I was bullish on Ohio State’s chances against Michigan until I saw how all over Big Noon Kickoff and College Gameday, they were non-stop with the “Michigan hasn’t won in Columbus since 2000, is this the year they finally get it done???” talk.
I don’t believe in jinxes but I do believe in foreshadowing, and that just felt like major foreshadowing.
That factoid was just so prominent all morning long. It eventually became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I saw the line on game move from Ohio State -7.5 on Friday to -9 on Saturday morning, and I was even more confident in my pick of Ohio State 37, Michigan 20. Because usually when a line moves towards one team in the hours immediately before a big game, that means the heavy hitters in Vegas are hammering the game. I think they were hammering Ohio State on Saturday morning.
In the first quarter, it looked like Ohio State was well on their way to winning, covering and possibly even a blowout win. Even when Michigan scored a couple of long TDs on busted coverages in the second quarter, it still felt like Ohio State would get back on track and run away with the game, but in the third quarter as opposed to the second quarter. I thought with Ohio State up 20-17 at halftime, a blowout was still on the table for them if they just didn’t repeat the same mistakes of the first half.
In the third quarter, after Ohio State’s offense had basically ground to a halt and they were down 24-20, it still felt like they were going to pull their heads out of their asses and win the game, but it would be a close one.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Ohio State had a meltdown. Michigan had that long scoring drive to make it 31-20–which was basically the only true scoring drive Michigan had all game–and then Ohio State could only respond with a field goal.
Michigan got the ball back and busted off a 75 yard TD run almost immediately, and that was it. Ohio State had the box stacked to sell out against the run, trying to get a three and out, a hole opened up, and Donovan Edwards was off to the races. That stuff can happen sometimes late in games when you’re defense is gassed and you’re selling out completely against the run. I remember a few years back, Leonard Fournette busted off a 90 yard TD run in a similar situation. After that, Ohio State let go of the rope.
You could tell when Ohio State got that unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (the headbutt) that they were completely unraveling at the seams. Then Stroud wanted to go for it on 4th down, was trying to wave the punt unit off the field, but was overruled.
That was the moment they just imploded mentally.
It was honestly one of the most baffling games I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It didn’t make any sense. So now that’s two years in a row where Ohio State has lost to Michigan in the most head-scratching fashion imaginable.
Last year, Ohio State got beaten by defending the run quite literally worse than I’ve ever seen a team attempt to defend the run in a big time matchup. Ohio State let up 7.2 yards per carry in that game. in the second half, Michigan really was gaining like 7-9 yards every time they ran the ball. I’ve never seen a run defense that bad. It wasn’t just because of a few big runs that skewed the number; no, Michigan was actually gaining 7-9 yards on the ground consistently every time they handed it off.
In my mind, the most dominant rushing attack I’ve ever seen in a big game was Alabama against Notre Dame in the 2012 National Championship game. For some reason, that game just stood out in my mind as an absolute bludgeoning on the ground all game long. I mean Notre Dame’s defense was getting straight up trucked by Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon on every single carry.
But even in that game Alabama’s yards per carry average was 5.9. Ohio State’s run defense against Michigan last year was so bad that I honestly think it might have been the worst run defense I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Ohio State let up 7.2 yards per carry to Michigan in 2021, and earlier that season, Northern Illinois let up 7.8 yards per carry to Michigan. So Ohio State’s run defense against Michigan last year was slightly better than NIU.
And there were no adjustments made by Ohio State to stop it. It was like, I knew Ohio State had a shaky run defense last year, but there’s no way it was that bad. That was quite literally the worst run defense I’ve ever seen in my entire life. And Ohio State just has way too much talent to get gashed that badly on the ground, even against a good team.
This year, Ohio State was so bad in the secondary that, similar to how I felt about their run defense against Michigan last year, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a secondary play that poorly in a big game ever in my life. JJ McCarthy had 13 completions for 278 yards. That’s 21.4 yards per completion! That is unheard of. That basically means every time he’s throwing the ball deep it’s going for a touchdown. I’ve never seen anything like it.
This is what I mean by baffling. Last year, Ohio State’s run defense looked like a Division III team going up against Derrick Henry. This year, Ohio State’s pass defense looked like a fucking high school team going up against Patrick Mahomes.
Michigan didn’t do that through the air to anybody on their schedule this year. Coming in to this game, the consensus was that JJ McCarthy is a terrible passer, yet against Ohio State he looked like Prime Peyton Manning.
I don’t understand how you can play that badly in such a big game two years in a row.
At various points throughout the second half of that game, I couldn’t help but think of that famous quote, attributed supposedly to Alexander the Great: “An army of sheep led by a lion will always defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.”
Now, obviously the talent disparity in this game was not akin to the difference between a lion and a sheep–I’m not saying Ohio State’s roster is all lions and Michigan’s roster is all sheep. But Ohio State is the superior roster. Michigan didn’t even have Blake Corum, their best player.
I want to clear this up right off the bat: Ohio State is the more talented team. This is not a slight against Michigan or anything, it is an objective fact. It’s not an opinion. In fact, Ohio State has even more of a talent gap over Michigan today than they did when Urban Meyer was running Ohio State. This is the 247 Sports composite talent rankings for both teams dating back to 2015:
I’m seeing all these Michigan fans on Twitter talking about how their talent has caught up. No, it hasn’t. This is false. If anything there’s an even bigger gap today than there was when Urban was in Columbus.
If someone else has a better way of measuring and quantifying overall college football roster talent, I’m all ears. But according to the 247 composite rankings, Ohio State is the objectively better roster. This is not an insult to Michigan, it’s a fact.
This is why I pick Ohio State to win every year, and why I’m so harshly critical of Ryan Day for losing: you have the better roster, how the hell are you losing this game? Ohio State this year has a combined 65 players who were either 5 or 4 star recruits. Michigan has 44. That is a major talent disparity.
Michigan fans want to believe they’re winning because they have better players, because if that were the case, then they could convince themselves they’re poised to dominate Ohio State for years to come–that their two-year streak of beating Ohio State is sustainable over the long term. But it’s not true. They are winning right now because they are better coached than Ohio State is, not because Michigan has better players.
Obviously this leads to the inevitable conclusion that if Ohio State simply gets their shit together, they will start dominating this rivalry again. Probably true, but it’s easier said than done. This should have been the year for Ohio State to get their shit together, start taking this rivalry seriously, and show Michigan who’s boss. Ohio State players all said the right things: we took Michigan lightly last year, we’re not going to let it happen again; we have had this game circled all year, etc.
And yet still they came unglued and got absolutely clowned in their home stadium by their biggest rival.
It was as ugly, embarrassing and unacceptable of a loss as you could possibly imagine for Ohio State.
So I don’t think it’s as simple for Ohio State as “just get your shit together.”
Ryan Day knew he couldn’t let this happen, and he let it happen.
I think there are legitimate questions about whether Day is even cut out for this job; whether he even has the ability to win this game. Elite-level college football is, like that line in the movie Sicario, “a land of wolves.”
And I’m not sure if Ryan Day is a wolf.
“You should move to a small town, where the rule of law still exists. You will not survive here. You are not a wolf. And this is the land of wolves now.”
In recent years, Ryan Day gets eaten by wolves in big games. Bama, Oregon, Michigan twice now. It’s fair to ask whether or not Ryan Day actually has the stones to win at the highest level–whether or not he can survive in the land of wolves that is big time college football.
