Ohio State football: Big picture still Day’s focus after another so-so performance

COLUMBUS — Ohio State looked better in its second game than its first.

Typically that is the goal of a head coach and the hope of fans.

The Buckeyes’ 35-7 win over Youngstown State was as dominant an effort either might expect against a team from the FCS, but Ryan Day did not seem interested in apologizing when it was over.

“We’re building this thing for the long run, and we have high expectations,” the fifth-year Ohio State head coach said Saturday. “We want to be perfect. We know what we need to be. So we’re not accepting anything other than excellence, and we know what that looks like.”

In previous seasons, that looked like 45 points per game.

Ohio State has been an offensive juggernaut since Urban Meyer took over as head coach in 2012 and then passed the baton on to Day in 2019.

Typically those teams have been high-scoring out of the gate, too, but so far the 2023 Buckeyes are averaging 29 points per game as they break in a new starting quarterback, new center and two new offensive tackles.

On the other hand, the defense allowed almost 23 points per game in the past three seasons (after allowing only 13.7 in Day’s first at the helm), so there are some definite positives on that side of the ball even if much tests await.

“It isn’t just one week,” Day said. “So we’re building towards that. The guys are into it. They know what it takes.

“We’ve been in the situation where early in the season it feels like, ‘OK, we’re going to the national championship.’ It doesn’t work that way. We have to build the foundation the right way for the long haul, and I think our guys have bit into that and understand it. So we just need another great week of work this week and to keep pushing and learning and getting these guys as many reps as we can.”

Of particular interest is the offensive line improving.

Day expressed less patience for that group after multiple penalties wiped out big plays against the Penguins.

“We’ve got to get it fixed now,” Day said. “There were some good things for sure, but it’s just the consistency. We can do it. I know we have the talent. So we have to look at what we’re doing schematically and make sure it’s not too complex because all we ask them to do is play with effort and execute. Those are the two things we focused on all week.”

Although Day expressed an interest in establishing the run, the Buckeyes did more of their damage through the air in Week 2, attempting 33 passes while running 25 times (plus two sacks).

The total ground output wasn’t impressive — 123 yards — but their 4.6-yard average was respectable.

For a second week in a row, Ohio State used multiple backs and tried a variety of running schemes with varying success.

If the creativity is helping or hurting the attack is an open question, but that could just be part of the early-season feeling out process.

“We have to identify if we’re doing the right things with them and where the breakdowns are coming from,” Day said. “That’s the coaching.”

Day is also breaking in a new offensive coordinator in Brian Hartline while dealing with fewer plays on offense because of a change in the clock rules (time continues ticking after first downs) and trying to get quarterbacks Kyle McCord and Devin Brown up to speed.

If it all comes together before a Sept. 23 game at Notre Dame is the biggest question at this point, but first Ohio State will get a visit from Western Kentucky at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

The Hilltoppers are 2-0 after beating Houston Christian (an FCS team like Youngstown State) 52-22 on Saturday.

They opened with a 41-24 win over South Florida and are averaging 327 yards passing per game, but only two teams have allowed more rushing yards on the season (264.5).

Phil Steele picked the Hilltoppers to win Conference USA while rating Austin Reed the league’s top quarterback and Malachi Corley one of its best receivers.

Reed threw four touchdown passes last week, including a 20-yarder to Blue Smith, a Wayne High School graduate who previously played at Ohio State and Cincinnati.


Western Kentucky at Ohio State, 4 p.m., Fox, 1410

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