COLUMBUS — Ryan Day has watched other teams play football for nearly two months while Ohio State hasn’t been able to take the field.
That changes Saturday at noon, when the Buckeyes finally kick off their season against Nebraska. After watching plenty of sloppy football and countless errors in games, Day and the Buckeyes are hopeful that their practice time and preparations will lead to an avoidance of the uncharacteristic miscues.
Day expects the Buckeyes to be ready to play.
“My expectation is that the level of play is strong,” he said before practice on Tuesday afternoon. “That’s why we’ve been practicing. That’s been the emphasis: Make sure that we’re taking care of all the things, the penalties. It has to be a clean game. We start talking about scoring X number of points, or holding them to a shutout. We can’t do that.
“Big plays will come, and we’re going to keep growing it as the season goes on. But to win one game, you have to take care of the football, tackle really, really well and play good defense.”
The expectations are high for this season at Ohio State. But one slip-up could derail plans of a national title run. The Buckeyes are focused on the fundamentals first and everything else second.
Day and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa met with the media Tuesday to break down the Buckeyes offense and more. Lettermen Row is diving into the lessons learned from the conversation with the coaches as they gear up for the opener against the Huskers.
Nicholas Petit-Frere named starter at right tackle
The last official position battle on the offensive side of the ball for the Buckeyes is over.
Nicholas Petit-Frere was named the starting right tackle on Tuesday.
“Right now, Nick is going to be the starter at right tackle,” Day said. “He’s done a really good job, he’s worked really hard in the offseason. So we’ll see as the season goes on and where it goes. But I’m very impressed with what he’s done in terms of changing his body and the way he’s practiced over the last couple weeks.”
The newest starter, Petit-Frere does have one career start; he filled in for Thayer Munford last season at Northwestern and impressed. Since then, he’s continued to grow and get better. The Buckeyes are pleased with what they’ve seen from him, enough so that he was able to stave off Paris Johnson and Dawand Jones for the starting nod.
“He’s done a great job during this pandemic,” Ohio Sate offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said. “There are a few guys, but he’s one of them that has really changed his body. He’s stronger. He’s bigger, he’s 315 pounds now. He’s as strong as he ever was. His offseason and his development has really pushed him to the top of that position. He’s just done a great job.”
Ohio State not revealing running back approach
Ohio State has two talented running backs who could both start at most schools in the country. Trey Sermon and Master Teague each can build a case for why they should start this week against Nebraska, and the Buckeyes have floated the idea of running a two-back system.
But they still aren’t going to reveal exactly how the running back situation will sort itself out.
“I don’t know how it’s going to shake out,” Day said. “I know we play a lot of plays and we usually get north of 70, at least 75, sometimes 80 plays. We’re going to play multiple players. All the running backs have looked very good. They’re starting to run with their pads down over the last week. That was a huge emphasis point going into last week. They’ve all done that.
“We’re going to play some depth there, because we need to.”
Sermon and Teague can be complemented by Steele Chambers and Miyan Williams, but the dynamic duo should be the lead backs against Nebraska. It’s still unknown who will be featured.
Offensive line could be better than last year
The Buckeyes offensive line was prolific last year, blocking for a 2,000-yard rusher and a Heisman Trophy finalist at quarterback.
It could be even better this season.
“I was so proud of the guys last year because I thought that was one of the best lines in the country in how they played last year,” Studrawa said. “I think these guys can be better. That’s our goal. Our goal is to take what we did last year and be better.”
Being better would involve Harry Miller asserting himself as a dominant guard on par with what Jonah Jackson was last year. And it would require Petit-Frere to take a huge step forward in replacing Branden Bowen. It seems the Buckeyes believe both those conditions will be met.
“They’re starting to gel together as a unit from the time that we’ve had this past month,” Studrawa said. “That was really my only concern through this pandemic was getting them to gel together and play as five guys with new guys at positions and that stuff. They’ve done that. They’re going to continue to develop. I’m really confident that they’re going to play well.”
Buckeyes being reminded daily of COVID protocols
Once the season was reinstated and COVID-19 testing protocols were put into place, the Buckeyes knew they would need to be careful and meticulous to play a season.
And that hasn’t gone away. Ohio State continues to do what it has to do to prepare for the football season while preaching the importance of safety. One positive test can ruin the Buckeyes national title hopes. And they’re constantly being reminded of that.
“It’s an ongoing deal,” Day said. “This is going to go on for a while, and we have to continue to be vigilant in that area, not get fatigued with following all the protocols, doing what we have to do and making the sacrifices that have been made. That’s been everybody. And that’s not easy to do. It’s an emphasis every single day. I’ve made it my vow to the players that I’ll bring it up every single day.
“We talk about it every single day because it’s that important.”
Buckeyes plan to take advantage of new redshirt rule
Some of the freshmen were never going to redshirt this season at Ohio State. Some of the defensive players were too talented to only play four games. All four new receivers should see the field.
Now in the middle of a wild and unpredictable season, the four-game threshold for redshirting players is out the window, and all players have this season as a free year of eligibility. The Buckeyes will certainly use that to build for the future.
“It’s good,” Day said. “It’s one less thing to worry about. It’s easy to kind of get them on the travel squad and get them in there thinking that they’ll get maybe one or two plays, but you don’t have to worry about that. It’s definitely one less thing to worry about.”
It may be most important at the most developmental spot on the field, the offensive line. Studrawa can build depth and talent for years to come with his six-man freshman class. All of them can play as much as the Buckeyes choose.
“Once that came out, you can get those guys extra playing time when you couldn’t before,” Studrawa said. “So it’ll be a blessing for those kids. Hopefully going into next season and in the spring and after this is over, it’ll get their growth way ahead of where it should be. It’s really a good thing.”