Day previews showdown with Penn State


COLUMBUS — Fresh off a dominant win at Purdue to improve to 6-0, the work week is underway for No. 3 Ohio State as it prepares for a massive showdown with No. 7 Penn State (6-0) on Saturday in Ohio Stadium.

On Tuesday, head coach Ryan Day met with the media to preview the battle of two undefeated teams, which will go a long way in determining the Big Ten championship and, eventually, the conference’s representative in the College Football Playoff.

Both teams come into the game featuring defenses that rank among the best in the country statistically. None have been better than Penn State, however, as the Nittany Lions ranked first nationally in team defense with a yards-per-game average of just 197 yards. Its 13 forced turnovers also rank among the best in the country, underscoring the formidable task Day, quarterback Kyle McCord, and the Ohio State offense will have in front of them.

“This challenge that we have this week is gonna be a big one,” Day said. “This is a very good team, very good defense. It’s certainly well-documented that they’re the best defense in the country statistically and have a lot of guys returning off of last year’s team. (McCord) knows we have to have a great week, but that’s for everybody on the team. We have to have a great week of preparation, obviously.”

Despite Penn State’s defense having faced few challenges given its light schedule to date, Day said he has a good feel for what his offense will be up against simply from looking at the difficulties Penn State posed last year and the number of guys returning from that unit.

“You can see the turnovers they’re creating,” Day said. “And they’ve still played against some solid teams. It’s not like they haven’t played against anybody. They’ve played against some Big Ten teams, and you can just see the one-on-one matchups. And again, coming off of last year, these guys have played before. There are some veteran guys on that side of the ball. They’re a very good defense.”

Day later added, “This will be our biggest challenge to date. They’re very twitchy, very quick. They get after the quarterback at a high level. Both (defensive) ends are NFL players for sure, and they’ve been very productive and disruptive. Our tackles, in particular, are going to have to do a great job. Penn State is creative in how they align guys, and they do a lot of moving and blitzing. We have to be on our game, but it’s been like that against Penn State for a long time.”

While the Penn State defense has led the way midway through the season, its offense is still trying to find solid footing, much like Ohio State. Led by second-year quarterback and Medina, Ohio native Drew Allar, the Nittany Lions rank 42nd in total offense. Allar has been solid in his first season as a starter, throwing for 1,254 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he is yet to throw an interception.

Explosive plays have been an issue for Penn State, however, as it ranks last in the country in plays of 20 or more yards. Such a trend will need to change if Penn State is to leave Columbus on Saturday still undefeated, but Day knows the capability is there with the talent of Allar.

“I think he’s done a good job in his first year,” Day said of Allar. “He’s had poise, he’s a big and strong quarterback who leads the team well, manages the game well, and has a good makeup. I think he has a bright future ahead of him.”

Perhaps the biggest storyline for Ohio State in the days leading up to kickoff will be the collective health of the team after it missed several key contributors on offense last week with the absences of receiver Emeka Egbuka and running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams. Running back Chip Trayanum was also forced out of the game in the first half and didn’t return.

Defensively, cornerback Denzel Burke was forced out of the game as well, further adding to the injury concerns Ohio State faces ahead of a crucial contest.

Day declined the opportunity to discuss the statuses of certain individuals on Tuesday but said he’s “hopeful” to get some guys back by Saturday.

Regardless of who is on the field for Ohio State, Day had a message for fans who will pack Ohio Stadium, imploring them to make life difficult for Penn State.

“This is one of those games where we have to really create a hostile environment for Penn State, their offense in particular,” Day said. “When we’re really loud in the stadium anytime their offense has the ball, it makes it very difficult to operate, whether it be the communication, the snap count, and all of those things. The louder we can be — it doesn’t matter if it’s third down, red zone, or short yardage —the louder and more hostile we can be, it’s advantage Buckeyes. That’s one of the things I’ll be talking about a lot this week. It’s a big game, we get them here in the ‘shoe, so let’s make it as loud as we can.”

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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