In a rain-soaked, but win-warmed locker room, the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrated a 38-7 win over the Wisconsin Badgers.
Singing. Dancing. The usual revelry. For head coach Ryan Day, however, it was also an opportunity to stress the importance of what needed to happen next.
They had just passed their biggest test of the season and they didn’t miss a single question. And now they were set for a week off followed by two games against opponents who would likely be undermanned and overwhelmed.
The week off would be an opportunity to relax, but that’s where it needed to stop. There are simply too many possibilities for this team to waste them now.
“Listen men, I told you we have something special going, and you guys know it,” Day said in a quieted locker room. “You guys can feel it. It’s in the air. It’s when you walk in the building. It’s when you’re on the field. And the hardest thing is bringing it every single week. You brought it again this week.”
This week, the Buckeyes will need to bring it against a Maryland Terrapins team that is just 1-5 in Big Ten play. Ohio State is favored by 43 points. The game will be a noon kickoff.
If ever there was a game where the Buckeyes may not be entirely locked in, it would be one like this. But then next week Ohio State travels to Rutgers to play arguably the Big Ten’s worst team.
That’s quite the lull — a week off, then Maryland and Rutgers. After that, however, comes Penn State and Michigan.
The dangers that await in late November only provide another distraction.
But this entire season has been a process, and one that Day and his staff have been preparing for since January.
“It’s something that we’ve talked about since January,” Day said on his radio show last week. “And everyone in the program, and in the country, knows that that’s the case. We talk about it like it’s March Madness at this point. All it takes is one loss and you put yourself at risk. So we consider ourselves to be — as the season goes on — to have a bigger and bigger bullseye on our chest. And so you can never take a deep breath, you have to be disciplined enough to approach each game the same way.”
The March Madness approach is apt, considering the importance of winning out.
But even in basketball circles, there are schools of thought that a loss before the tournament is a good idea because winning more than the requisite six games in a row is too difficult as it is.
In football, however, losing isn’t the luxury that it is in college basketball. A loss now for the Buckeyes, to anybody, may kill everything they’ve spent the last 10+ months working toward.
But it’s not easy to remain focused week after week, regardless of opponent.
“A lot goes with that. You know, physically, emotionally, mentally, getting ready to play each game,” Day said. “And so we know at any point if you start turning the ball over, you don’t tackle, you don’t play with energy, you’re not preparing the same way, you lose the focus, you let your ego get in the way, you start to listen to other people, you put yourself at risk. And so we talk about it all the time, and it’s our responsibility as coaches to make sure the players are locking it up.”
So far, so good.
There have been no Purdue or Iowa collapses this season, or anything even remotely close for that matter.
Ohio State’s scoring margin is the best in the country. The Buckeyes are outscoring opponents by 40.4 points, and that number actually goes up to 43.7 when they are on the road.
Their closest margin of victory this season has been 24 points, which they’ve done twice.
The results have been impressive, but the preparation is what has gotten them here.
And Day is adamant that nothing changes in that regard.
“I’ll just say this men, I speak on behalf of all the coaches. Coaches did an unbelievable job. You guys did a great job preparing,” Day said in that Wisconsin postgame locker room.
“Love you guys, men. Love you guys. We’ve got something special here. Now let’s not let that go.”