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Day preaching to players to stay the course

COLUMBUS — Ryan Day stepped to the podium Tuesday at “The Woody” and said everything right.

The first-year Ohio State head coach praised this week’s opponent Rutgers and proceeded to explain how his No. 2-ranked Buckeyes would have to play their best to avoid an upset.

He did not, however, point out that Ohio State is a 50-point-plus road favorite and expected by everyone to cruise without incident.

The reality is, though, that the Scarlet Knights aren’t good. They’re horrid.

In fact, if Day wanted to leave his starters back in Columbus and let them play video games in the team’s renovated training center, he probably could.

But the Big Ten would probably frown on having its marquee team come into its largest market without its stars.

So, Justin Fields, J.K. Dobbins, Jordan Fuller, et al. will step off a plane in the Big Apple area and look to feast on one of the nation’s worst teams — and hope not to get dinged up — before next week’s East Division showdown at high noon against Penn State in Ohio Stadium.

It took until the 25th question in the weekly presser for Day to get a question asking specifically about Rutgers (2-7, 0-6 Big Ten). And when it came, Day professed typical coachspeak about the challenge of facing a struggling opponent.

“Just goes back to our execution, our discipline, what is our standard,” he said. “We certainly have respect for everybody we play.

“I’ve known Nunzio (Campanile, Rutgers head coach) a long time. He’s going to do a great job. Those guys are going to come out and play really, really hard.”

However, that might still be enough to put a dent in an Ohio State (9-0, 6-0) team that dropped 73 points on Maryland last week, a Terps squad that thumped the Scarlet Knights, 48-7, more than a month ago.

“Obviously, we’re going up against, arguably, the best team in the country,” said Campanile, whose team was off last week. “They’re about as complete a team as I’ve seen, but it is a great opportunity for our kids to go out and compete against, like I said, one of the best teams out there, and a great opportunity to learn and to grow.”

That growth might be stunted by an Ohio State defense that’s ranked first in the country. Last week, the unit allowed just 14 points, even without Heisman Trophy candidate Chase Young, serving the first of what is now a two-game suspension for breaking NCAA rules by accepting a personal loan. The defensive end, who’s charted for 13.5 sacks, will return for the Penn State clash.

As a unit, OSU’s defense has amassed a little more than 4.5 sacks per game, tops in the country. The Buckeyes also lead the nation in points allowed, passing yards allowed, and are second in 3rd-down defense. Even with Young out, Campanile, who replaced ex-Buckeyes assistant Chris Ash midseason, believes Ohio State’s defense remains solid.

“Honestly, they’re pretty deep,” he said. “The dropoff isn’t a whole lot, and that’s saying a lot because (Young) is about as good a player — last year we went there, Bosa played in our game and he was about as good as they come, and I don’t know if there’s much difference between the two of them.”

Ohio State will face a Rutgers that’s at the other end of the ranking spectrum. Out of 130 FBS teams, the Scarlet Knights are 128th in points per game, 129th in first downs per game and 126th in total offense.

Day said he’s taking anything for chance in a game where his starters will likely see limited playing time.

“We got a lot at stake here,” he said. “We can’t put any stuff to risk. That’s something the coaching staff has been hammering home with the players.

“To this point, they’ve respected that. They have to continue to.”

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