Ohio State is going into its biggest game of the year — so far — about as healthy as Ryan Day could hope for.
That is one of five takeaways from the weekly press conference for the coach of the second-ranked Buckeyes as they prepare to play host to No. 9 Penn State.
1. The Buckeyes not only have few injuries but also haven’t had to empty the tank for a while.
Back-to-back blowout wins following an open week in the schedule mean reps have been at a minimum in November for Ohio State.
“I think we’re healthy and fresh at this point of the year, which is great,” Day said.
More than a dozen players showed up on the injury report last week, but Day confirmed the team took a cautionary approach facing a Rutgers team that has not beaten a Power 5 conference opponent in more than two years.
“Certainly optimistic to get those guys back,” Day said of a group that included starters Jonathon Cooper at defensive end and Austin Mack at receiver. “It will be good to get them back and we were overly cautious probably a little bit last week, but, yeah, looking forward to having those guys ready.”
2. Day does not expect to have to remind his players of what is at stake Saturday.
If Ohio State wins, the Buckeyes will be outright Big Ten East champions and make their third straight appearance in the Big Ten Championship game, which they have won the past two years.
If Penn State wins, the Nittany Lions will be at least co-champs. Coach James Franklin’s team will go to the conference title game if they beat Rutgers or Ohio State loses to Michigan next week.
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“We have talked about that, but now it’s time to just focus on Penn State,” Day said.
3. He called this “a talent-equated game.”
That was a buzzword used by the coach as well as quarterback Justin Fields and defensive lineman Robert “BB” Landers when they followed him through the team meeting room for interviews, so it’s safe to say the message got through to a team that has blasted all comers so far this season.
“When that happens it goes back to discipline, it goes back to fundamentals, it goes back to toughness, all of those things that come into play when your talent no longer matters,” said Day, whose team leads the nation in scoring and scoring defense and is outscoring teams by an average margin of 51-9. “So those are the things and we got to do a good job putting a good game plan together, let the guys play, and then prepare them to go.
“Then the team that’s more prepared will win the game.”
4. Day registered no complaints about when this game is being played.
What may turn out to be the biggest game of the regular season in the Big Ten is set for the penultimate weekend of the regular season, one week before Ohio State’s traditional seasoncloser with Michigan.
The clash between the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions coincides with Alabama playing Western Carolina while Auburn will entertain Samford, an annual late-November practice that draws the ire of fans in the north.
(Also worth noting: No. 1 LSU plays Arkansas, a 2-8 SEC opponent in a downward slide, while No. 4 Georgia hosts 7-3 Texas A&M, so not every SEC team follows the lead of the Crimson Tide and their rival.)
“I think it’s all computer-generated, so it doesn’t really matter,” Day said of the Big Ten schedule. “Like I told the guys, we don’t make the schedule and all we do is we’re going to just take one week at a time and worry about the things we can control.”
5. Chase Young will be full-go this week.
A loan deemed an NCAA violation cost Young the last two games, but Day said he will not be on a “pitch count” this week in his return to the field.
The star junior should be ready for as many snaps as coach Larry Johnson asks of him.
“He wasn’t really involved in the game plan the last couple weeks, but he has been practicing,” Day said. “And Larry has been doing some extra work with him on the field, drill-wise, but now he’s right back to practicing with the defense.”
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