OSU thrives on intense practices

Bill Rabinowitz
Ohio State coach Ryan Day believes that playing with intensity in games on Saturdays "doesn't just happen magically. You can't just give the team a really good speech and get them all fired up to play the game. It comes back to their training."

The temperatures soared above 90 degrees on Tuesday, and the Ohio State football team wore full pads on the practice field.

The Buckeyes’ latest rout — 48-7 over Nebraska on Saturday — was already a memory. No. 4 Ohio State (5-0) was already full steam ahead in preparation for No. 25 Michigan State. The Spartans have twice ruined Buckeyes championship hopes this decade. Their identity is based on toughness.

That’s always been a part of Ohio State’s, as well, but there seems to be extra emphasis on it this year under coach Ryan Day. It begins each week with a rugged practice on Tuesday.

“We pride ourselves on Tuesday practices,” quarterback Justin Fields said. “We call it Bloody Tuesday.”

It’s less bloody for Fields because quarterbacks are off-limits from tackling. But practice is intense.

Defensive co-coordinator Jeff Hafley came from the NFL, where small roster size and league rules limit how physical practices are. He was taken aback when he first got to Ohio State and saw the practice standard.

“They’re hard,” he said. “I mean, they’re really hard. The first couple I had, I looked at (strength coach) Mick (Marotti) and I was like, ‘Man, are we gonna be all right?’ And he kind of just laughed at me. He said, ‘We’re going to be just fine.’”

It’s not just the intensity. Much of practice involves starters going against starters. It’s the iron-sharpens-iron theory. You get better by going against the best.

“So it’s our wideouts going against our DBs,” Hafley said. “It’s our O-line going against our D-line. It’s trying to defend Justin Fields. So that’s what makes it very hard.

“And then we push them. I mean we do. (Day) always talks about toughness. That’s where it comes from. In my opinion, you win and lose games today and tomorrow (Wednesdays).”

In 2012, Urban Meyer’s first year as coach, some veteran players pleaded with him to cut back on the practice intensity because they feared they wouldn’t have enough left for games. Meyer didn’t relent much. Now, it is simply part of the way the Buckeyes do business.

Fields and Hafley said players don’t grumble about the intensity of Tuesday practices. There are plenty of breaks to catch their breath and hydrate. And they're needed.

“I think the culture here is special,” Hafley said. “And that’s what I saw when I got here.”

Day said that he and his coaches are selective in how much starters go against starters in practice. The goal isn’t a bloodbath. But Day doesn’t want his players easing into the week.

“I believe that if you’re going to play hard and play tough on Saturday, it doesn’t just happen magically,” he said. “You can’t just give the team a really good speech and get them all fired up to play the game. It comes back to their training.

“I think sometimes guys think, ‘Well, I’m just going to get all juiced up before the game and then I’m going to go play really hard.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

It might be especially important this week against Michigan State. Coached by former OSU assistant Mark Dantonio, the Spartans are 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten East. Michigan State has beaten the Buckeyes three times this decade, including upsets in 2013 and 2015 that denied Ohio State a chance at the national championship.

“We’ve got another big challenge ahead of us,” Day said. “(Michigan State has been) one of the most well-coached teams not only in the Big Ten but the country for a long time. I’ve got a lot of respect for (Dantonio), his staff and his history. …

“Obviously, the history of what they’ve done against Ohio State is something that all of our guys are going to be aware of this week as we go to work in practice.”

If the Buckeyes’ plan works the way as intended, the Tuesday's practice might have been harder than Saturday’s game.


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