Ohio State was tested by a trio of formidable opponents.
A comeback victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday night followed grudge matches with Michigan and Penn State in the previous weeks.
In each game, the Buckeyes prevailed, but didn’t emerge unscathed.
“We’re OK physically, to be honest,” coach Ryan Day said, “but I think emotionally and mentally, we need a little break.”
The Buckeyes will get one, as 21 days will elapse between the conference title game and their upcoming game against Clemson on Dec. 28 in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff.
Their past three opponents were all ranked in the top 15 of the final playoff rankings and required quick turnarounds — none more so than in the aftermath of a blowout win over archrival Michigan on Thanksgiving weekend.
Center Josh Myers recalled it as a “super emotional win for all of us,” coming a week before a rematch with the Badgers required a shift in their focus.
It wasn’t easy.
“To turn around and physically try to get to where we need to be and also be mature enough to put the emotions of that game behind us and look forward to the game we had ahead, it's a challenge,” Myers added.
The Badgers were eighth in the final rankings, the highest-ranked team they had faced.
“What it takes to go win a game like that after the couple games we had leading up to it is just not easy to do,” Day said. “It was truly March Madness. It was like playoff football. So now they need some time away just to kind of catch their breath and get re-energized.”
With a three-week gap until their semifinal game in the Fiesta Bowl, Day said the Buckeyes will treat this week like an off week and the following week like a game week, then allow players to return home before traveling to Phoenix for a final week of preparation.
The matchup with Clemson is expected to be the Buckeyes’ toughest test, as the defending national champion Tigers are also unbeaten through 13 games this season. It could be the first time Ohio State is an underdog as some of the early point spreads installed the Tigers as slight favorites.
Some rest will allow Ohio State players to recover from injuries, most notably quarterback Justin Fields, who suffered a sprained knee ligament against Penn State and has worn a bulky brace since it was aggravated against Michigan.
Fields was hampered enough by the injury in the Big Ten championship game that Day said they opted against calling any designed runs for him.
If he ran, it was because he scrambled once a pass attempt failed to materialize.
“That was fighting a little bit with one hand behind our back,” Day said.
White absent for
Reserve safety Brendon White did not travel with the Buckeyes for Saturday’s game for personal reasons.
Day did not offer an explanation and was unable to confirm if White might be available against Clemson.
He planned to sort out White’s status this week.
“We’ll sit down, have a conversation and go from there,” Day said.
White, a junior, gave a jolt to the Buckeyes defense late last season, including winning defensive MVP in the Rose Bowl, but he has seen his playing time decline this fall.
In 10 games, White has been on the field for 173 snaps, according to a tally from Pro Football Focus. He saw 472 snaps in nine games last season.