Keep pushing

Bye week, soft schedule threaten OSU's intensity

Bill Rabinowitz
The task for coach Ryan Day over the next three weeks is to keep Ohio State focused on improving before ending the regular season against Penn State and Michigan. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

Through eight games, Ohio State’s season has been close to perfect.

The Buckeyes have routed every opponent, winning by an average of more than 40 points. They are ranked third in the national polls and are within reach of being No. 1. And three of their players are regarded as Heisman Trophy candidates.

Yes, these are heady times for the Buckeyes. The key is for it not to go to their heads.

Now is a tricky time for that. Ohio State is off this week, and its next two opponents, Maryland and Rutgers, pose little threat.

Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter

The Buckeyes have done an impressive job retaining their focus amid the blowouts. That could be challenged before the schedule ramps up with showdowns against No. 5 Penn State and No. 14 Michigan to end the regular season.

“It's important to stay focused right now,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Tuesday in his weekly news conference. “If they're reading the hype, if they're reading all that stuff, then they're more foolish than I thought they would be. I don't think our guys are going to do that. I think we're just going to work every day to get better.”

Day said that the higher the Buckeyes ascend, the steeper and more painful a fall would be.

“We're not going to get anxious about that,” he said. “But we also know that we've got a bigger bull's-eye on our chest week in and week out. We have to work harder and harder, and we're more and more invested every week. But this has been something we've been talking about for a long time. We expected to be in this situation. Now we have to act accordingly, and what that means is just staying locked in.”

Most of the Buckeyes were on the teams that lost to Iowa in 2017 and Purdue last year, both of which derailed their national championship hopes. They don’t need to be reminded.

“I think it's really important to maintain that focus because we've seen in the past, one week can ruin your whole season,” junior cornerback Jeff Okudah said.

As flattering as the Heisman talk is, it also could prove to be a distraction. Chase Young thrust himself into the Heisman conversation with a four-sack performance in the 38-7 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday. Quarterback Justin Fields and running back J.K. Dobbins are also contenders for college football’s top individual prize.

On Tuesday, Day fielded 43 questions. Eight referenced the Heisman.

“You come to Ohio State and you're a tailback (or) you're a quarterback, you should be in the Heisman Trophy conversation,” Day said. “Now for Chase, that's a different deal, and he's obviously a special player, and hats off to him to even be brought up in something like this.

“I think if you ask those guys, they'll tell you that they're not worried about individual accolades at all. It's all about a singular goal, and that's winning championships. If we do, then I think there's going to be a lot of those things to go around, because that wasn't one of our goals.”

Fields stuck to that script.

“I’m not really worried about that right now,” the sophomore said of the Heisman. “I’m just worried about winning. If you lose one game, that really goes out the window. I’m not really focused on individual accolades.”

The Buckeyes have had that mindset all season. As the hype builds around their success and their stars’ Heisman chances, it’ll be crucial for that to continue.

“There's going to be a lot of people talking about it, but that's why you come here," Day said. "And if you can't handle that, then you shouldn't be at Ohio State.”


Listen to the BuckeyeXtra Football podcast: