Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields was worn out.
It was less than a half-hour after the Buckeyes’ win over Michigan State on Saturday night when he assessed the toll of the hard-fought bout against one of the Big Ten’s more physical teams.
“This is definitely the most banged up I've been after a game,” Fields said.
For that reason, Fields said the Buckeyes’ upcoming off week, their first of two during the regular season, was well-timed.
The gap on the schedule allows for extra rest. Fields’ teammates were likely to appreciate the chance as well.
Players were "a little battered" in the aftermath of the 34-10 victory, coach Ryan Day said when he met with reporters Tuesday afternoon.
As Day prepared the script for upcoming practices, he put his players' recovery atop his to-do list, among focusing on other areas for development.
“The way we're doing it is we're trying to get those guys healthy as best we can and be smart about it,” Day said. “But really focusing on enhancing the things guys are doing well and improving on the things they need to improve on.”
The Buckeyes usually hold physically demanding practices each Tuesday. But with wear and tear, some players were likely to see scaled-back workloads.
Day and his coaching staff said they were aiming for the right balance, weaving together two philosophies that are seemingly in conflict.
There’s old-school toughness. There’s also managing a roster for a season that could include as many as 15 games if the Buckeyes reach the Big Ten championship game and advance to the College Football Playoff final.
“We can take the foot off the accelerator and lose momentum, which happens a lot in open dates,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “You can also overpractice as a coach or as a player, push too hard. There's a balance.
“I think the kids that have the maturity and the coaches who can see the big picture can find that balance, where you get the team fresh. But we can also be fresh and stale. We don't want that. There’s a fine line there.”
The off week is slightly condensed, as well.
Because Ohio State next visits Northwestern on Oct. 18, a Friday night game rather than Saturday, the team will begin its first practice of game week a day earlier, on Sunday.
During a traditional off week, the team might be idle the entire weekend. The Buckeyes have a second off week in early November, with a full week off before facing Maryland on Nov. 9.
Rather than solely preparing for their game against Northwestern, the team was also in a “self-evaluation phase,” Day said.
He said his assistants were instructed to give players “tangible things” to work on.
“It may be something that's on the field,” Day said. “It might be something off the field. It might be something academically, something along those lines. But the idea is, what have we done well and what do we need to improve on?”
On the surface, it might be difficult to notice obvious areas for improvement.
The Buckeyes sit 6-0 and have climbed to No. 3 in the Associated Press poll, tied with Georgia. They rank No. 8 in the FBS in total offense, as well as No. 3 in total defense, the only team ranked in the top 10 in both categories, an indication of their balance.
Day said he couldn’t single out one area that needed improvement.
In fact, he said he liked the team’s chemistry and its toughness on offense and defense, especially from Fields, who took some tough hits against Michigan State.
But Day wants to see their resolve hardened.
“We have to keep building,” Day said. “Really, that game on Saturday night was the first time we played 60 minutes. We had to get that thing into the second half and go win the game in the second half. So that's going to be the challenge moving forward.”