COLUMBUS — To paraphrase Woody Hayes, sometimes nothing cleanses the soul like a good butt-kicking.
The Hall of Fame Ohio State coach meant his team, but for Ryan Day it might work the other way this week.
Taking Western Kentucky behind the woodshed for a 63-10 victory on Saturday could do wonders for the Buckeyes’ mindset as they turn their attention to a game at Notre Dame.
“We needed to take the next step,” Day said. “We know what we’re about to jump into in the next part of the season. We have to go on the road next week.”
He liked what he saw in practice from the Buckeyes, who opened the season with more workmanlike wins over Indiana (23-3) and Youngstown State (35-7), and it translated to the Ohio Stadium turf.
“That was a good week of work right there,” Day said. “It started Sunday. Tuesday was a really physical day. Wednesday was a good day. Thursday we kept going at ‘em. We knew we had to turn this up. We needed to build some momentum going into next week. So I think you saw our team playing like that today, and we have to keep doing that going forward.”
The Buckeyes dominated every facet against the Hilltoppers, especially first down.
They had it all working, averaging 7.9 yards on 19 first-down runs and hitting 7 of 9 passes for 157 yards through the air on first down.
Ohio State exceeded 200 yards rushing for the first time this season, and they scored some big gains off play-action passes.
“When we’re more efficient in the running game, that allows us to be more aggressive throwing the ball,” said Day, who has been pushing the need to establish the run since last season with mixed results.
Kyle McCord completed 19 of 23 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns the first week after being named the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback for the Buckeyes, something he said he did not think necessarily impacted his performance.
“I think it’s definitely nice getting the official nod from him, but at the same time the more experience I can get, the more reps, I feel like the better I can be,” the junior said. “I just had the mindset of attacking every day of practice like it’s a game. We had a really good week of practice and I think that showed today.
“I felt like I took a step in the right direction and just have to continue to be on my Ps and Qs during the week and continue to prepare.”
The OSU defense not only held WKU below 300 total yards but finally produced some havoc plays, including two sacks, eight tackles for loss, two interceptions and six pass-breakups.
A pair of defensive touchdowns made the score that much more lopsided, and it all adds up to give the Buckeyes confidence heading into what is sure to be their biggest test of the season so far.
“Obviously in the second half the turnovers were huge,” Day said. “I thought they hung in there when they were getting the stops at the end of the first half and getting the ball back to the offense. They kind of fed off of that, and we had some really good momentum going there, good passion. A bunch of guys playing fast, violent. There were some really good collisions going on.”
Notre Dame is 4-0 under Marcus Freeman, a Wayne High School grad and former Ohio State linebacker in his second full season as the head coach of the Fighting Irish.
They haven’t played any world-beaters, either, but the Irish have amassed some gaudy stats so far, including a nation-leading pass efficiency defense rating (84.7).
Quarterback Sam Hartman leads the nation with 13 touchdown passes, and he is third in the country with a passer efficiency rating of 217.8.
“I just think that the style of the game allowed us an opportunity to go play and compete but make no mistake about it: We turned it up this week,” Day said. “We know what we’re about to get into. We wanted to build momentum going into next week, and everything was turned up in a big way. So we’re gonna get back to work. Notre Dame starts now. Usually we started on Sunday, where we’re starting to prepare tonight.”
Ohio State at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m., NBC, 1410