COLUMBUS — Ohio State defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley spoke with reporters on Tuesday. He talked about how much fun he is having at Ohio State right now and why that is. Also speaking with the media were quarterback Justin Fields, offensive lineman Josh Alabi, and linebacker Baron Browning. Here are the highlights of what was said.
+ There is some impressive talent here, but what separates the defense is the technique and fundamentals.
+ Hafley never talked about a two-year commitment with Ryan Day. He only thinks about the now. He didn’t even have time to shave today. This is the most fun he’s had coaching in a long time. “I love coming to work every day.” He hasn’t been able to say that in a long time, so he’s very happy to be here right now.
+ MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke manages the game very well. He’s faster than people think he is. He’s playing really well. He could be the best quarterback they’ve faced this year.
+ Jonathon Cooper brings attitude, toughness, leadership, speed, relentlessness. Just can’t say enough about what he does for this defense. From the moment Hafley got here, Cooper has been one of the most impressive guys he’s been around. He’s what Hafley expected when he thought of Ohio State.
+ Baron Browning gives them versatility with the range he has. He’s really taken a step this season.
+ Malik Harrison has length, size, and range. He has good instincts as well. He is improving and he played very well this weekend.
+ They want to get Michigan State in third and long even though MSU is pretty good in third and long. “It’s better than third and short, right?” They also have good wideouts and they have big tight ends. This is a well-coached team.
+ A pass rush is everything when it comes to defending the pass. “You’re going to get interceptions.” If the quarterback can’t set up on his back step, “we’re going to have a good day.” The defensive backs better be thanking the defensive line. “Everything starts up front. Everything.”
+ Tuesday practices are hard. His first couple he was surprised by and asked Mickey Marotti if they’d be alright. Marotti assured him they would be just fine. “In my opinion, you win and lose games today and tomorrow.” The culture here is not like the NFL. It’s special here.
+ “I love press man.” This team is getting better at it, but you have to be able to play both zone and man. It’s hard for quarterbacks to deal with both. It also wears out the corners if you only play man. It also helps to play zone because it gives the players vision. Jeff Okudah would have never made the interception on his back if he wasn’t watching the play in front of him.
+ Tuf Borland and Baron Browning are doing a great job rotating. Larry Johnson does as good a job rotating D-linemen as Hafley has ever seen.
+ His relationship with Ryan Day began in college coaching. When he interviewed with the 49ers, Ryan Day was in the room with Chip Kelly. Then when he was hired, they were talking a lot about offense and defense and what works. It clicked with them two and here we are. “I had hoped we would coach together again.”
+ What is it about OSU that’s fun? He’s had fun in the past. Losing isn’t fun. It all starts with Ryan. He really lets you coach and lets you do your job, and for assistants, that’s important. He also respects the coaches’ family and time, and that’s rare. What does that mean? You can see his daughters running up and down these halls any time they want. “Guys enjoy being in this building right now.”
+ The biggest thing with Jeff Okudah is that he’s more experienced. He’s played more. He’s also learned the game better and is seeing it differently, so that slows things down for him. “I probably coach him harder than anybody.” He points out Okudah’s mistakes in front of the room because he wants him to get better. “I can tell when he’s going to play well.” He’s fun to coach, which is another reason Hafley is having more fun.
+ When you get corners who trigger like Okudah and Damon Arnette do, you know you have a tough defense. They do stuff that a lot of corners won’t do, so you have to respect them for that.
+ Experience has allowed him to be better this year, but Al Washington’s coaching and approach has also been a huge help.
+ The linebackers have been growing and playing better each week.
+ It means a lot to have Jonathon Cooper bad. They feed off of his energy.
+ He’s more calm and just playing his game more than he has in the past.
+ They haven’t talked too much MSU, but they’ll go over things today.
+ This defense, everybody is excited to see each other make plays. It’s different than last year.
+ The interior guys make it easy for the linebackers.
+ Real Life Wednesdays was the thing that put Ohio State over the top for him when he signed in 2017.
+ They look forward to wearing alternate uniforms, but there’s not much thought spent on it.
+ He is thankful to be in this position and to have the opportunity to play on Saturday.
+ It was tough in the offseason thinking about not being a starter, but he kept his faith in God and viewed it as part of the plan.
+ It’s not easy to not start, but he knows his role on this team.
+ Justin Fields has improved his poise on the field. He doesn’t get flustered. His leadership has grown. He expected Fields to play this well.
+ His mindset right now is just to stay ready. He has a role and he always has to be prepared to step onto the field.
+ Getting starts in the Rose Bowl and against Nebraska has given him confidence that he can handle whatever is put in front of him.
+ They’ve always had love for each other, but this year they really, really love each other and they play for each other.
+ By Thursday he started feeling pretty comfortable at right tackle after moving over from left tackle.
+ Tuesday practices set the tone for the rest of the week. It helps them a lot on Saturday. It will be hot today, but the staff will be watching to keep them hydrated.
+ Why hasn’t Justin Fields hasn’t thrown an interception is because Ryan Day has put it in his brain every day to take care of the ball. Smart decisions are always at the forefront.
+ Coach Stud does a great job with the offensive line. It was clear they were dominating during the game.
+ Jeff Okudah has days where he has no passes completed on him in practice. They are pretty good friends, so they have friendly banter when they play against each other.
+ He likes getting praised for throwing the ball away because he never got that in high school. Throwing the ball away has made him a better quarterback.
+ This season has been fun. “The time of my life.” It’s been great bonding with the team. They are coming together each week and the chemistry is building. He believes this could be one of the best teams that has ever played at Ohio State.
+ He expected this kind of output on offense.
+ There is no special approach to facing Michigan State. Just do your job. He won’t change up his routine. He has prepared hard for past opponents. He won’t do anything more than he already does.
+ “I think I have a lot of potential but I haven’t been able to show it yet.” His potential is high, but he still has room to grow. Little things can be improved on that he sees, like footwork and getting the ball out quicker.
+ Fields and JK Dobbins took the offensive line out to eat after this last game.
+ His last interception came on the day he committed to Georgia and came on a tipped ball. There was nothing he could have done about it. He throws interceptions in practice, so when it happens, you just have to move on and play your game.
+ Some of the sacks he’s suffered have been reasonable, others he should have thrown the ball away. He’s working on that.
+ When a QB has faith in his offensive line it gives him confidence in the pocket. You’re just worried about what’s downfield.
+ His favorite throw? He doesn’t really watch film and pick out plays like that. He just wants to win. Good throws are nothing new and they are routine because they work on them a lot. “I expect to make those throws.”
+ You can’t dwell on good passes or bad passes. It’s the next play that’s most important.
+ Master Teague gives them a powerful downhill runner and nothing he does in the games is a surprise.
+ There are definitely weaknesses on this team and they work on them and play tough in practices. He’s not going to share what those weaknesses are, but the team knows what they are.
+ What’s it going to take for Ohio State to get beat? “Not being ourselves.” “I think we’re definitely one of the best teams in the country.”
+ Fields thinks student-athletes could use the money from the name and likeness proposal, but he hasn’t really put much thought on it. Of course players would like to get paid, but the focus is on winning.