I understand that Ohio State’s top two running backs were out for the game and they didn’t have Jaxon Smith-Njigba. That’s a big deal. I think because JSN has been out most of the season people have kind of forgotten how big of a loss he is for the Ohio State offense, but not having him really hurt them this year.
But still: Michigan didn’t have Corum in this game, either. And Ohio State very well could’ve won this game anyway, even without JSN. So missing JSN does not let Ryan Day or anybody else on the Ohio State team off the hook.
I don’t want to hear about JJ McCarthy. Every big TD pass he hit was wide open. Anyone could’ve hit those receivers. I could’ve thrown touchdowns to those receivers, that’s how wide open they were on those three plays. Those were all busted coverage plays. JJ McCarthy only proved that he can throw to wide open receivers. He was 3 of 10 on passes over 10 yards! The dude is not special, he just had the wherewithal to hit wide-ass open receivers downfield; all he had to do was chuck it up to them. He had a few good runs, but it’s not like he’s some incredible Caleb Williams/Jordan Travis/Jayden Daniels level athlete. I put those runs more on the Ohio State defense just not getting a hat on him.
But, I mean, this Ohio State secondary got shredded the previous week by Maryland. Sean Clifford threw for 371 against them. It’s not like Ohio State is some elite pass defense. They’re suspect as hell against the pass and have been all season.
And I don’t want to hear about how Jim Harbaugh is suddenly this historically great coach. The guy was 0-5 against Ohio State no more than 13 months ago. He didn’t suddenly turn into Nick Saban. He’s a good coach, not a great coach. He just saw that Ohio State was handing him the game on a silver platter and he wisely said, “Thank you.” What has changed in this rivalry is Ohio State, not Michigan.
I can throw more quotes out there, like “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
But I think you get the picture.
After getting embarrassed last year, after all the trash Michigan talked last year, having the game at home, having all the motivation, being perfectly set up to win–that just can’t happen.
It was as bad of a second half as you could possibly imagine. I don’t think even in Michigan’s wildest dreams they could’ve envisioned Ohio State imploding that spectacularly. Michigan outscored Ohio State 28-3 in the second half.
In the moment, watching the game live, the main thought going through my head was that Ryan Day is finished as head coach at Ohio State. He cannot show his face in Columbus again after that. Not only did they lose a very winnable game, they let go of the rope. And an Ohio State team that fans should remember fondly will either be forgotten or be remembered as one of the worst teams in program history—as the team that quit at home against Michigan. People will think about this game and just get so pissed off at how poorly the team played, and they’ll hate these players, and that sucks. Because that team had a lot of potential. (They still do, if the CFP rankings shake out with them at #5 and either USC or TCU loses this weekend.)
I’m on the Wikipedia page for the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry and I’m trying to find a year where they lost this badly (22 points) at home against Michigan. I’ll just list all their home losses dating back to WWII here.
- 2022: 45-23
- 2000: 38-26
- 1996: 13-9
- 1990: 16-13
- 1988: 34-31
- 1986: 26-24
- 1980: 9-3
- 1978: 14-3
- 1976: 22-0
- 1966: 17-3
- 1964: 10-0
- 1956: 19-0
- 1950: 9-3
- 1948: 13-3
- 1946: 58-6
So there you have it. The last time Ohio State lost by 22 or more points to Michigan at home was 1976.
The consistent theme emerging with Ryan Day’s teams is that they underperform in big games against talented opponents. Almost always. There’s a large enough sample size now to draw that conclusion.
In fairness, Day does have that 56-27 win over Michigan in 2019 and the 49-28 win over Clemson in 2020. But it’s 2022 now. And beating Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State just isn’t good enough.
Ryan Day’s 5 career losses have all come in the biggest of games, and they’ve been by an average score of 40-25. That’s the reality.
Offensive genius Ryan Day’s offense averages 25 points a game against the strongest competition.
They call screen plays, but they never work. Ever. Their receivers either don’t know how to block them or refuse to.
It’s like Ohio State’s offense can only move the ball with big chunk plays through the air. It looks awesome and impressive when it works, but it’s also a very inflexible model, and honestly, in big games, it seems that it’s stuck in the mud more than it’s firing on all cylinders. It’s an all-or-nothing offense, and in big games, they mostly get nothing.
It’s a fugazi offense, really. They put up impressive numbers, but it’s mostly against hopelessly overmatched teams. Against top competition, they average 25 points a game.
And overall, there is always at least one unit of the Ohio State team that is quite literally the absolute 131 out of 131 worst in the entire FBS in a given week. It rotates. Sometimes it’s the run game, sometimes it’s the wide receiving corps (outside of Marvin Harrison Jr.). This week it was the secondary.
All season long, I have been underwhelmed by Ohio State. Pretty much every game except for the Wisconsin game, the Michigan State game and the Indiana game has been underwhelming and disappointing to some extent.
Let’s go through this season quickly:
- Notre Dame: Ohio State won, but the offense looked like shit for about three quarters. The excuse was that it was the first game of the season and JSN got hurt very early. But this Notre Dame team, while solid, is very flawed. There’s no reason Ohio State should’ve struggled on offense the way they did. USC on Saturday night without their starting running back, Travis Dye, just put up 38 on that ND defense.
- Arkansas State: OSU won 45-12, but they allowed 4 scoring drives, even though they were all field goals. And the offense still didn’t look that great.
- Toledo: OSU won 77-21, but their pass defense was getting kinda shredded by Dequan Finn early on. He was doing a lot of the same things that JJ McCarthy was getting away with: wide open receivers deep downfield, and Ohio State DBs just getting beat on jump balls. They looked like little boys out there trying to guard those Toledo receivers at times. It was a bad visual, if I remember correctly. This was the first indicator that the Ohio State pass defense was suspect.
- Rutgers: Ohio State won 49-10, but Stroud only had 154 yards passing. That was a Miyan Williams game. Stroud really couldn’t throw on that Rutgers defense.
- Iowa: Getting held to field goals for most of the first half, pouring it on late–yes, Ohio State won 54-10, but Iowa was not really having issues with the Ohio State offense. Ohio State’s offense was having issues with the Iowa defense. Iowa kind of laid out the blueprint in that game despite losing by 44: just send a blitz directly at CJ Stroud and he becomes unnerved quickly. You saw it in the game against Michigan. He rolls out of the pocket and hesitates to pull the trigger. The moment there’s any sort of pressure at all he runs for his life.
- Penn State: Ohio State won 44-31, but they were fortunate with a lot of big plays by their defense, which forced I believe 3 or maybe even 4 turnovers. And their offense really only came alive late in that game. It was 21-16 Penn State in the 4th quarter. Sean Clifford threw for 371 yards on 7.9 yards per attempt. Toledo discovered that the Ohio State pass D might be exploitable, Penn State confirmed it. Ohio State let up a 58-yard touchdown to Parker Washington in this game that was almost identical to Cornelius Johnson’s first TD: what should’ve been like a 7-8 yard gain turned into a house call because of poor tackling in the secondary.
- Northwestern: This one is well documented. Ohio State won only 21-7. It was blamed on the wind and rain, but they were even having trouble running the ball.
- Maryland: Ohio State won 43-30, but it was 36-30 in the final minute. The only reason it was a 13-point win for Ohio State was a late defensive touchdown. But this was the third team the Ohio State secondary faced this season that was actually competent throwing the ball (the other two being Toledo and Penn State), and again, they got absolutely barbecued. Taulia Tagovailoa, Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus, CJ Dippre and Maryland’s passing attack were doing whatever they wanted. The secondary of Ohio State was a problem all year.
The only games where Ohio State looked truly dominant, and where you could say they did what they were supposed to do in all facets of the game, and realized their full potential were the Wisconsin, Michigan State and Indiana games. Wisconsin would fire their head coach just two weeks after they played Ohio State, so that game really doesn’t even count for Ohio State. And both Michigan State and Indiana are terrible this year.
Ohio State just can’t ever play a complete game of football where both sides of the ball look excellent. Not against any team that even remotely has a pulse.
And against any team that has a competent passing offense, Ohio State is in major trouble. They were able to hide this fact for much of the season because they play in the Big Ten, and play against teams like Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana, etc. But there were signs if you looked closely. Not all Big Ten teams are stuck in 1954 offensively. All this is to say, the Ohio State secondary’s performance against Michigan didn’t come out of nowhere.
Over the summer, before the start of the season, I was watching and listening to college football shows, and reporters who visited Columbus during training camp couldn’t stop gushing over how incredible Ohio State looked. They were blown away by all the elite talent, the offense looked incredible, etc. Bruce Feldman was raving about how good the team looked.
But that’s exactly the problem with Ohio State under Ryan Day: on a practice field, they look like the best team in the country. And then they actually play real games against real opponents, and they can’t hang.
There’s a stark contrast when you compare their performance against the best teams they’ve played to the worst teams they’ve played:
They’re barely a touchdown better than competition with a pulse (plus Northwestern). But against bad teams, they’re averaging a 51-14 point differential.
I think it’s time to face the music: the real Ohio State team is the one we all saw against Michigan, Maryland, Northwestern, most of the Penn State game, the first half of the Iowa game, and most of the Notre Dame game.
The real Ohio State is not the team that showed up against Toledo, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan State, Rutgers and Arkansas State (although again I think they played like shit against Arkansas State).
How the Game Was Won and Lost
Okay, let’s actually get in to the game here. Enough general ranting and raving. Let’s drill down into this game and figure out why, exactly, it went the way it did.
Right off the bat: it was not about any lack of “toughness” by Ohio State or anything like that. At least not physical toughness. It may have been a matter of mental toughness and Will To Win, but nobody but the coaches and players on that team know that for certain. The main thing, though, is that it was not a matter of Michigan being physically tougher than Ohio State was.
All year long, we heard from Ryan Day about toughness; he wanted to prove to the world that his team was tough, because former Michigan OC Josh Gattis said Ohio State is a finesse team and not a tough team, and Ryan Day took that as a personal insult.
So he emphasized toughness, toughness, toughness to show everyone he wasn’t soft and his team wasn’t either.
And the end result was that his tough team lost by 22 to Michigan this year. His “soft” team last year only lost by 15, and it was on the road, too.
Now, I will say that although the final score was worse this year than last year, I came away from this game with far fewer concerns about the Ohio State defense than I did after last year’s game. After last year’s game–and really that whole season for Ohio State–I wondered if they were turning into the new Oklahoma: all offense, no defense. I legitimately wondered if they just don’t play defense at Ohio State anymore.
After this year’s game against Michigan, it’s clear that Ohio State can play defense, just not consistently.
They got out-executed. It’s that simple. Not just on defense, but offensively, too. Michigan executed way better than they did. It’s not that Michigan hit harder or played more physical. It’s not that Michigan had better players.
It’s that Ohio State played like absolute garbage in key moments and gave Michigan 5 easy touchdowns.
Michigan was near flawless in terms of execution. Outside of maybe Ohio State’s first scoring drive which really had Michigan on their heels, and then that scoring drive Ohio State had late in the first half where they threw a 42 yard TD bomb to Marvin Harrison, Michigan played an almost perfectly executed game.
If Ohio State just limited the big plays, they could’ve won this game with like 20 points. It wouldn’t have mattered how bogged down their offense was. Michigan only had one real scoring drive where they methodically pushed the ball down the field. (And even on that drive, they would’ve come away with only a field goal had Ohio State not given them a fresh set of downs on the 2 yard line due to a bad DPI by Ronnie Hickman on third down. All Hickman had to do was turn his head and he wouldn’t have been flagged, but Ohio State DBs consistently fail to turn their heads in pass coverage when the ball is coming their way.)
So even if Ohio State’s offense wasn’t getting the job done, if Ohio State’s secondary just limits the big plays, they could’ve won 23-7 or something like that. 23-10 maybe.
That’s the worst part about this game for Ohio State: they gave up 45 points to Michigan when they could’ve held them to 10 or fewer points if they had just not completely melted down on 6 critical plays on defense.
That’s why it’s going to stick in people’s minds for a while—because it was so bizarre, and it seemed from a spectator’s standpoint to be completely preventable, unnecessary and self-inflicted. It didn’t have to be this way, and yet nobody on that Ohio State sideline was able to do anything to stop it from happening like this.
I want to go over the big plays Ohio State allowed in this game that turned the tide and eventually turned it into a blowout on the scoreboard:
- Michigan’s first drive, 10 plays 44 yards, ends in a field goal to make it 7-3 Ohio State. Had a 33 yard pass to Ronnie Bell. So other than that play, it was 9 plays for 11 yards.
- Middle of the second quarter, after punting on their previous two possessions, Michigan gets the ball, runs for 1 yard on 2 carries, and then hits a 69 yard bomb touchdown to make it 10-10.
- Next Michigan drive, one play was all they needed: 75 yard touchdown to Cornelius Johnson again. 17-13 Michigan.
- To start off the second half, Michigan had a 7 play 75 yard TD drive to take a 24-20 lead. They were getting stuffed on the ground, but then McCarthy reeled off a 19 yard run, and the next play was a 45 yard TD pass.
At this point in the game, Michigan is up 24-20. They’ve had 8 drives to this point, and basically all their points were attributable to 4 plays. Four big plays that went for 222 yards and 4 TDs, 33 total plays run. On the other 29 plays, they gained a total of 57 yards, and averaged 1.97 yards per play.
Bottom line is that Michigan won this game on 6 plays: the four I just went over that amounted to 24 points, and then the two long TD runs at the end.
They ran 60 total plays–35 rush, 25 pass–for 530 yards. That’s 8.33 yards per play. Yet 382 of their 530 yards came on just 6 plays. That means on their other 44 plays, they gained a total of 148 yards, or 3.36 yards per play.
72% of Michigan’s total yards in this game came on 6 plays.
Outside of those two long runs at the end (75 yards and 85 yards), Michigan had 33 rushes for 92 yards, or 2.8 yards per carry. And that includes 6 carries for 27 yards by the quarterback McCarthy. So Ohio State, after getting absolutely steamrolled by Michigan’s running backs for 297 yards on better than 7 yards a carry in 2021, held the Michigan running backs to 27 carries for 65 yards this year, excluding those two late TD runs.
Michigan had 19 rush yards in the first half and Ohio State had, I believe, 124. Why Ohio State went away from the run later in the game, I don’t know. But they were stuffing the run and picking up big yards on the ground in the first half of the game.
And they still lose, because this time, their secondary blew the game.
Earlier I was talking about how this was the most baffling game I’ve ever witnessed, and this is why. Michigan really only had one true “march down the field” scoring drive in this game. 6 plays for Michigan were the difference between them scoring 45 points and them scoring 7 points. It’s insanity.
I could understand letting up one maybe two big plays to Michigan over the course of the game.
But Ohio State continually let up big play after big play after big play. They were pretty much all on busted coverages or screw-ups by Ohio State.
