After a week off, Ohio State is back to its game week preparation and set to face undefeated Maryland on Saturday at noon.
Head coach Ryan Day met with the media Tuesday for the first time since the win at Notre Dame. Here are a few thoughts from his comments and those of Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.
Ohio State fans held their breath when Harrison went down against Notre Dame after blocking for TreVeyon Henderson’s 61-yard touchdown run. After leaving the game with a sprained ankle, Harrison returned to the field and finished the game.
After more than a week off for the Buckeyes’ top receiver, Day said he expects Harrison to be a full participant in practice.
This isn’t a big surprise. Harrison made an appearance last week in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center while the media were conducting interviews and caught some balls on the indoor field with fellow receivers Xavier Johnson and Reis Stocksdale.
He’ll be a key piece for the Buckeyes’ hopes of staying undefeated against a talented Maryland team. Harrison had five receptions for 68 yards against the Terrapins last season in a 43-30 win in College Park.
Which stat does Jim Knowles care the most about?
There was a time when Knowles’ thought process as a defensive coach was geared toward how he could generate more sacks and negative plays.
But as college football has changed, Knowles has, as well. Now the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator is guided by three stats when determining the success of his unit.
The first two: third and fourth down conversion rate. Ohio State is ranked No. 50 in the FBS in third down conversion defense (35.7 percent) and 16th nationally in opponent fourth down conversion rate (33.3 percent).
The third focus is explosive plays. The Buckeyes have been good about that in the passing game, having given up just three completions of 30 yards or more and no gains of more than 40 yards. Ohio State is third nationally in explosive play rate, which includes runs of over 12 yards and completions of over 16 yards. Ohio and Iowa allow explosive plays at a lower rate than Ohio State’s 6.9 percent.
Keeping that up will be particularly important on Saturday when standout quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa leads the Terps into Ohio Stadium.
Will Ohio State use the quarterback sneak?
Struggles converting on third-and-short might be Ohio State’s biggest offensive flaw right now. The Buckeyes are an underwhelming 5 of 11 (45 percent) on any play that is third-and-2 or closer in. Day would rather see that conversion rate above 80 percent.
A popular potential remedy among Ohio State fans is the quarterback sneak. The play has become even more prevalent in the NFL, thanks to rule clarifications empowering teammates to help push a runner forward. Day said Ohio State has it in the game plan, but the decision to call it comes down to game situation.
“With Justin (Fields), we did it a lot. He could move the pile,” Day said. “We’ve practiced it. If we think it gives us a chance, we’ll do it.”
Quarterback Kyle McCord, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, is big enough to run the sneak, but Ohio State hasn’t given him a chance to do so. Day said that short yardage situations can also come down to matchups.
“There’s always going to be extra people toward the ball. You have to win your matchups whether you’re on offense or defense,” Day said. “Sometimes you just have to be bigger and stronger than the other guy, move them. Other times getting the ball on the perimeter or throwing down the field when you’re banging your head against the wall. In big games, a lot of it comes down to short yardage.”
It’s obvious from Day’s tone that he’s frustrated with Ohio State’s inability to convert on third-and-short. And it’s no coincidence that Ohio State’s offense was at its best against Western Kentucky, a game in which it converted 100 percent of its third-and-short chances.
Day doesn’t comment further on Lou Holtz
Day’s comments after the win against Notre Dame regarding Lou Holtz have been well-documented in the last 10 days. Despite Holtz doubling down and saying that Ohio State won’t be a “great team” this season, Day chose not to comment further Tuesday.
He said he’s proud to be 2-0 against Notre Dame and that he got a good response from Ohio State fans and his team.
“(The fans) love the passion our team played with,” Day said.
Choosing when to say something in public and when not to, Day said, is something coaches have to learn.
“There’s a lot of times when you have to take the high road. That’s going to be done a majority of the time, but I also know it’s Ohio against the world,” Day said. “Our guys also know there’s times when you have to stand up for what you need to believe in.”
(Photo of Marvin Harrison Jr.: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)