The No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes are rolling into Big Ten Championship Game week.
OSU completely demolished arch-rival Michigan last weekend, humiliating the Wolverines, 56-27.
Now, the Bucks will head back to Indianapolis to try to win its third consecutive Big Ten conference championship.
This weekend, they will face Wisconsin. OSU beat the Badgers, 38-7 earlier this season. This will be just the second time since 1900 that the Buckeyes have played a team for the second time in a season.
The only other occasion was 1975, when Ohio State demolished UCLA, 41-20 during the regular season, but lost, 23-10 in that season’s Rose Bowl.
Tuesday, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, QB Justin Fields, DT Davon Hamilton, WR K.J. Hill, WR Austin Mack and CB Jeff Okudah met with the media to recap the Michigan game and look ahead to Wisconsin.
You can watch those interviews in their entirety below, and find a full transcript of Day’s press conference at the bottom.
OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 3, 2019
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Day.
Q. Can you describe your thoughts and feelings when you saw Justin go down in the third quarter, not get up immediately.
RYAN DAY: Yeah, I was kind of numb at that point I think. Just trying to figure out what we were going to do if he wasn’t able to play for the rest of the game, trying to come up with solutions to the issue.
Then went up to him and kind of asked him what he thought. He looked up and said, Just put a brace on it, I’ll be fine.
Blew me away, looking at the shot he took, how tough he was, to come back and make a play like that, one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of.
Q. I know this is your first go-around through this whole thing. The month of December is kind of a hectic time because if you’re in the playoff you’re playing a game on the 28th, early signing period 10 days before that. Does having a full class right now give you any advantage over some of the other teams you might be facing? How do you plan to manage your time as a first-year head coach? This is an intense month for your future and the games you’re playing.
RYAN DAY: Yeah, I mean, the last couple years we’ve had the same issue. So been a part of that, seen what the blueprint is for that.
Certainly is a challenge because we have so many midyear guys coming in and only one week on the road, really only four days. It’s going to be a bear to try to get out there and see everybody, get all that done.
Mark is working hard on it, trying to get all the plans to go to make sure we maximize all the time. Other events going on during that week. It will be a race.
Q. What is the blueprint?
RYAN DAY: Well, just the fact that you have to that first week, make sure you do a good job getting out there recruiting, then figuring out what bowl game you’re in, managing your time, organizing the practices, that you’re ready to roll.
Q. There’s a situation where depending on how things shake out on Sunday they’re going to ask you, your higher ups, where you prefer. Does recruiting come into what site you prefer in terms of prospects you want or need?
RYAN DAY: I honestly don’t even have time right now to think about any of that. It’s all about trying to win this game. If we get to that point, we’ll kind of cross that bridge as we get there. That’s a good question for the administration and Gene right now. It’s trying to get a first down against Wisconsin right now.
Q. Justin Fields is such a good runner, you cannot afford to lose him. How difficult of a balance is that to walk as a play-caller?
RYAN DAY: You do everything you can to be successful. You know that you have to win games. It’s a must. So you do the things that put your guys in the best position to be successful schematically.
But then you also understand that there’s risk to it. You try to do the best you can to risk/reward it. It’s good to know that he’s so tough and he can handle that stuff.
There’s certainly risk that comes with it.
Q. Jonathan Cooper, as well, the plan is for him to redshirt. If you get banged up at defensive end, in the playoffs or national championship game, might you use him? Would it be his call? Could the plan change?
RYAN DAY: The plan won’t change, no. If left up to him, he probably would because he’s so competitive. He loves his teammates. But that’s something that the coaches have to get in front of and make sure, no, we don’t do that. He deserves to play a full senior year. I know he wants to. He was conflicted on what to do in this situation.
We think it’s the best thing to just hold tight, give him another year.
Q. You look at Wisconsin, you hear people say it’s hard to beat a team twice in the same year. Do you buy into it? What do you see when you look at them?