Michigan was not the better team in this game. It sounds ridiculous to say given the score, but outside of 6 plays in this game, they were getting stonewalled.
Part of the problem is that Ohio State just doesn’t have Dudes™ in the secondary. They could not play man coverage out there, and that’s what they were asked to do with the defense largely loading the box up against the run.
Look, I don’t like to blame the players because they’re just kids. I will almost always point the finger at the coaches when the players don’t play well. It’s on the coaches to put their players in the best position to win.
But there were some plays that were just egregious mistakes by the players themselves:
- Michigan’s first TD: 7:38 left in 2nd quarter, 3rd and 9 from the Michigan 31, score 10-3 Ohio State. Ohio State was dominating the game to this point, although not on the scoreboard. They sent a blitz at the QB but he was able to get a ball away to #6, Cornelius Johnson, who was open about 7-8 yards downfield near the left sideline. He caught the ball about a yard shy of the first down line, and it looked like he was about to be tackled by Ohio State cornerback Cam Brown, but Brown just got shook out of his shoes and Johnson was able to turn up the sideline and house it for 69 yards. That was just poor tackling by Cam Brown. Sure, the DBs were all on islands back there as they were in Cover Zero, but it’s okay to let that ball get caught if you’re Cam Brown. What you can’t do, because you have no safety help behind you, is miss the tackle. You’re the last line of defense. You can even let the receiver get the first down, you just can’t let him get completely away from you without at least slowing him up. This one was on the player, not Jim Knowles’ defensive play call. The playcalling definitely put the DBs in a tough spot, but it was the player’s screw-up that resulted in the touchdown. The play call would’ve been a success if Cam Brown had just wrapped up and made a tackle, or at least slowed Johnson down enough to allow other defenders to get there and make the tackle.
- Michigan’s second TD: 5:30 left in 2nd quarter, 1st and 10 from the Michigan 25, Ohio State up 13-10. This one was really unforgivable. No blitz, just a 4-man rush by the defensive line. Defensive ends over-pursue and get pushed past the quarterback, who steps up in the clean pocket and launches a bomb to a wide-ass open Cornelius Johnson once again. He just absolutely roasts the safety Cam Martinez, who gets spun completely around and lets Johnson go right by him. It was terrible execution by Martinez–who, by the way, isn’t even a starter on that defense, so I’m not totally sure why he was even out there in the first place.
- Michigan’s third TD: 12:06 left in the 3rd quarter, 1st and 10 from the Ohio State 45, score 20-17 Ohio State. Tight end Colston Loveland somehow gets open deep on account of horrible coverage by safety Lathan Ransom. Ransom just let the receiver get behind him. McCarthy found him wide open and it was an easy touchdown. Just botched coverage, it looked like there was confusion over who should’ve been covering Loveland.
Again, the blame ultimately goes on the coaches for the players not executing. These are talented players in the Ohio State secondary, they’re not being over-matched athletically. They’re just playing like crap back there. It’s on the Ohio State coaching staff that they played so poorly, but it’s also just a fact that the players in the secondary were terrible. It wasn’t a scheme thing on those three plays, it was execution.
I have a hard time believing those DBs went into that game unaware of what was being asked of them: the plan was to load the box and stop the run, so the DBs had to just not allow big plays downfield in the passing game. Just don’t allow the big plays to go for TDs. They utterly failed at that. It’s like that meme, “You had one job!” The safeties for Ohio State literally had one job: don’t allow the big plays to go for TDs, because with the box stacked the way it is, Michigan was probably going to beat Ohio State over the top a few times. The imperative was to just make sure that when it happened–when Michigan did beat Ohio State over the top–that those plays didn’t go for TDs.
Two things, in my opinion, decided this game: the offense failing to capitalize in the first half and rack up enough points to bury Michigan early, and the defense failing to prevent the big plays from turning into touchdowns.
The good news, if there is any for Ohio State, is that they were easily able to stop Michigan’s run game until very late in the game. So the whole fear over the run defense getting mauled once again should be put to bed.
Unfortunately the secondary is now the most glaring problem on the Ohio State football team. Look, when you’re selling out to stop the run, it’s inevitable that you are going to get beat on some big plays down the field. But Ohio State allowed three touchdowns in like 10 minutes of game time between the second and third quarters due to terrible execution and busted coverages by their DBs. That’s just not acceptable.
The whole tone of this game in the first half was that Ohio State was dominating, yeah they didn’t have as many points to show for it as they would’ve liked, but they were clearly the better team. Michigan’s only points came off of what looked like pure, dumb luck. Ohio State was daring JJ McCarthy to beat them with his arm, the only problem is that they made it extremely easy for him to do it because they just… weren’t covering downfield receivers.
In the second half, things got dicey for Ohio State because they couldn’t load the box against the run–they had to provide some help on the back end of the defense to stop the pass.
That made it difficult to stop the run, and especially left them vulnerable to QB runs.
But really what allowed Michigan to get into this game and stay in it–their spark on offense in the first half–was those big plays on busted coverages. 24 points for Michigan on big, downfield passing plays enabled by busted coverages. And then of course those two long rushing TDs at the end to really drive a stake through the heart.
I don’t want to put that all on the secondary, though. I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the pass rush, because it just wasn’t getting home in that game. They had 1 sack and just 2 QB hurries in that game. And this has kind of been a consistent thing for Ohio State lately, too.
It feels like Ohio State’s pass rush is always a half-second too late. That was the case on the first long TD to Cornelius Johnson–the pass rush was a fraction of a second away from the quarterback.
Ohio State’s defensive line doesn’t generate enough pressure by themselves, so they had to send blitzes, which left the secondary over-exposed in man coverage.
According to ESPN, Ohio State’s defense only has 27 QB hurries this season. That’s barely more than 2 per game.
They just are not collapsing the pocket and making opposing QBs uncomfortable consistently. That’s a huge problem when you’re running man defense and cover zero in the secondary: you need to get to the QB fast, or else you’re liable to get roasted on the back-end.
Give Michigan’s offensive line credit, of course, but I have been unimpressed by Ohio State’s pass rush all season long.
I think a lot of it has to do with them using so many different defensive linemen in games, and their rotations are kind of strange. It’s like they never just stick with the best four guys up front. They’re always switching things up–maybe to keep guys fresh, maybe to spread the snaps around fairly. I don’t know why they do it.
But unless they’re playing teams like Rutgers, Arkansas State, Indiana and Michigan State, their pass rush is weak. It doesn’t show up in the stats, and actually the stats think Ohio State has a pretty strong pass rush, but I think it’s inflated by doing well against overmatched teams. They don’t do well against good teams. They don’t pass the eye test at all.
Teams Have Figured Ohio State Out
The game was supposed to be over by halftime. Ohio State’s plan was to have it won by halftime. They envisioned an insurmountable lead. They expected to be on cruise control for the second half.
Obviously that did not happen.
Why? Because of the same old problems: failure to execute in the red zone on offense, and defensive breakdowns that lead to easy points for the opposing team.
Ohio State had four scoring drives in the first half, and then they had a turnover on downs at the Michigan 34 that, had they converted it, would’ve likely turned into a 5th first half scoring drive. But you kick a field goal from the Michigan 14 because you can’t execute in the red zone, and then you have another drive that stalls out at the Michigan 29 and turns into a 47 yard field goal, you’re leaving a lot of points on the board.
And then, on the flip side, your defense has given up 17 points to Michigan all because of blown coverages and missed tackles in the secondary. Other than those three plays, the Ohio State defense was suffocating the Michigan offense. You take away those three big plays in the first half that led to 17 points, and Michigan had 27 yards on 23 plays in the first half. They were getting smothered. People don’t want to say this because that’s “being a hater,” but it’s just the truth.
At best, it could’ve been 35-0 Ohio State at halftime. It really could’ve, if they had played perfectly. Ohio State had 322 yards of offense in that first half–6.85 yards per play on average! Averaging 6.85 yards per play is top-10 in the country level good; it’s as good as Georgia’s offense has been this season. Michigan’s defense only allows 4.3 YPP on average this season, and in the first half, Ohio State was gashing them for 6.85 YPP. Yet Ohio State only had 20 points to show for it.
Realistically, if they’d just allowed one big play instead of three, and settled for one field goal instead of two it easily could’ve been 24-7 Ohio State at halftime. Maybe even 27-7 or 31-7 if they’d converted that fourth down. And then none of what happened in the second half would’ve mattered at all, because the game would’ve already been over.
Instead, because of Ohio State’s failures in the red zone and their failures in coverage in the secondary, they were only up 20-17 at halftime, and probably felt demoralized as hell because of all the missed opportunities and mistakes. They knew the game should not have been that close.
Whether you want to believe me or not, Ohio State beat themselves in this game. People are gushing over Michigan’s defensive coordinator Jesse Minter–his defense let up 322 yards of offense on 6.85 yards per play in the first half. You let a team average 6.85 yards per play–meaning they average almost a 7 yard gain every time they hike the ball–that is bottom-5 in the FBS. Go look at the stats for yourself here: there’s only 4 teams in the FBS this year that allow more than 6.85 yards per play on average.
Ohio State’s struggles in the red zone are nothing new, either. It’s not like they’d been having incredible red zone success all year and then Jesse Minter just outfoxed them in that game. Ohio State under Ryan Day consistently comes up short in the red zone. They did it against Penn State, Maryland and Iowa, too. It was a major problem for them last year as well. They lost the 2019 playoff game to Clemson because they kicked field goals instead of scoring TDs in the red zone early in that game. They could’ve had Clemson down 28-0 in the first half of that game, instead it was 16-0 and Clemson came back and won.
Ryan Day’s offenses consistently get bogged down in the red zone, no matter who they’re playing. This is nothing new. And I think it’s part of the reason so many Ohio State fans are sick of Ryan Day: because they’ve seen this shit over and over again. It never gets fixed. Ryan Day’s teams always shit the bed in the red zone. If they don’t score on 40+ yard bombs, it’s a coin flip as to whether they’ll be able to actually get 6 when they’re in the red zone.
This would be okay if they were a methodical running offense; a ball control offense that chews up clock (like Michigan). If they were one of those teams that plays keep away, and limits you to like 8-11 possessions a game, they would be fine kicking field goals. But Michigan had 14 possessions in that game on Saturday. They had a lot of chances to score on the Ohio State defense. Ohio State’s defense forced 5 punts on Michigan and still gave up 45 points.
That is why it’s so important for Ohio State to get touchdowns in the red zone, not field goals. If you’re giving the other team 14 possessions, then you have to make sure you’re scoring a lot of touchdowns and pulling away from them early. Otherwise, they just have way too many chances to beat you. Eventually the dam is going to break when your defense has to trot out there for a 12th, 13th, 14th time and the game is still in the balance. That’s a lot of plays to ask your defense to play.
If Ohio State was more sound in the secondary, and could count on their defense to not even shut opposing offenses down, but simply make it take a lot more time for them to score and force a ton of field goals, then they’d be able to win games 23-10, 24-13, etc. But they’re not. They’re an aggressive, attacking defense that tries to force three and outs quickly, because they know opposing offenses are going to try to control the ball to keep the Ohio State offense off the field. So the Ohio State defense tries to get the ball back to the Ohio State offense as quickly as possible. Unfortunately this go for broke approach to defense often results in a lot of all-or-nothing plays where they either get a huge sack, or they get beat deep and allow a big gain over the top. Of course, it’s usually not supposed to happen 3-4 times in one half of football, and the secondary is supposed to execute a lot better.
Ohio State is an explosive, vertical, big-play, pass-first offense. They are built to bury you under an avalanche of points early on, not hold on to the ball and chew up clock. They are built to have games wrapped up by halftime, not to grind out four quarters with you. They are Mike Tyson: built to knock you out in the first round, but if you can survive the first round with them, you have a great chance to beat them. They cannot score 23 points and beat great teams. It’s impossible.
They beat Notre Dame 21-10, but Notre Dame is seriously challenged on offense and not an elite team. Notre Dame is a top-25 team, not a top-10 team, or a top-5 team.
If you are at least within spitting distance of Ohio State in talent, and you make them play a four quarter game, they simply cannot do it. They can’t win games 24-20, or 30-27, against legit competition.
The Wisconsin game this year is the ideal scenario for Ohio State: they got the ball first, went right down the field in 2 plays by picking up huge yards through the air, and then punched in a TD from the one yard line. Then, with Wisconsin already feeling the pressure of needing to keep up, they threw a pick on their first possession deep in their own territory. Ohio State then scored another TD to make it 14-0 barely six minutes into the game. Then, after another quick defensive stop, Ohio State was able to find the endzone yet again in the first quarter to make it 21-0. It’s over at that point for a team like Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a running team; they are not built to maintain a pace like that. It’s 28-0 before Wisconsin even knew what hit them, they went into the half down 31-7. That’s ballgame.
This is was what Ohio State wanted to do against Michigan, too. They were kind of on pace to do this by scoring that early TD, forcing a Michigan field goal to make it 7-3, and then getting all the way down to the Michigan 14 yard line on the next drive. But instead of scoring another TD to make it 14-3, they had to kick a field goal. That’s still okay, because if they get another stop, which they did, they have the opportunity to go up 17-3. The problem was they went for it on 4th down from the Michigan 34 and didn’t get it. On that 4th down play, Cade Stover the tight end had a step, but it was a tough throw to make and it was just out of his reach. They had the whole middle of the field open on that play, so if Stover had just cut in instead of running up field, it would’ve been an easy completion.
But not getting that 4th down conversion was a pivotal moment in the game, even though it was early in the second quarter, because the offensive death machine they fashion themselves to be basically sputtered out. Their goal is to make it a two-possession game as quickly as possible, and they failed. Again, it would’ve been much easier if Stover was coming across the middle instead of running straight downfield, but he had a step, and Stroud has to make that throw. It’s a very difficult throw to make, but if he’s a Heisman QB, he makes that throw.
The entire game was in the balance on that one play, because if you convert it, you give yourself a chance to go up 17-3, and at that point all you really need is one more stop, and one more scoring drive, and the game is basically over at that point. 24-3 in the second quarter, or even 20-3, and that’s pretty much curtains. It would enable Ohio State’s defense to turn down the pressure and go into more of a cover-two scheme, with the plan to just make sure Michigan cannot score quickly. You make them have to move the ball down the field in 10-15 play scoring drives that take up a lot of time, and time would not be on Michigan’s side at that point if they’re down 24-3 or 20-3.
You’re basically only asking your defense to get like 3 or 4 stops early in the game, assuming your offense can put up 20-24 points, and that’s how you win. What really screwed things up for Ohio State was that first long TD to Cornelius Johnson, because it made the score 10-10. Michigan then had some breathing room; they had survived the initial haymaker, and they had some leeway to make defensive adjustments against what Ohio State had been running. Ohio State’s whole plan is to build up an insurmountable lead before you can even make any real adjustments on defense, but obviously that became impossible when they failed to convert that fourth down play, and then had a breakdown in the secondary and allowed a long TD to make the score 10-10.
