This Week in Ohio State Football: No time to stop building

COLUMBUS — Earlier this week, we asked if the real Ohio State offense showed itself against Michigan State on Saturday.

Ryan Day seems to be buying into it, perhaps with some caution.

“On offense I think that you just see in the combination of the run game and the ball on the perimeter when you have all the weapons back, and now (quarterback Kyle McCord) has got a bunch of games under his belt, offensive line is making progress every week,” Day said Tuesday. “So I think all that comes into play.”

That all makes sense, of course, based on the results when everyone is available vs. when they are not.

Day also pushed back a little against the idea his team did not have an established personality overall until getting into the swing of things the last couple of weeks.

“Well, I think our team has had an identity from the get-go,” Day said. “I think on offense — you’re starting to see it for yourself a little bit more on the offensive side of the ball probably — but I mean this team plays hard, plays physical, and it’s got great leadership.”

I think I declared about this time 50 weeks ago — certainly to myself if not in print — I was not going to write about Ohio State’s toughness or lack thereof again until they beat Michigan whether that is this year or in another 10 years.

It was a major theme of the 2022 season right up until the Buckeyes fell flat on their faces against the Wolverines at Ohio Stadium.

Talk is cheap, and column inches on the Internet are even cheaper, but there are plenty of other themes to explore on a weekly basis.

Toughness may not have had anything to do with the outcome of last year’s game, or it might have permeated every play the Wolverines got the better of the Buckeyes. That is really in the eye of the beholder, and winners typically write histories.

These Buckeyes don’t get the chance to put those questions to rest this week against Minnesota, but it is worth noting that is still something that is apparently at least in the back of Day’s mind.

Maybe he is trying to speak it into existence, or maybe he truly believes it.

Either way, Day no doubt knows reality and perception will come together again in Ann Arbor on Nov. 25, and the final score of the game will determine both.

There’s a little business to do before that game, though, and it got me wondering what the Buckeyes can accomplish against the Golden Gophers other than avoiding a major upset and any more major injuries.

Confidence might be more valuable than anything for a team that has lost The Game two years in a row, and that seems to be building.

I grew up in the 1990s when there was no doubt which side held the mental edge heading into the last game of the season every year.

John Cooper’s early Ohio State teams might not have been good enough to beat Michigan, but several of the ones that were later on failed to show it as his teams went 2-10-1 in The Game.

Jim Tressel flipped script with an upset in 2001, and the Buckeyes maintained that confidence for 10 years before handing it off to Urban Meyer’s squads, who never lost to Michigan despite not even playing all that well in the rivalry game about half the time.

Tressel and Meyer no doubt benefited from playing some bad Michigan teams along the way, but sometimes not getting upset is as much of an accomplishment as anything in a rivalry often defined by underdog triumphs.

So now what?

Well, if you’ve been reading this feature all season, you might have noticed I always have my ear up for historic themes.

Day provided one this week when he seemed to channel his inner Tressel (not for the first time this year) in talking about his team’s playing their best in November.

That was another hallmark of the Tressel years — and a bright contrast from the 1990s when the Buckeyes seemed annually peak in September then gradually drift off the championship path before crashing in November.

Tressel’s teams almost always finished what they started while Meyer’s were better than Cooper’s but slipped at times, too.

Day is 50/50 so far, leading to the natural question about whether or not his team’s have played their best in November.

“I feel like we have, but I also feel every year you adjust your messaging,” he said.

That might have been more revealing than any trope about toughness because it also betrayed the fact he’s as worried about his team’s mentality as its physicality as he navigates the still-early years of his career as a head coach.

“It’s been clearly communicated that we’ve got to build every week and that momentum, it kind of snowballs over time, the consistency of everything that you’re doing on a daily basis so that we’re at our best at the end of the season.

“And so it’s just been a messaging point to the team. Something that we can tangibly like almost grab on to that, ‘Hey, we’re getting better every week, and we know we’ve got to be at our best at the end of the season because that’s what matters most.’”

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