So far Ryan Day’s tenure as head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes is going pretty well.
Not only is his team undefeated, it is also leads the nation in multiple statistical categories, including scoring defense, passing yards allowed, red zone defense and third-down conversions on offense.
Even before the Buckeyes were revealed as the No. 1 team in the first College Football Playoff rankings this week, they were being talked about as the best team in the nation.
Multiple computer rankings have them No. 1, as do the SP+ rankings from Football Outsiders now at ESPN.
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Regarded as an advanced offensive mind, Day has gotten credit for tweaking predecessor Urban Meyer’s attack to fit the current personnel while the defense has thrived in a mostly new scheme.
But what if all of that is secondary to a more simple concept?
Are the Buckeyes off to such a great start simply because they are having a good time?
“I think that is the one thing that’s different about this team from the previous year,” defensive tackle Jashon Cornell said. “Previous years, I feel like we were so stiff, but this year, we’re just letting it loose and letting the bullets fly.”
The fifth-year senior who is enjoying a career year confirmed fun is part of the winning formula from his point of view.
“We’re enjoying playing with each other,” Cornell said. “You can see what we have in the locker room now is really different. Like, the love that we have for each other, the love we have for our brothers, we just want to go out there, have fun and play ball. And I feel like that’s what one one thing that we’re doing this year from previous years like we’re letting them loose.”
Of course, that is a common goal for coaches.
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Especially at the college level, getting players to play hard without pressing is an important objective, and it can be the most challenging aspect of the job — especially at a place like Ohio State where talent is rarely an issue.
While Meyer was known for his mastery of the psychology of the game, he also had a certain intensity that burned hot all the time.
A year after getting back to the CFP and measuring up to defending national champion Alabama seemed to hang over every game until the Buckeyes were upset by Purdue and scuffled through most of the second half of the season, the mood at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center has been notably lighter.
Entering the year with lower expectations — at least from the outside — probably helped, but there can be little doubt Day’s different personality has had an impact.
He confirmed having fun has been a focus of his for his team — and explained how that task evolves from month to month.
“I think there’s a flow to that,” Day said. “What I mean by that is at different times of the season, fun is different. When you’re having a mat drill (workout) at 5 in the morning on March 15th or something like that, or you’re having a preseason meeting at 8 at night Aug. 7th, you can find ways to make that fun for the guys.
“We always want to make sure those guys always leave here wanting more. They enjoy coming through the building, feel confident about their relationships here, it’s an environment where they feel safe, want to come in and have fun every day, enjoy that.”
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Eight games into the season with the stretch run upon them, the focus is a little different.
“Fun is winning,” Day said. “Fun is being part of a team working towards a goal, working through adversity, those type of things. Not silly, goofy fun. There’s a difference.
“We’ve worked hard to get ourselves to this point. We owe it to each other to make sure we’re locked in on that.”
•Fox Sports confirmed Wednesday afternoon what has been expected: Ohio State’s highly anticipated clash with Penn State will kick off at noon at Ohio Stadium.
The network has put an emphasis on placing its highest-profile game at noon each week this season, so the annual game between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions was presumed to be an early start since both teams made it to the midway point of the season undefeated.
The network will bring its pregame show — including Meyer as a cast member — to Columbus for the second time this season and begin broadcasting outside the stadium at 10 a.m. (The show also originated from Central Ohio prior to the Buckeyes’ beatdown of Wisconsin on Oct. 26.)
The Nittany Lions, who take on fellow unbeaten Minnesota on the road this weekend, are No. 4 in the CFP rankings while the Golden Gophers are 17th.
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