That’s the book on Ohio State right now under Ryan Day, and it really hasn’t changed much since 2019.
Their plan was to avalanche Michigan and be up 31-3 at halftime, and when they failed to do that, they had no backup plan.
Ohio State can only win one way, and that’s to be up 3 or 4 scores on you at halftime.
Ryan Day, the supposed “offensive genius,” has an offense that doesn’t work unless everything is just perfect. They just make it so difficult on themselves to not only score points but to even gain yards. There are no easy competitions, very few dink and dunk plays; no designed quick, blitz-beater passes. It feels like it’s all slow-developing and complex—and countered rather easily by simply blitzing the quarterback.
It’s like I said my prediction post about this game and this Ohio State team: they just are not an offense suited to going down the field in long, methodical drives. It’s either 3-4 big chunk plays to get down the field or they likely get stuck in the mud. If they don’t knock you out with the haymaker, they are incapable of beating you with a jab.
They only throw deep or behind the line of scrimmage. Very little in between. They have no plays designed to get like 4-8 yards. Every other team in college football has short and intermediate stuff. Ohio State doesn’t.
Watch Ohio State’s offense, and then watch a team like Georgia, or Tennessee, or USC, or TCU: all those teams can manufacture yards when needed. They can move the ball down the field without hitting on deep passes. They can nickel and dime you. Ohio State really doesn’t. It’s big chunk plays or nothing, really.
Also, look at Texas under Steve Sarkisian, or even when he was the playcaller at Alabama: Sark might be the best in the business at having plays designed for all situations. He needs 6 yards, he has plays to get 6 yards. He’s got so many clever plays for pretty much and down and distance situation.
Again, the best way I can describe it in just one sentence is that Ohio State makes it harder on themselves than they need to. They are a very all-or-nothing type of offense.
They have one way of beating you, and that’s it. If they fail to jump out to like a 31-7 first half lead, they unravel at the seams.
Opposing teams know that if they’re in a one possession game with Ohio State at halftime, they’ve got a great shot at winning. Because Ohio State is not built to win four quarter games. Everything has to go perfectly for them to be up 31-7 at half, but if that’s not the case, then they are in trouble. This is exactly how the Michigan game played out.
The bottom line in this game is that in spite of all the coverage busts and poor play by Ohio State in the secondary, despite the underwhelming pass rush, they still had a halftime lead. And after yet another secondary breakdown in the third quarter, it was only 24-20 Michigan. In fact Michigan went into the 4th quarter with that same 4 point lead.
It was not like all those mistakes they made were insurmountable.
The real reason Ohio State lost this game is because their offense completely shit the bed in the second half.
You are Ohio State, supposedly the best offense in America, and you can’t score more than 3 points in the second half of the biggest game of the season? That is pathetic, it’s unacceptable, and it’s a damning indictment on Ryan Day and his entire offensive system. It’s on Stroud, too, because he did not have a great game, either. More on him later.
I know that game didn’t go according to script for Ohio State. You were supposed to be up 31-3 at halftime and be on cruise control for the entire second half.
But news flash: big games usually don’t go according to plan. When that happens, you have to be able to adjust and come up with a new plan for how to win the game. And Ryan Day failed miserably at that.
The worst part was that Ohio State lost to a team that really had no real gameplan. Their identity all year has been to run the hell out of the ball, and that’s how they beat Ohio State last year, so that’s what they tried. And it was a total failure for them early on. Michigan’s gameplan went out the window in the first quarter. The run was being stuffed consistently and that was their bread and butter all season long.
So then they basically just started chucking it up and hoping to hit a big play, which they did not once but four times. And that’s how they scored their first 24 points. Michigan for most of that game was either a 75 yard passing touchdown or no gain. And they still won the game. That is just mind-blowing.
But credit to them, they did what Ryan Day utterly failed to do: they adjusted when their original plan wasn’t working. They realized their running backs were going nowhere, and so they figured why not take some deep shots if Ohio State is going to load the box up. And it worked for them, because it turns out Ohio State’s safeties are very, very bad.
Did that strategy only work for Michigan because Ohio State’s DBs made multiple catastrophic blunders? Sure. I don’t think Michigan expected to have anywhere near that much success through the air in that game. It worked out for them way better than they could’ve possibly imagined. But they knew the secondary for Ohio State was suspect, which is why they tested it in the first place. They knew that if they couldn’t run the ball, they might be able to get something going through the air on deep shots. And they were correct.
And that’s the difference. Michigan made adjustments when their original gameplan didn’t work, Ohio State didn’t.
Time for Day to Give up Playcalling?
If Ryan Day isn’t going to be fired–and I don’t think he will be–then he has to give up playcalling duties to the offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. He has to. Something has to change here. This is not working.
The good news is I think there’s actually a good chance that giving up playcalling would be a huge benefit for the team.
Jim Harbaugh doesn’t call plays. Saban doesn’t call plays, Kirby doesn’t call plays. Urban Meyer didn’t call plays when he was at Ohio State. It’s okay to not call plays. In fact it’s probably preferable for a head coach to not call the plays.
As the head coach of a football team, you are in charge of everything. You are in charge of managing the game and managing your players and assistant coaches. You have to make sure every unit on your team is buttoned down and firing on all cylinders. You have to be in charge of the team.
If you’re the playcaller for your team, you are going to be incapable of managing the team. Playcalling is a full-time job, and it will naturally prevent you from doing all the other things that head coaches have to do. Being buried in that play sheet all game long means other areas will suffer. It’s virtually impossible to have enough bandwidth to be both an effective playcaller and an effective team and game manager. You can either be good at one and bad at the other, or mediocre at both.
Plus, on top of that, as the head coach, you’re on the sidelines. It’s not a great vantage point to really study what the defense is doing and make play calls based what you’re seeing out of the defense. It’s a great way to be able to gauge the mood of your team at critical junctures–like if you are facing a 4th and 1, and you look over at your offensive line and they’re all exhausted and have their heads down, you probably want to call the punt. But you can just overrule your playcaller in the booth if that’s the case–you can just say, “No, we’re not going for this 4th down. Punt it away and play field position.”
It’s much better to have your offensive playcaller up in the booth, where he can see the whole field and really get that bird’s eye view of the game, like he’s playing Madden. You can see when the safeties begin creeping towards the line of scrimmage, you can see parts of the field that are being left undefended–it’s just so much more of an advantage for a playcaller.
Perhaps part of the reason that Ryan Day’s playcalling is frustrating and confusing to fans watching on TV is because they’re seeing things that he’s not, given their vantage point from the TV cameras.
You have to be able to make adjustments if your Plan A does not work out. As we just went over, Ohio State doesn’t have much of a backup plan when they fail to land the knockout blow early.
You can get away with not having a backup plan when you’re playing teams like Northwestern and Michigan State, but not when you’re playing a team like Michigan. That’s going to be a chess match. You’re going to have to adapt and evolve. Ohio State was completely unable to do that in the second half.
I think part of the reason this is the case is because Day is the one calling the plays, and he’s down on the field as opposed to up in the booth.
It’s much better for the guy who is up in the booth, with the bird’s eye view of the field, to be the one calling the plays. Obviously he’s up there in constant communication with Ryan Day and letting him know what he sees from the booth, but that’s not the same as being up in the booth and calling the plays yourself. It’s a game of telephone, it’s inefficient, plus the head coach also has the defensive coordinator in his ear as well. There’s just no way Ryan Day is going to be able to make proper adjustments on offense when he also has defense and special teams to worry about as well, and when he’s basing his adjustments off of what the OC is relaying to him through a headset.