RYAN DAY: It will be really tough. It is. So much is the situation, when you played them, everything like that. But this is a very, very well-coached team.
Coach Chyrst I think is one of the best coaches not only in the conference but in the country. When you look at what he’s done, how many times they’ve been to this game, the staff, they do a great job.
Very, very well-coached. They’ve gotten better as the season has gone on. It’s going to be a big challenge, it’s going to be hard, go all the way to the fourth quarter. We need to have a great practice here.
Q. Weather was a factor in December, anything can happen. You’re going to be indoors. Do you welcome that?
RYAN DAY: Yeah, I mean, the situation is the same for both sides. It was in the first game. It will be in the second game. I will say that it’s nice to be playing indoors, though, after the last four weeks of kind of tough weather.
But, yeah, it will be the same for both sides. I don’t think there’s an advantage on either end.
Q. After what you said to me before you got on the bus the other day, going through that experience in that game, I know the pressure never relents, but do you feel lighter? Was a weight lifted off of your shoulders after winning that game? You said we had to win.
RYAN DAY: Yeah, I mean, there’s no if, and or buts. People say what if you don’t win the game. There’s no choice. You have to win the game. You don’t have a choice when you’re a Buckeye. You have to win that game.
Yeah, there’s a lot that came with that. After that game, there was a sigh of relief, but it didn’t last long. Once we crossed the border back into Ohio, it was on to the next game. That has to be the focus here.
Our message has been to the team that the end of the first race is coming on Saturday night at 8:00. We have to accelerate through that finish line. As much as these games have been emotional, emotional wins, big wins, they don’t mean anything if we don’t win this game.
That’s what’s great about playing like this in this format, the games get bigger as the season goes on. We have to do a better job of preparing this week.
Q. Chase has a couple times mentioned frustration with the plays where he feels like he’s getting held a lot. Have you guys at any time sent tape into the Big Ten to review the way he’s being blocked at times?
RYAN DAY: We do that as kind of a regular basis, send things in, get some back and forth with Bill Corollo, the staff there. Sometimes we agree on things, sometimes we don’t. It’s kind of part of the game, the back and forth there. I thought they did a good job with some of the things they did schematically. You kind of go back and forth with it.
But I think the referees do a good job. They can’t catch them all. They’re honest. There’s great feedback there. I think they’re very professional in how they go about their business.
Q. Chase has been up front as well that all he wants is the team to win. I know you would like to have him get more sacks. When he goes through a game like Saturday and doesn’t have one, does that surprise the coaching staff? Do you still see the impact you wanted on tape?
RYAN DAY: Yeah, no, I thought he played good. I thought they did a good job on some of the things they did. Later on when things changed up a little, he got a great hurry on Patterson. Had an impact on the second half, in my opinion. Took a shot. Those add up over time.
Again, his presence matters. Although sometimes maybe it doesn’t mean he’s getting sacks or TFLs, when two or three guys get the attention of him, that opens up things for other guys.
Coop getting a sack, that max protection where the whole line was sliding his way. That’s part of the impact Chase has on a game.
Q. You said you have to win them all. There’s talk out there today that you don’t have to win Saturday and make the playoff. There seems to be that kind of speculation going on. Your response to that? And then secondly, I think you’ve said this before, some variation of this, are you a big believer in conference champs should make it or not? Is that in an expanded playoff or with four?
RYAN DAY: Yeah, I mean, all I know is we have to go win this game for a lot of reasons. The Big Ten championship game is one of our goals year in and year out. So that’s just the focus.
Certainly, again, for me to speculate on all those things at this point right now doesn’t really matter. I know we got a great team. We just have to win this weekend. Everything will take care of itself if we do that, focus on that. The other speculation or talk, what if scenarios for us, for us, for me, doesn’t do us any good right now. Again, just focus on that finish line.
Q. Really winning the conference, is that a requirement do you think, should be for you?
RYAN DAY: I mean, for this team right now it is, yeah.
