“I know moving forward, we’re going to play loose. We’re going to be aggressive, and we’re gonna go at people.”
Those were the words of Ohio State head coach Ryan Day following the announcement that his Buckeyes had made the College Football Playoff.
Following the loss to Michigan, the Buckeyes needed help to get into the playoff, and they got it when Utah defeated No. 4 USC in the Pac 12 Championship Game.
A second life was breathed back into the Ohio State program, and with that second life, Day said there’s no reason to be cautious any longer.
His quarterback CJ Stroud agrees.
“I mean if you want to win, that’s what you got to do,” Stroud said. “You can’t go in there timid or second guessing yourself. You’ve got to really just let it loose, let it hang and go all out. So I mean, that’s kind of how we’ve been practicing lately these last couple of days. Been really competitive and a lot more good-on-good. So it was kind of just getting us ready for that moment and those plays to be made.”
But being aggressive and loose will only take you so far against the No. 1-ranked team in the nation. Georgia has the best defense in college football, so the Buckeyes are going to have to execute as well as they have all season.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has one of the best passing attacks in college football. They can stress any defense through the air, even Georgia. It’s a challenge that Stroud is looking forward to.
“Those guys do a great job of being really, really good in man, press man, off man, zone coverage,” Stroud said. “They really can do it all. So it’ll be a test for us and it’ll be fun. I know they’re looking forward to it, and we are as well. It’ll be a good matchup. I know everybody who is a college football fan has been waiting for this matchup since last year. So I know it’ll be a lot of emotions, a lot of fun, really. So I tip my hat off to those guys, watching on film, they do a lot of good things. Good communicators and things like that, so we’ve got to be on our A game.”
Ryan Day wanted his Buckeyes to stay busy the week after the loss to Michigan in case they found their way into the playoff. He didn’t want his team to become disengaged, so they had two practices that week while they waited to find out their final destination.
As you would expect, the mood at the OSU football facility wasn’t great. Guys were down. They had just lost to Michigan and they thought their title hopes were gone.
“I think we only had like a couple practices, just to keep that edge. But I mean, it’s tough,” senior safety Tanner McCalister said. “It’s tough coming back on the field knowing the last time you were on the field you lost the big game, so it was definitely tough.”
Rather than just go through the motions, however, sophomore defensive end JT Tuimoloau urged his team not to waste any opportunity to get better as a team.
“JT, he stood in the middle of us before our one of our first practices and basically told us, ‘Hey, there’s still a possibility. Let’s not feel sorry for ourselves. Let’s try to get better today,'” McCalister said. “Those practices ended up being pretty good practices, to be honest, after JT stood up. The young guy stood up and expressed how he was feeling about our possibility to play in the College Football Playoff.”
Why did Tuimoloau feel the need to speak up?
“It was more just a conversation with myself and my family,” Tuimoloau explained. “Being a kid, a young buck, being kind of shy, it was just something I felt like, and something God pretty much just told me one day like, ‘Hey, this is your chance to bring the team back together.’ I took that chance and ran with it.”
Tuimoloau has been a starter all year long for the Buckeyes, but as a true sophomore, he has allowed others to lead. By this point, however, the true leaders are the guys who make the plays. That is where JT Tuimoloau is now, even as a sophomore, and his teammates have taken notice.
“All the guys in this program are pretty much my motivation,” he said. “It was something I felt like we just needed to get back on track, and these boys push me to go my hardest and bring out the best me every day. I feel like it’s being a young buck and being around them, I know what we are as a team, and I know what we can bring. So I just want to come in and just reiterate that the job’s not finished.”
Georgia All-American defensive tackle Jalen Carter is expected to be a top-five NFL Draft pick next spring. This season, he has produced 29 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, and 3.0 sacks while dealing with an ankle injury.
Carter is healthy now, and has shown it down the stretch as all seven of his TFLs have come in the last five games — including two against LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
He’s a different player than he was earlier in the season, and he was a pretty good player back then too.
“Yeah, he’s pretty good, I think,” Ohio State center Luke Wypler said facetiously when asked about him. “That’s what people are telling me, so yeah, they got a good team over there. And I think we’re all really excited to be able to play them. So it’s gonna be a great matchup for us.”
Wypler has been one of the Big Ten’s best centers in each of his two years as a starter for the Buckeyes. He hasn’t seen too many defensive tackles like Carter in that time, however.
“I think he has great understanding of football, you can kind of tell he has a great football IQ,” Wypler explained. “He also was able to kind of freelance a little bit in their defense and be able to make plays. And that’s one of the things I see. He’s a great player. Has great ability, great strength, great power, speed, you name it. He knows how to work his hands. It’s gonna be a great test for our offensive line, and I think we’re all really excited to have that opportunity.”
Georgia’s defensive front has led the way as the Bulldogs have secured the nation’s top run defense and No. 2 scoring defense. Wypler has long known that games are won and lost up front, but this one is going to take their best effort.
“Yeah, I think for us, as an offensive line, we approach it as if we do what we’re supposed to do and use our technique, that nobody can really beat us,” he said. “I think we’ve shown that this year where when we do the things the right way and the way they should be done and we’re all on the same page, it’s hard to stop our offense.
“And for us that’s kind of one of the things that we take pride in, is how can you do your job more consistently? Especially as this year has gone on and the weeks start growing and growing, so for us, we know he’s a great player and he’s gonna have a hell of a career the next level, so it’s how can we out-execute him play in and play out.”