at least right now, the primary focus is just on themselves — self-evaluating, self-scouting and self-improvement.
Ohio State had had each coach identify a specific area for every player on the roster to work on now that there are six games to break down on film. And that will be how the Buckeyes are graded over the next few days before getting a quick fall break over the weekend.
“We’re kind of in a self-evaluation phase right now on both sides of the ball, schematically, things like that,” Day said. “But also individually and as units we’re really taking a hard look to see what are some things we’ve done well in these first six weeks and what are some things that we need to improve on?
“The big focus is on self improvement this week. Each coach is giving tangible things for each of the players to work on. It may be something that’s on the field. It might be something off the field. It might be something academically, something along those lines. But the idea is, what have we done well and what do we need to improve on.
Justin Fields is rushing threat Buckeyes know they need
There might not ever be a time this season where Ryan Day doesn’t experience at least some nervousness when Justin Fields starts running with the football. Given the precarious depth behind the starting quarterback, an injury at the most important position on the roster would be a major blow to the national-title potential for the Buckeyes.
But Day is also seeing a strong, tough, fast weapon on the ground who makes Ohio State more dangerous with his dual-threat ability. And he’s also stout enough to withstand some of the physical hits he’s absorbed over the last couple weeks and keep on rolling, which at least alleviates some of the concern for Day.
“I think he’s shown toughness, he’s dropped his pads and taken care of himself,” Day said. “He’s taken a few shots. You can see how dynamic he is with his feet and how he changes the game. And there’s a give and take, a calculated risk every time that happens. Again we don’t want him taking shots or expose him. But at the same time, he’s a talent and he’s a load. It’s not like he’s skinny or he’s going to take too many shots, and he actually delivers the blow on some guys. That’s the way he’s built. He’s big and strong which really helps.
“Certainly we don’t want to be in a situation where we have to run him too much. But when you get in the red zone or you get in those certain situations where it’s such an advantage for us, then if we’ve got to go win the game we’re going to do it. And he understands that and he’s been great about it. And he’s shown the toughness that we need to do that.”
Kevin Wilson, Ohio State tight ends making most of chances
With or without a bunch of receptions, the Ohio State tight ends remain one of the strongest units on the team.
Would those Buckeyes prefer to have made more than 10 catches spread among the four guys at the position? Of course, and Luke Farrell showed a glimpse at what the tight ends can do with his impressive touchdown grab last week in the win over Michigan State. So, will they start to see an uptick in targets moving forward?
“I think in general it’s maybe a little bit less because of the way the running game is going,” Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “I think we’re kind of leaning on that, and then we’re getting a feel for Justin as a new quarterback getting him off and started.
“We’re a little down just because of where we are right now, but that’s week to week. I’m sure that will change as we keep moving.”
Zach Harrison coming on for Buckeyes
So much for an acclimation period for Zach Harrison. The Ohio State freshman is already emerging into a weapon on the defensive line, living up to his five-star billing and starting to get used in high-pressure situations to pursue the quarterback.
The numbers may still look relatively modest with 3 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks so far. But Harrison has done that in the first six games of his career, hinting at just how high his ceiling can be with the Buckeyes.
“You saw that in him all the time,” Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “You saw all the things that [defensive line coach Larry Johnson] is working extremely hard with now. I mean, you’ve got a young man with great height, great range, he’s as fast as some running backs at places, he’s got great character, he works extremely hard, he’s tough.
“The technique that Coach Johnson is working with just gets him better and better. He’s just what you would have thought he would be.”