Q. After the Michigan game, after the win, did you feel more relief or happiness?
RYAN DAY: Relief, yeah. It wasn’t even close. I didn’t know what I would feel, but it was absolutely relief, yeah (smiling).
To say that I didn’t internalize a lot of emotions that week, leading up to that game, would not be accurate. A lot went into that. It’s not just me, it’s my family, it’s the staff, it’s this team. There’s just so much that goes into that.
Jeff Hafley, he said to me the next morning, Imagine walking in the Woody with all the signage up on the walls and not winning that game, have to walk by it 365 days, not winning that game. I said, I don’t even know what that would be like.
Yeah, there’s so much that goes into that, we play it year-round. To get that win the way we did means a lot.
Q. You mention you played opponents twice in the NFL. What kind of insight or does that give you an advantage or almost hamper you because you have so much information?
RYAN DAY: I think it’s how you handle it, finding that right balance of wrinkles, but also the things that our guys can play well, they can play with a clear mind.
In games like this, it comes down to players, not plays. But you also don’t want to get out-schemed. Giving them a good, clean plan with enough wrinkles is critical.
Q. One year ago tomorrow that you were named head coach. Your hair has not turned gray, as far as I can see. Can you reflect on what this year has been like for you. Season has gone great.
RYAN DAY: Again, I mentioned this early on, I really didn’t want to reflect on this until we get through that finish line because you just don’t think that’s the right thing to do at this point. I’m looking forward to reflecting on it, everything that’s gone on this year. But I don’t think now is the time. I really want to get this team ready, get the coaching staff ready to go win this game.
Q. Ohio State can win an outright Big Ten championship for the third straight year, first time it’s happened. What would that mean to the program?
RYAN DAY: I think it would be huge. I think it would be huge. To go win this thing undefeated would say a lot about our team. The last couple years there’s been that trip up along the way, then we had to rally to go win that. I thought that said a lot about the character of the program both last two years.
This one is a little bit different. Now it’s more about can we sustain this level of play throughout this regular season, now into this championship season. That’s the challenge.
That’s something that we’ve been focused on week in, week out. Now here we go. Head towards that finish line the last, you know, homestretch. Then after we get done with that we come up for air and figure out what’s next. All our eyes are on that finish line.
Q. Beating a team twice, pretty convincingly the last time you played them, why would it be tougher the second time around?
RYAN DAY: Well, they kicked our tails the first half on offense. The defense played good. But we didn’t do very good on offense. It was a close game. It was 10-7, right, at one point in the third. They blocked a punt.
I mean, that’s a good team. We kind of pulled away there at the end. That was a tough game. We know it’s going to be the same way.
They’ve done some different things here. They’ve made adjustments, adapted as the season has gone on. This is going to be a tough game now.
Q. It’s the time of the year where coaching jobs around the country start to open up, there’s a lot of speculation about who could be candidates for what. Asking hypothetically, if one of your coaches were to come to you with an opportunity they’d be interested in right now, how do you handle that in terms of balancing this focus and allowing those guys to pursue those things?
RYAN DAY: Yeah, I mean, one of the reasons that you come here is to be a part of this special family, but it also opens up opportunities for you down the road. I think it’s healthy and it’s good for families. I support that.
The one thing I’d ask is to those guys, if that situation were to come up, make sure we finish through this finish line first. We made a commitment to these guys. Most people who are looking for coaches at this time would understand that, what that means.
We got a lot of guys who want to be here. I don’t expect any changes or anything like that to come up, but it’s part of the profession.
Q. The recruiting question you’re getting, when maybe what you’re doing recruiting-wise next week is somewhat limited because you might be trying to win a national championship, isn’t that a good pitch, too? If we’re not seeing you as much, we’re busy doing this thing. How much does winning sell in recruiting?
RYAN DAY: I think it’s huge. This week everybody is on the road, we’re not. Talking to recruits this week and last night, I apologize, we’re not going to see you this week. Almost everyone to a person says, No, that is a good problem to have, coach. We’re glad you’re playing in that championship game. We get it.
