When Ryan Day took over the Ohio State football program from Urban Meyer, he had a vision of the kind of football team he wanted. Saturday night in front of 104,797 in Ohio Stadium, you saw that vision on the field.
Against a team known for its toughness in Michigan State, Day’s Buckeyes took the Spartans one step further than they were prepared to go.
Ohio State has been known as the Big Ten’s most talented team for years, but there have been times when their overall toughness was questioned. Those questions were answered last night as Michigan State did the worst thing you could possibly do — they picked a fight with somebody itching for one.
This was the game where Ohio State would finally get to show just how tough they could be. By the time the night was over, both teams limped back to their respective locker rooms, but only one of them left as victors.
The Spartans entered the ring believing they were the toughest team in the Big Ten. They now know they’re no better than second.
Ohio State rushed for 323 yards against Michigan State’s defense. That’s the very definition of toughness right there.
But there was nothing easy in this game, so when the Buckeyes were taking big chunks of yards, it was an impressive feat. This wasn’t some crafty heist where nobody got hurt. This was a full-scale brawl for survival.
JK Dobbins ran for 172 yards and left a piece of himself on each of his 24 carries. Justin Fields was sacked four times and hit several more times than that. He was still the guy powering into the end zone from a yard out in the fourth quarter.
Forty-five times in Saturday night’s game the Buckeyes ran the ball into the carcass-sharpened teeth of the Spartans’ defense.
Thirty-eight times Ohio State came away with positive yardage. Two of those 45 rushes were stopped for no gain and five others were stopped for minimal losses. Three of those losses came when the score was 34-10 and Michigan State knew the run was coming.
The Spartans, meanwhile, rushed for 67 yards, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry.
It didn’t matter which side of the ball was in the fight, the scorecard continued to favor the Buckeyes.
This was a display a long time coming, and toughness for this Ohio State football program isn’t just a Saturday thing. It began back in the winter with strength coach Mickey Marotti. Marotti sets the tone for everything that happens with OSU and he followed through on Day’s vision from the outset.
That’s why after the game, Day presented Marotti with the game ball.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) October 6, 2019
When you watch the video, you can see the players looking over at Marotti even before Day reveals who the ball is going to because they know. They understand.
“I thought to beat a team like this you have to play tough,” Day said after the game. “We talked about it going into the game, and I thought we did. And to finish off these six games tough — we gave the game ball to Coach Mick because he’s the guy that this whole thing is built upon. He’s the backbone. And he’s the blood that runs through this whole program.
“And to say we’re tough, it’s because of him and his strength staff and all the work that they put in with these guys and our coaching staff getting on the field and doing the same thing in the meeting room. It’s everybody involved. We’re all into this thing. And I think they’re taking a lot of pride in being tough.”
Michigan State came into Ohio Stadium Saturday night expecting a fight. The Buckeyes came into it wanting one.
This was the reward for the 5:00 a.m. workouts in February. This was the reward for all of the ones-v-ones in practice.
This was an opportunity for every single Buckeye on the team to show Day that they weren’t just listening to the message, but that they were living it as well.
Ryan Day wanted a tough football program. And now that he’s got one, the rest of the country better be ready.