Ohio State football: Buckeyes focus on maintaining Michigan Week routine

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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WATCH: Ohio State football coach Ryan Day on Michigan Week

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

COLUMBUS — Ohio State football coach Ryan Day’s strategy for dealing with the biggest week of the regular season centers on keeping the leadup to Ohio State-Michigan as normal as possible.

That is a luxury afforded him by the winning streak he inherited from Urban Meyer when Day became the head coach in 2019 and the daily efforts to keep the Wolverines somewhere in the back of their minds.

“We always have one eye on them,” said Day, who won his first edition of The Game as a head coach in 2019 to stretch the Buckeyes’ winning streak to eight games. The game was not play last year because of COVID-19 cases in the Michigan program.

“It’s just the way we do our business, recruiting or in the season. You can’t be crazy about it, otherwise you might get distracted from what the task at hand is during the season, but we always have an eye on them. As you know in the offseason, we have different things that we do, whether it’s in practice or in the weight room that’s dedicated towards them.”

Of course Ohio State-Michigan week is a busy one on both campuses.

That’s been the case for years, and it only got more complicated when it was bumped back to the weekend after Thanksgiving instead of the week before.

Not long after becoming head coach of the Buckeyes, Day laughed at a question about whether or not he would deviate from Meyer’s strategy for Michigan week — “No, it works,” was his reply — and he seems to have leaned into the routine the veteran coach left behind when he retired.

“There’s a lot on our guys’ plate, some great traditions obviously,” Day said, referencing specifically the annual meeting with the Ohio State University Marching Band that kicks off the week.

Tuesday and Wednesday are typically the most intense practice days, and the team plans to bus to Ann Arbor on Friday afternoon.

In between, they will also wedge in Thanksgiving festivities.

“The biggest thing for us is just really talking to our guys about how to manage this week, how to get your rest, how to stay focused,” Day said. “It’s a little bit of a different week with so much going on, so we want them just really focused on preparing to play the best game they could possibly play. That’s usually what we spend our time on.”

His team appears to be fairly healthy as it prepares for a game that will decide who represents the Big Ten East in the Big Ten Championship Game and stays in the College Football Playoff race, but the status of a pair of important players came up Tuesday.

Sophomore linebacker Cody Simon left last week’s win over Michigan State early with an unidentified injury, but Day said it does not seem like a long-term situation without offering any more detail.

The coach is also hopeful the Buckeyes will get back their top kick returner, true freshman Emeka Egbuka.

Sophomore Julian Fleming filled in for him against the Spartans, something Day said the nation’s No. 1 receiver recruit from the class of 2020 had been lobbying to do as he finds snaps hard to come by with an offense headlined by Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

“When Emeka was unavailable, he wanted to be in there and kind of owned it,” Day said of Fleming, who only got one opportunity for a return and picked up 11 yards. “I thought he did a good job and was getting close there, but I think Julian has big-play ability to take one back. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s powerful. He’s got good running skill.”

Egbuka, who was the nation’s top receiver recruit last year, has returned 13 kickoffs for 417 yards.

His average of 32.1 yards per return is the best among Big Ten players with at least 10 returns.

SATURDAY’S GAME

Ohio State at Michigan, Noon, Fox, 1410

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