That’s why you put so much work into recruiting leading up to this point. We recruit these kids so early on, the relationships are there. Then we’ll do everything we can next week to get out there and hustle around and see these guys.
But, yeah, I mean, certainly being in this spot is huge credibility in recruiting.
Q. What you guys did against Michigan the past two years, what you did offensively last year, this year, we know the defensive improvement is such a big part of why this team is so good. With what you’ve done offensively since you’ve been here, do you have to do that to be great in college football now? The pressure that your offense can put on opponents, we got to find a way to score somehow, not just to be good on offense, but to be a team that has a chance to win it all, must you be great and dynamic and high flying in offense?
RYAN DAY: Well, I think it definitely helps. I think it’s important when you start playing in games like this to play complementary football. I think if you look back at this game, there were times where early on they were moving the ball on us pretty good, but we were going shot for shot.
They held them to a field goal, they got a turnover in the red zone, we’re scoring. Then we go up a couple scores. They have to start throwing it more. Now it’s advantage us. There wasn’t the 50/50 mix. I think when you play complementary football like that, it really helps.
If you’re dominant on one side of the ball, you set yourself up for getting beat if you’re not on both sides of the ball. If you want to make a run at this thing, like you said, you have to be great. That’s the focus.
So it’s only good if you continue to do it week in and week out. You come out and lay an egg, you put yourself at risk. So I think not only on offense, but it’s important to be in all three phases.
Q. I know you’re not able to reflect on stuff while you’re in the heart of it. When you see your players and maybe your players with their family, for instance when they’re coming out of the stadium in Michigan, everybody is there with their parents, can you appreciate that? This is like living history of Ohio State right now, this era of Ohio State football, beating Michigan like this. What do you think when you see those players and those families being part of this Ohio State era?
RYAN DAY: That’s hard to explain. When I see it, it’s as good of a feeling that you could possibly have as a person. To think about the time we put into this thing to see that, then quickly to think about what this means in the history and tradition of this game, look at really what’s gone on the last couple years in this game, it’s very, very humbling.
Again, now is not the time to think about that. The minute I start thinking about that, we go right back to focusing on what’s going on right now. I think there’s time to sit back on that.
Yeah, when you look at what’s been done in the past, what’s been done this year and the year before in that game, it’s very humbling.
Q. You said on the conference call on Sunday about your three interior offensive linemen, you thought those three guys were maybe the best in the country. Josh, Jonah and (indiscernible), what makes you say something like that?
RYAN DAY: I just think first off their approach to the game is off the charts. They understand stuff. They communicate. They’re tough. They’re good in the run game, pass game. They finish guys.
If you follow them around during the game, just amazing the stuff that they do, the finishes and the knock-downs they get during the game.
They’re the tip of the spear on our offense. Everything goes through those guys. Their approach has been off the charts.
Q. You talk a lot about run game diversity. How much does the skill set, silly question, of your offensive line impact that? You have three interior guys who appear to be very athletic on top of all the other things, how much does that do for your offense?
RYAN DAY: It’s huge. It’s huge. It allows you to do so many things. Their ability, a lot of those guys last year spent a lot of time in pass protection because that’s what we did last year really. Now to see the transition to the run game, the ability to do both, that goes to speak to Coach Stud, what they’re doing in that offensive line room.
Q. Justin has been hurt in the last two games. Wisconsin did not score on you in the first half first time you played them. Would you give any thought to not starting him, giving him time to fully heal, seeing where you are at halftime, or sitting him the whole game?
RYAN DAY: No, not at all, no. He’ll be playing. We’ll use him all 60 minutes.
Q. On Paul Chryst, I know you watch film, you’re watching defenses. There’s no defense out there unless there’s an offense. Do you gather enough scouting defenses watching Wisconsin? I’d say you’re aggressive play-caller, fits your personality. You talk about toughness. I see evidence of how you call plays, the person you appear to be to us. Do you see evidence of him, a play-caller personality, anything there, admiration? What do you see in his style of play calling?
