Football: ‘We’re heading into the storm now’: No. 5 Ohio State stares down difficult second-half stretch

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Ohio State head coach Ryan Day walks onto the field for a timeout during the Ohio State-Rutgers game Oct. 2. Ohio State won 52-13. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

While the Buckeyes spent the past weekend resting and rejuvenating from a tumultuous first half of the season, dangerous waters are approaching the young squad going forward.

No. 5 Ohio State comes off its bye week with a six-week stretch that includes four AP Top 25 teams, three of which land in the top 10. With attention to the difficult schedule ahead of his team, head coach Ryan Day said they’re taking it one day at a time.

“I think we’re in a lot better place than we were at the beginning of the season. We got some rest, so now it’s going to be a big run,” Day said. “All we can do is, you’ve heard the cliche a million times, take it one game at a time, one day at a time. That’s what we’re going to do.”

Although the first half of the season saw the Buckeyes play four teams with winning records — including three Big Ten opponents — the second half will provide much more of a challenge.

Ohio State will see No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Penn State, No. 9 Michigan State and No. 25 Purdue — who is coming off a huge upset win over then-No. 2 Iowa on the road — in four of the last five weeks of the season.

The ranked matchup that looms closest is a home bout with No. 7 Penn State Oct. 30, which doubles as a primetime battle against the Nittany Lions — Ohio State’s fourth of the year to this point.

Prior to the anticipated meeting with the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes travel to Bloomington, Indiana, for another primetime game against the 2-4 Hoosiers. But, all four of the Hoosiers’ losses have come against top 15 teams, prompting Day to be wary of head coach Tom Allen’s squad.

“Well, I think they’ve had some injuries. They’re trying to fill those gaps a little bit, though,” Day said. “They’ve played some good teams, they played some really good defenses. When you combine all those things, when you’re off by a little bit here or there, a team that maybe doesn’t have a great record is a lot better than you think. I think this team is much better than their record indicates.”

Other than the ranked opponents and the Hoosiers, the Buckeyes will face one of their biggest difficulties over the past few seasons — a road Big Ten West game. Ohio State will head to Lincoln, Nebraska, Nov. 6 where it’ll face the 3-5 Nebraska Cornhuskers.

The Buckeyes have already slayed this demon once this season, bouncing Minnesota 45-31 in the season-opener at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

As the difficult stretch looms above their heads, Ohio State appears to be hitting its stride at just the right time. Heading into the bye week, the Buckeyes beat their last three opponents by a combined total of 177-37.

Linebackers coach Al Washington said a lot of the progress in his own room has come from his players getting much needed experience.

“I think the No. 1 thing that has helped is just time. Those guys have gotten better every rep. I think they’ve gotten their cleats under them a little bit,” Washington said. “We still got a ways to go to get to our standards, obviously, but very proud of the progress amidst all the challenges.”

Day echoed that sentiment, pointing to the strides made by the team’s underclassmen as the season has worn on.

With the back half of the season kicking off Saturday against the Hoosiers, Day said the team’s confidence is continuing to rise.

“I think that they start to see themselves playing better. They’re starting to believe in the guy next to them. They’re starting to believe in themselves. Anytime you can do that, that’s exciting and it brings energy,” Day said. “The good news is our guys believe right now. I think they’re excited about what these next six weeks can bring and certainly what this week is going to bring.”

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