Former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel used to say that September was for pretenders and November was for contenders. Well, if you haven’t noticed, we’re smack dab in the middle of November, and the contending is going on non-stop.
Current Buckeye head coach Ryan Day has said in the past that he wants the Buckeyes playing their best ball in November. It’s a common-sense progression, and it’s no different than what every other college football coach is saying.
The difference, however, is that Day may be one of the few coaches whose team is actually hitting that target.
The Ohio State offense — and starting quarterback Kyle McCord — had their best half of football last week in the first two quarters against Michigan State. The Buckeyes put 35 points on the board in the first half against the Spartans, scoring touchdowns on five of their six first-half drives. They’ve only scored more than five touchdowns in a game twice previously this year, which is an indication that things are taking a turn for the best.
Running back TreVeyon Henderson, receiver Emeka Egbuka, and tight end Cade Stover have each returned from injury over the past three weeks. McCord continues to grow as a starter. More weapons are constantly emerging, such as receivers Xavier Johnson, Julian Fleming, and Carnell Tate, and tight end Gee Scott. Plus there’s always the big gun of Marvin Harrison, Jr. waiting to fire.
When Day was asked if his offense is playing its best ball right now, he didn’t want to put a label on it, but he also didn’t mind running through everything that is going well for the offense.
“I think the first half you saw some efficient play,” he said. “Finished drives. Third downs. Red zone. I though there were some very well-executed plays. I thought the reverse to Marvin was really well-executed. I thought there was just a bunch of plays protection wise that gave Kyle some time. Timing of throws pretty high level. The second touchdown to Marvin, the throw and catch was excellent.
“TreVeyon stepped up in a big way and helped the protection. But he did a nice job on two or three of the plays. Actually, two of the touchdown passes to Marvin, he did a really nice job in protection. And that was the most excited guy on the field, which goes to show you his unselfishness and how he’s getting better every game as an all-purpose player. But, I mean, I think you see what we’re capable of. And it was good to see us play a full half right there and play and execute. And again, finished with a two-minute drive there. So all those things are encouraging at this point.”
Over the course of most of this season, this has not been the high-scoring offense that we’ve seen since Day got to Ohio State in 2017. Currently, the Buckeyes are scoring 33.3 points per game, which is well below the 40-point mark they’ve been each season since 2017.
But there are signs that things are picking up, and it couldn’t be happening at a better time.
Defensively, the “picking up” has never stopped. The Buckeyes have been one of the top defenses in the nation all season long. They are currently No. 2 in scoring defense (9.9 ppg), No. 1 in scoring defense against ranked opponents (15.0 ppg), No. 4 in total defense (262.2 ypg), and No. 2 in yards per play allowed (4.04 ypp).
What ever metric you’d like to use, you’ll see the Buckeyes near the top.
But does Jim Knowles think his defense is playing its best ball right now?
“I’d say so. I’d say so,” he said on Wednesday. “Gave up I think it was two explosive plays last game. You know, so I would say yes. But you have to keep getting better. I mean, that’s the thing again about football. I mean, it’s got to always be going [in an upward trajectory], you know, you can’t say, ‘Oh, okay, we were playing our best in November, so let’s just stay at our best,’ because if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards.”
Getting both sides of the ball to be firing like this wasn’t just something that the coaches started thinking about back in October. It begins in February in the weight room and doesn’t stop, especially once the team reaches November.
With every goal still in sight, the plan has been working. The first two steps of that plan according to Day was to go 1-0, then win the next 10. Minnesota is up next on Saturday, so there can be no let up at this point.
Especially when everybody knows that the next goal looms right around the corner in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“We know that we want to be playing our best football in November,” Day said. “And you can go through the season where the days seem long, but the weeks go by real fast, and then here you are at the end of the season. And so urgency has to be at an all-time high.
“We know we’ve got to be on point and we’ve got to be playing our best right now. And I think the guys feel that, they understand that. And so we’ve got to be better than everybody else in the country at just focusing on maximizing ourselves, doing a great job preparing for Minnesota, and ignoring everything else that comes around this time of year.”