RYAN DAY: Yeah, I think again, I got a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Chyrst, how he does things. He has a system. He allows his kids to play in that system. He’s got enough wrinkles to keep you off balance.
But what he does, they’re very fundamentally sound. It’s just hard to find an inch on them because everything they do is so sound. They’re not going to run bad plays, bad looks. They’re not going to just give you the ball and turn it over. He’s been like that ever since he started coaching. That’s why they’ve been so successful.
It’s he and that whole coaching staff. He put together a great staff there in. All three phases they do an excellent job.
Q. Last three weeks you mentioned where you guys were picked pre-season. It kind of frosted you where you were picked. I wonder why. Is it a purposeful mentioning of that at this point in time that you feel like there’s a usefulness in it from a motivational standpoint? Maybe it ticks you off, people didn’t have faith in you?
RYAN DAY: Well, I think the only thing that catches me sometimes is that early in the pre-season, coming into the season, they didn’t think much of us. Then we do what we’re doing now, a lot of people don’t give these kids enough credit in my opinion.
A lot of people say they’re very talented. If they’re that talented, why didn’t you pick us that way early in the season? These guys deserve in my opinion a lot of credit for what they’ve done this season. Retooled the whole defense, retooled an offensive line, had a quarterback who never had a college start walking into the season. Right now we’re undefeated going to play for the whole thing. I think these kids deserve that.
When I hear people say they’re just talented, they’re not just talented, this is a team with great leaders, great toughness, great chemistry. The way they’re playing disciplined football, there’s so much that goes into that. They’ve worked really hard to have this opportunity. I think they deserve the credit.
Q. You take the talent level as kind of an insult?
RYAN DAY: A little bit. When I hear that, it’s the same talent that was here early in the season. They had us ranked low. What’s the difference now? But we do have a lot of talent. We have some great players on the team. They deserve the credit that’s coming their way.
Q. Is part of that, too, y’all had a first-time full-time head coach? A lot of people had questions. What have you proven yourself to this point? That’s part and parcel to what you’re talking about.
RYAN DAY: I don’t know about that. It’s about the players and this coaching staff really. They’re the ones who do it all. It’s all about the players.
I do think our coaching staff has done a good job on defense putting in the new system, new pieces to this thing. I think the offensive staff has done a good job adapting to a new group, taking on a new identity. I think Matt Barnes has done an excellent job on special teams.
Most importantly it’s the leaders. Any great team I’ve been on, it’s player driven. Whether it’s the seniors or guys who have been in the program for three and four years, their approach and maturity day in and day out has been the difference.
Q. You’ve talked about the feeling of relief on Saturday, watching the players and their joy. When did it snap into you there’s another huge game to play here now? Are you trying to portray the way you’ve adjusted to the players?
RYAN DAY: Well, that happened when we coming off the bye week. We said we had the Maryland-Rutgers game, then we knew we had this run right here. When we took that picture, we said if you beat Penn State you’re going to play for the Big Ten championship. There’s a rivalry game.
I think they have a bigger picture of that, perspective of what’s going on. They knew it was going to be tough, emotional, hard games in a row. We’re in it. They knew what to expect.
Now that we’re in it, it’s just the focus on the game right now. I think they’ve had some awareness of it and we’ll have a good practice this week.
Q. Had Archie Griffin on my podcast this week. He talked about the focus of this team, has been remarkable. How has it been to you from your vantage point? When did you become aware this team could do that?
RYAN DAY: I think it was gradually over time. I think that trip to Nebraska was a big challenge for us, just going on the road, kind of seeing where we were at. Then we kind of hit adversity in the Wisconsin game the first time. Then we started to build and build. The Michigan State game wasn’t perfect, but we kind of worked through that.
The Penn State game was really the big first hard spot we were in where we lost the momentum, we had to get it back. Top 10 win there. Then I think going into the rivalry game, playing the way we did, it’s just been gradual.
