Up seven points in the first half with a defense holding his opponent to 64 offensive yards, one would assume Ryan Day would kick a field goal on fourth-and-5 at the Penn State 28-yard-line.
One would be wrong.
Instead, Day dialed up a draw play for sophomore quarterback Justin Fields, which gained 22 yards and set up a score after a conversion on fourth-and-goal.
Ohio State stayed aggressive offensively until late in the game Saturday, allowing it to build an advantage it didn’t relinquish against Penn State, going for it three times on fourth down and converting two of them.
“I just felt there’s times to be aggressive in the game and those are four-down territories and with our offense we should convert in those moments,” Day said.
Something that allows Ohio State to play an aggressive brand of offense is the variety within its playbook. Going to an empty-backfield set with no tight end and running a quarterback draw is something Ohio State had never shown, redshirt sophomore center Josh Myers said.
The Buckeyes got the look they wanted on the fourth down play and the middle of the field was left barren for Fields to run roughshod over, springing off a block from Myers on the middle linebacker.
“It’s an easier block than you would think, because you just have to get in their way and Justin can make you right with his feet,” Myers said.
Myers said there was no doubt in his mind Ohio State would go for it in that situation, regardless of what others think.
“I know coach Day,” Myers said. “He’s an aggressive coach, and he has faith in us. He has faith in the game plan, the prep that we did, so I figured we would.”
Two pass plays showed the first-year head coach’s continued willingness to take downfield shots to complement a hard-nosed ground game that gained 229 yards on 61 carries.
On a second-and-7 at the Penn State 24-yard-line early in the third quarter, Fields found redshirt senior wide receiver K.J. Hill in the end zone to extend Ohio State’s lead to 21-0.
After back-to-back fumbles ushered Penn State back into the game with 17 unanswered points, the Buckeyes went to a double move up the right sideline for sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave, a dangerous throw between two Nittany Lion defenders.
Fields hit his back shoulder and Olave held on through two fighting hands for a 28-yard score.
“It was in the lights, so I couldn’t really see until the last minute, and my hands were perfectly placed there,” Olave said.
However, Day said there are times to err on the side of conservative play-calling. One such occasion arose on a fourth-and-2 near midfield.
Rather than try to gain the first down in that instance, Day sent out redshirt junior punter Drue Chrisman.
“It was a little hectic. We’re kind of turning the ball over. Our defense was playing strong,” Day said. “I talked to the guys, listen, we’re still going to try to be aggressive, but we need to get some first downs and eat up some clock here.”
Ohio State will search for similar success with its aggressive mentality when it plays Michigan at noon next Saturday.