That was the only Wildcats drive that got inside the Ohio State 30-yard line as the Buckeyes yielded just 199 total yards and 2.9 yards per play.
“They’re playing at a high level right now,” Day said of his defense.
Co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley agreed with his boss’ assessment of the preparation, which began after Ohio State handled Michigan State 34-10 almost two weeks earlier.
“Ryan did an unbelievable job preparing the guys in the bye week,” Hafley told reporters in Evanston. “He should get a ton of credit for that, and I saw it last night how we were focused in practice, and then this morning they had a look in their eye.”
Fields rolls on
The offense marched 70 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown to start the game, setting the tone for another dominant night that would include 480 total yards on just 63 plays.
Quarterback Justin Fields was the maestro of the attack as usual, completing 18 of 23 passes for 194 yards and four touchdowns.
Although he did not put up eye-popping numbers, he displayed great command of the offense in his seventh college start.
Whether it was a timely scramble or a decisive throw into the weak spot of a coverage, Fields looked content to take what a solid defense gave him.
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“I thought he took a step in that direction, for sure,” Day said. “I thought he had great poise. He handled himself well in the pocket. He threw some away that he had to. He scrambled on some early. If he can keep building on this, then he’s got a chance to be special.”
The sophomore provided multiple reminders of the arm strength and athleticism that made him a five-star recruit two years ago and showed a knack for avoiding pressure and finding the open man.
“It’s just God-given ability,” he said. “I’ve been able to do it since I was little. I just try to escape when I have to, and stay in the pocket. Of course when I have to escape I try to open up a throwing lane.”
Run defense concerns?
Bolstered by the return of Isaiah Bowser, Sidney grad who missed the last game with a knee injury, Northwestern ran for 157 yards.
The Wildcats notched seven runs that gained double-digit yards, including four by Bowser, who finished with 65 yards on 16 carries.
Is that cause for concern with the powerful Wisconsin running game and Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathon Tayler up next for the Buckeyes?
“I don’t know, that’s a good question,” Hafley said. “When we see the film, we’ll see why, what happened. There’s always things we’re going to have to work at and there’s always things we’re gone have to be better at, so we’ll have to watch this film and be better next week. That’s just part of the game.”
Hafley sidestepped a question about whether or not he had already looked at the Badgers on film, a non-answer that seemed to confirm he at least snuck a peak last week.
Meanwhile, Day passed another test as a first-year head coach.
Not only did he guide the Buckeyes through their first open week of the season (they are off again after next week’s clash with the Badgers), he also saw that they avoided letdowns such as the blowout losses they suffered at Iowa and Purdue in similar settings (on the road at night) the past two seasons.
“We try to really focus on one week at a time, and I think we feel good about the way we came out,” Day said. “Coming off the bye week with energy, starting fresh and just a refocus on all the things that matter within the program.
“Now we know we have a huge challenge next week. We’re going to get on that plane, enjoy this, catch our breath. We’ll get in late tonight and then we start the preparation for Wisconsin. We know what we have in store there. So it’s going to be a really tough week and tough preparation, tough game. But I know the kids are gonna be excited to play it.”
Wisconsin at Ohio State, Noon, Fox, 1410