I can’t say it’s been one moment. As time has gone on, we felt more and more confident in who we are.
Q. Having the class almost full, relatively stress-free for the next two weeks. With all the coaching changes happening around the country, is there any sense of in the future saying let’s save a few spots towards the end just in case there’s guys that maybe pop or reopen up on the trail?
RYAN DAY: No, I don’t think it changes anything. I think we rank our guys the best we can, we find out who want to be Buckeyes, too. That’s a huge part of this thing. If we have somebody maybe ranked a little higher than another person, if one of them wants to be a Buckeye, wants to play in that rivalry game, play in the Horseshoe, that matters to us. We take all those things into consideration and we try to be as aggressive as we can on the recruiting trail.
There are times we leave spots open to see just what happens, to your point. But we were kind of hot this year. A lot of guys were jumping onboard. We felt great with the guys we have.
Q. How much has the transfer portal changed that approach? Is there a sense of in the future leaving one or two extra spots?
RYAN DAY: That’s changed things, for sure. There’s definitely wiggle room in there. You have to try to forecast the best you can. I know that’s a tough thing. It’s just the way it is nowadays.
We certainly don’t want to see anybody leave. I think we’ve built a culture here where nobody would want to leave. But we always have to forecast, yeah.
Q. (Question about Heisman campaigns and promoting players.)
RYAN DAY: I think this year has been unique for a lot of reasons. When you’re at Ohio State, such a high-profile place, it kind of speaks for itself. I don’t think you have to go out there and do a lot of campaigning when you’re playing in a rivalry game with 10s of millions of people watching. You get the chance to have an unbelievable platform here.
But I think the thing for these guys is because of the way the season has played out, maybe they haven’t had as many reps or opportunities as some of the other guys in the country. Their efficiency on the field to me has been the best in the country.
Joe and Jalen Hurts have had unbelievable years. I am not taking anything away from what they’ve done because those guys are playing tremendously. I just think Justin and Chase, all their own moments, have had Heisman moments and they deserve to go to New York.
Q. In addition, the emotional toll these last three weeks, physically, too. Justin has gotten banged up, secondary. How do you balance preparing for this game, getting the work done you need to, versus making sure everybody is as fresh as they can be and healthy?
RYAN DAY: I think when you’re going into this point of the season, you’re into December, you have a good idea where guys are at. They have to learn to practice, be smart, limit reps, do a good job mentally in a week like this. I think being fresh is critical.
The maturity of our team has to show up in a week like this. You have to be smart. Like you said, you can’t just treat it like it was week three of the season where you’re an inside drill, banging the heck out of each other at this point of the year. It’s a lot more mental. I think that’s important to be fresh.
Q. You’re playing for a championship this week. First thing you can actually win this year. There’s much bigger goals. The value of a conference championship to you and to this program?
RYAN DAY: Yeah, huge. I mean, to win this conference is a huge deal. I know it’s been done before, but we don’t take any of that stuff for granted for a second. There’s great teams, great coaches. It’s really hard to do.
That’s one of our goals. The first goal as we all know is to win the rivalry game. This is a huge goal of ours, as well. If we win the Big Ten championship, we know a lot of things have gone well, we’ve won a lot of big games. So this is certainly a huge goal for us.
Q. Another risk management question. You’ve talked about Justin’s toughness. You’ve gotten questions about how you approach play calling. Do you talk to him at all about how he’s approaching playing right now? Are the stakes so high right now, you have to trust the brace?
RYAN DAY: We talk. We talk. He gives me good feedback. We go back and forth about a lot of things like that. Yeah, we have a good relationship, have created a tremendous amount of trust between the two of us to figure out what’s right, like you said, what the plan is for this week.
Q. Last week, besides him getting medically cleared if that was an issue, did you need to see specific things from him during the week to know what he can do on Saturday?
RYAN DAY: Yeah, I mean, we kind of get an idea, maybe he’s a little banged up, but feeling good. He’s full go. We kind of go from there.