The guy up in the booth should be calling the plays on offense.
This article in the LA Times from 2013 said that only two teams in the BCS era (1998-2013) won a National Championship with a head coach that called the plays: Ohio State in 2002, and Florida State in 2013.
No National Championship head coach during the CFP era has been a playcaller. Urban, Saban, Dabo, Orgeron, Kirby–none of those guys call plays.
As a head coach that calls plays, you are not calling plays from the proper vantage point, and you are too buried in your play sheet to properly fulfill your role as CEO of the team. You’re getting the worst of both worlds.
Head coaches have to manage all three phases of the team. There’s no two ways about it. You can’t just say, if you’re Ryan Day, “Okay defense, Jim Knowles is your boss, just do whatever he says.” You have to be the head coach of the whole team.
And if you’re calling plays, then you inevitably favor the offense–that’s what gets the bulk of your attention. And that causes the other areas to suffer. Ryan Day right now as the playcaller is like a glorified offensive coordinator. There’s no centralized leader that oversees the entire team at all times.
But it also causes the offense to suffer because you’re still trying to give the other phases of the game some attention, so the offense doesn’t even get your full attention. Again, how are you supposed to make offensive adjustments when you’re also keeping tabs on the defense and the special teams? It’s impossible.
An offensive coordinator, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry about anything but the offense. He is able to devote 100% of his time and attention to the offense. He doesn’t have to worry about making adjustments on defense.
There’s a reason most head coaches don’t call plays.
It’s time for Ryan Day to give up the playcalling and assume more of a CEO role for the team. Be the leader of the whole team, not just the offense. Manage the game–nobody else on the team is going to do that for you.
I think this needs to happen at Ohio State ASAP. Just look around. None of the other top-tier programs have head coaches who call plays. It’s pretty arrogant to think you alone can make it work. Just give it up.
Stroud is Part of the Problem
I’ve talked a lot about Ryan Day and his coaching and play-calling, and the defensive breakdowns. But there’s one other person who I think deserves a good chunk of the blame here, although I am usually very hesitant to criticize players in college football. In the NFL, I have no problem with saying a player isn’t getting the job done, because those are pros; these are grown men being paid millions of dollars, and if they’re not getting the job done, that’s their fault.
In college football, these are young kids, and it’s really hard to blame a kid for not being perfect. That’s what kids do: they’re overly emotional, they’re undisciplined, and they are often hard-headed and don’t listen.
And yet, there are a lot of college football teams out there where the players are remarkably disciplined, and play sound football. You can tell the difference between well-coached teams and poorly coached teams. And so you have to then conclude that even though 18-22 year old kids are overly emotional, undisciplined by nature and erratic, it is possible to get them to listen and do what they’re supposed to do consistently. A lot of college football programs out there do it, after all.
So I’m very critical of the ones that don’t. And I usually pin wins and losses on coaching when it comes to college football. Even execution falls on the coaching staff: if your players aren’t executing, it means they’re either undisciplined or they haven’t practiced it enough. If your defense doesn’t tackle well, I put that on the coaching staff for not emphasizing it enough.
I just wanted to preface this next part with that. Because when I talk here about CJ Stroud, I am not going to be talking about him needing to play better, or saying that Ohio State would’ve won if he was better.
I’m going to be talking about his inherent limitations here. I don’t hold any of this against him, I also want to make that clear. He is who he is, and if anything, it’s on the coaching staff for not taking this into account.
But still, I think it’s clear by this point that Ohio State has a much lower ceiling with him at QB than they did with Justin Fields.
I’ll put it this way, and credit to Zach Smith and Kris on the Menace 2 podcast for bringing it up: Nobody was calling Ryan Day and the Ohio State football program soft when Justin Fields was the quarterback.
The more I think about it, the more it just makes sense that Ryan Day’s team has taken a step back since losing Justin Fields. They were great with Fields, because Fields is a dawg, and he could make plays when things break down. CJ Stroud just isn’t on Fields’ level, and it shows.
Ohio State needs a new quarterback. Stroud is a good dude, and has a good arm, but I don’t think he has any dawg in him. That grit, mental toughness. I just don’t see him as a foxhole guy, a warrior. I don’t see him as that guy who’s going to get in his teammates faces, give impassioned speeches to rally the troops, and really just be the emotional leader of the team. When Ohio State was down 31-20 in the fourth quarter of that game, and it was still winnable, that’s when CJ Stroud needs to say to the team, “Follow me and we’ll win this game.” The QB has to be that emotional leader of the offense, and I don’t think Stroud is that guy.
Fields was an absolute warrior. He got hurt during the Michigan game in Ann Arbor. He came back into the game and threw a ridiculous touchdown in the third quarter to really put the game away. And Fields got his ribs broken on a hard hit during the Clemson playoff game in 2020. He stayed in the game and led his team to victory. Fields had (and has) so much dawg in him. That kind of stuff just rallies everyone on the team, and those shifts in mentality and energy are massively important in big games.
JT Barrett was another Ohio State QB who really had some dawg in him. He was the unquestioned emotional leader of the team. He was a dude who could rally the troops, look his guys in the eyes and say, “We are not losing this game. Follow me and I’ll lead us to victory. Let’s go.” JT Barrett was such a dawg, a relentless competitor.
I don’t see that in CJ Stroud, really. I just think the past two years–and this game especially–have really shown what an incredible football player Justin Fields was, and I think it really showed the limitations of CJ Stroud. I don’t think he possesses the ability to really inspire and energize his teammates.
This is just who he is. I’m not saying he needs to change or try to be someone he’s not, it’s just an acknowledgement of reality. He’s a laid back California guy.
Stroud panics anytime there’s even a tiny little bit of pressure. That’s partly on him, but again, I always go back to the fact that this is college football and coaches are supposed to develop players, correct their flaws. When you see the same problems over and and over again, that’s a coaching failure. At the very least, if you can’t coach your QB to handle pressure better, then you should at least be able to adjust your play calling to neutralize the pressure.
But part of it is on Stroud. The moment things don’t go as planned, he crumbles. He is incapable of going off-script. He is not on the same level as guys like Caleb Williams and Bryce Young. He’s not on Justin Fields’ level. Fields was a master of going off-script and making something out of nothing. Stroud doesn’t do that at all, and that’s a problem because quarterbacks these days need to be able to make something out of nothing, and make plays when the play that was originally called breaks down.
The Heisman was within CJ Stroud’s grasp in that game. It was at one point in the 4th quarter 31-20 Michigan. Ohio State had the ball on the Michigan 9, but–surprise, surprise–their offense got bogged down in the red zone and they had to settle for a field goal. They almost had a huge TD to Cade Stover, who had the ball in his hands in the end zone, but Michigan’s Mike Sanristril punched it out. It was a beautiful play by Sanristril–just perfectly executed by him to poke the ball right out. Massive, game-changing play. Ohio State still kicked a field goal to make it 31-23, but it was a massively deflating moment for Ohio State even though they had cut it to one score.
Stroud had an opportunity to lead a 4th quarter comeback and pull off a major Heisman Moment™. Instead, Ohio State got outscored 21-3 in the 4th quarter.
The truth is that CJ Stroud is not a Heisman-caliber QB. If he was, he would’ve rallied his team to victory against Michigan.
