Ohio State looking to build confidence as it faces prohibitive underdog Akron
Saturday night’s Ohio State game is a prime-time one only in the literal sense.
The Buckeyes face Akron in their final non-conference contest before resuming Big Ten play. Considering that Ohio State is a 50-point favorite, it would be a major surprise if the outcome is in doubt for long. Akron is 1-2, with its sole victory coming last week when it scored the final three touchdowns after being tied in the fourth quarter with Bryant, an FCS program.
That doesn’t mean this is an unimportant game for the Buckeyes. After three games in which No. 10 Ohio State (2-1) has hardly looked dominant, a chance to roll over the Zips could provide a confidence boost.
“I don't think we're that far off,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said. “Sometimes it feels like we're really far away, but we're not, so we'll just keep pushing forward. But we also can't be fake. It can’t be fake confidence. It’s got to be real confidence because we’re going to get into conference play here really soon. It's going to get real.”
Day didn’t mention Akron by name in his Tuesday press conference. That might not have been intentional, but it also may have been revealing. This week isn’t about whether Ohio State is better than the Zips. It’s about whether the Buckeyes play how they expect.
“It's always a standard, about who we are,” Day said. “Our culture is built on one term: Fight. Fight to become the best version of yourself. This week, that has to be the focus. Nothing else. Simply be the best version of you, the best version of this team that we can be. And if we do that, then we just take the next step forward.”
So far, the Buckeyes haven’t been consistent in any aspect of their play except for the kicking game. The run game struggled against Oregon before TreVeyon Henderson ran for 277 yards against Tulsa to break Archie Griffin’s freshman record. But the Buckeyes threw for only 185 a week ago, almost 300 fewer yards than against the Ducks.
The defense hasn’t shut down anybody, prompting Day to in effect demote coordinator Kerry Coombs and assign secondary coach Matt Barnes the responsibility for making defensive calls.
“There's a lot of guys involved still,” Day said of the arrangement. “It's not like Matt's doing it on his own. (Defensive line coach) Larry (Johnson) has a big part. Kerry is still involved, and (linebackers coach) Al Washington. They come up with a game plan. I think we're headed in the right direction in terms of game-day operations.”
The Buckeyes have gone deep in their roster on defense trying to find the right combination of players. Some of those players are starting to emerge. Safety Cam Martinez played well, including a 61-yard interception return for a touchdown. Defensive tackle Tyleik Williams had a key sack.
If Ohio State wins by as much as oddsmakers expect, even more reserves could see meaningful action.
That could include at quarterback. C.J. Stroud has taken all the snaps this year, but he is battling a sore shoulder. As much as he could benefit from all the reps he can get, it might be more prudent to let Kyle McCord and/or Jack Miller to get playing time. Day said he’d like to see the backups see action, assuming they’ve earned it in practice this week.
For players who’ve been waiting for their chance to play, Saturday’s game might be their best shot.