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Buckeyes looking to sustain momentum at Northwestern

COLUMBUS — Bye weeks are utilized in different ways by different coaches.

For Ohio State’s Ryan Day, he’s decided to use his first off week as the Buckeyes head coach for a myriad of reasons, all with the goal of preparing the fourth-ranked Buckeyes for Friday night’s Big Ten clash in Evanston against Northwestern (8:30 p.m./BTN).

“It gives us a chance to kind of regroup a little bit and kind of take some self-assessment of where we’re at during the season,” Day said Monday about this week’s bye week and one that comes in two weeks.

“Also, heal up. So, I think any time you can get a bye week, it’s great.”

Ohio State’s bye weeks come during the middle of season, which can be a blessing and a curse. They’re good for the fact they give players and coaches, like Day said, time to rest and re-energize. Perhaps, though, they might be untimely as teams surrounding them in the major polls might be able to take advantage of OSU’s absence from the field to leapfrog them in the rankings.

There’s no question, though, that Ohio State’s “first half,” which saw it go 6-0 and 3-0 in the Big Ten, was impressive. Although it might’ve started off slow, the Buckeyes have picked up steam each game, the latest a 34-10 whitewashing of then No. 25 Michigan State before a national television audience in “The Shoe.”

The one thing Day has preached all throughout his first season is stay in the moment. And with unbeaten Wisconsin waiting in the wings next week, Day said this week is no time to let any guards down, even though the Wildcats (1-4, 0-3) are struggling.

“It’s the same thing we’ve been talking about all along, which is all you’re worried about is this game right here, and we all know what happens if you start to lose focus, and we cannot do that,” he stressed.

“So, this week, we’ve talked about having a white-belt mentality, which is a mentality that you’re starting right from scratch and you don’t take anything for granted, you don’t make any assumptions and, if we do that, then we’ll be fine. If we start to look ahead or start to let our egos get in the way, then we’re in trouble.”

There is no College Football Playoff talk around Columbus yet. That’s the way Day likes it. Realistically, there’s a long way to go before the CFP comes into focus. The first rankings aren’t released for another 2-and-a-half weeks, so OSU has this week and next week to cement their case for the initial rankings.

Then, the chore becomes can it stay there. Maryland and Rutgers look like winnable games — on paper — before the Buckeyes close out the regular season at home vs. Penn State and at Michigan before a possible Big Ten championship game.

Ohio State continues to excel on both sides of the ball. The Buckeyes are ranked in the top 10 of 13 national categories, all almost evenly divided between offense and defense. Day said last week was an opportunity to tweak and improve in all areas.

“That was part of going through and working on our three up, three forward, which is trying to figure out three things they’ve done well and three things they have to improve on and show them that we have to get better.

“So, they met with their position coaches, they met with me, and those are ways to really say, hey, these are things — if we’re going to get where we want to go, you’re going to have to do that. And then talking to the team about things we need to do better as a team.”

One thing Day and new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison have been pleased with is improvement in stopping big plays.

“If you know where everybody is, when you go track the ball, I think that’s important,” Day said. “You can play with a little bit more confidence knowing maybe you’re not on an island, you have guys that are coming with you, swarming to the ball, and I think that’s helped.”

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