Now, that’s not to say CJ Stroud is a surefire bust in the NFL, because he has the size and the arm to be a great NFL quarterback. Somebody is going to draft him highly, and he might do really well in the NFL.
But at Ohio State, there was a definite drop-off from Justin Fields to CJ Stroud, both physically (Fields had the better arm and was miles ahead of Stroud as a runner, which is a really big deal) and mentally. I just think Fields was way more of a dawg than Stroud, and that rubs off on the entire program.
As much as I talk about Ryan Day being an inadequate leader who does not have control of his program, it’s really about the quarterback just as much. That’s supposed to be the leader of the team emotionally. I know every QB has their own unique leadership style, but you can consistently see the best quarterbacks out there–from Tom Brady to Peyton Manning to Aaron Rodgers, to Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow–they’ve all got dawg in them, an edge, a mean streak, fire. They will bark at their teammates, they will show emotion after big plays, they get visibly mad on the field when the refs miss a call. I think that element is just missing in CJ Stroud, and thus it’s missing on the Ohio State football team to a large degree.
Additionally, there’s a schematic and more tangible reason why they’ve taken a step back with Stroud: he doesn’t do the RPO. He’s either unable or unwilling to run the ball, which basically renders the RPO useless. You only run the RPO when the QB is a run threat, and Stroud is not.
So Ohio State doesn’t run the RPO anymore. Go watch highlights of the 2020 Big Ten Championship, for example. They ran the RPO a ton with Justin Fields and Trey Sermon. They don’t do that stuff anymore.
Their running backs seem to consistently miss the holes, too. It’s like they always run right to the spot where they’re going to get stuffed, or tackled after a disappointing three-yard gain. A large part of this is probably because they don’t run the RPO anymore. The RPO was Ohio State’s bread and butter for like a decade, first with Urban, and then in the first two years with Day.
Now they’re expected the run the ball without the help of the RPO. They can do it sometimes because they just have so much talent, but they’re nowhere near as good a running team as they used to be even as recently as 2020.
And finally, Stroud’s inability or unwillingness to run the ball (whichever it is) seriously limits the Ohio State offense. Justin Fields, because he would pick up so many first downs with his legs, was able to extend drives all the time when the passes aren’t connecting. He gave the Ohio State offense so much more margin for error than Stroud does, because if nobody’s open, then Fields would just tuck and run for 15-20 yards and move the chains, giving them a new set of downs and three more chances to hit on a big passing play. And then of course they could run the ball out of the RPO, and since Fields was such a threat to keep it, it would open up holes for the running backs.
Stroud, on the other hand, has to basically be perfect. Think about it. If he throws an incomplete pass on first down, then they’re facing a second and 10. Say they run it for 3-4 yards, that brings up a passing situation on third down, and then the pressure is really on. The defense will be expecting the pass, which makes it that much harder to convert.
It’s just so much tougher for Ohio State to play the type of offensive football they want to play when they don’t have a quarterback capable of running the ball. You have to be essentially perfect throwing the ball because just one incompletion means you’re operating at a deficit on that set of downs. And then it makes it more difficult on the running backs because it’s usually just a straight up handoff without an RPO, and RPOs cause the defense to hesitate instead of attack.
After the past two seasons, I’ve come to the unavoidable conclusion that for this offensive system Ohio State runs, a QB with the ability and willingness to run is absolutely essential. Not a doubt in my mind. They need a dual threat QB. With a QB like Stroud, they basically can only play one way, and it puts a definite hard ceiling on them.
I’m not saying they need another Justin Fields, because Fields was one of a kind. Guys like him don’t come around too often. But the next Ohio State quarterback absolutely needs to be willing and able to tuck it and run. Ryan Day’s offensive system is leaps and bounds better when the QB is a threat to run it.
Honestly, from this perspective, it’s actually impressive how good they were able to be with Stroud. His skillset just puts so many limitations on that offensive system, and by extension the defense as well. You think about how many times Ohio State was forced to punt the ball away and send the defense back out on to the field because of Stroud’s inability or unwillingness to run, vs. how many times Justin Fields kept the offense on the field because he converted a third down with his legs.
It really changes everything.
Day Will Stay
Ohio State fans are mad, depressed, confused and embarrassed by the high profile failure, and they want heads to roll. I get it. But firing Ryan Day will not change the outcome of that game. It’s over. There’s nothing that can be done to change it.
But the main thing here is that Ohio State couldn’t fire Ryan Day now even if they wanted to, because there’s really no better option. Luke Fickell is now the head coach at Wisconsin. I think he took that job because he wanted to be in the Big Ten and go up against both Ohio State and Michigan. That, and he knew he had basically maxed out at Cincinnati. He had them in the freaking College Football Playoff, after all. He doesn’t get enough credit for how incredible an accomplishment that is. No G5 team had ever made the playoff before Cincinnati did it last year. There’s only four spots in the playoff, and he was able to get one of them for Cincinnati. That’s just amazing. But it’s also as good as it’s ever going to get at Cincinnati, and Fickell knows that.
I also think he was determined to coach in the Big Ten. Obviously he had that choice at Michigan State but that was in 2020 before Cincinnati announced a move to the Big 12. I think that really changed the outlook on the Cincy job for him: the transition to the Big 12 isn’t an easy one for a G5 school like Cincy, even a really good G5 school.
Fickell is not going to just leave Wisconsin in the lurch. He’s a very loyal guy who stayed at Cincinnati for a long time despite numerous other offers. He turned down I believe Oklahoma, USC, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and possibly even LSU… and accepted Wisconsin.
So he’s locked up for at least a few years, although I’m sure he’d come running if he was ever asked down the road, but that’s not happening anytime soon. Just forget about Luke Fickell coaching Ohio State for at least 4-5 years.
And so then the only other big time option is Mike Vrabel, who probably has no interest in leaving the NFL. I just don’t see him as a guy who would love the recruiting aspect of a college job, along with NIL and the transfer portal, which is basically like free agency but 50x worse. I think Vrabel would be a phenomenal college football coach for Ohio State. But just look at the guy: do you think he’s the kind of guy that wants to fly out to Chester County, PA or Bradenton, FL and beg and plead some 17 year old kid to come play football at Ohio State? I just don’t see it.
To be a college football coach, you have to kind of be a politician almost–a salesman. You have to be kind of slick, in a way. I’m not going to say sleazy, or snake oil salesmen, but I’ll put it this way: college football coaches are almost always colorful characters, gladhanders, a bit eccentric. You kind of have to be if you’re always recruiting, which you are. I just don’t see Mike Vrabel as that kind of guy. He’s very no-nonsense, no bullshit–he’s a straight shooter. There’s a lot of bullshit that goes into being a college football head coach that I just don’t think Mike Vrabel wants anything to do with.
However if Derrick Henry starts falling apart (he’s almost 29 years old) and Ryan Tannehill starts getting old and washed up (he’ll be 35 at the start of next season), then it could start to get miserable in Tennessee. And if by that time Ohio State is continually losing to Michigan and Ryan Day still can’t figure it out, then maybe Vrabel will feel an obligation to go back to Columbus and right the ship.
That, or they might just make him an offer he can’t refuse. Vrabel is rumored to be making $9 million a year right now, Ohio State would probably have to double that to get him to consider. $18 million a year is an astronomical sum for a college football coach. Nick Saban makes $11.7 million a year, and Ohio State is currently paying Ryan Day about $9.5 million. But the top paid NFL coaches–Belichick and Sean McVay–are making $18 mil a year. So in order to lure him away from the NFL, I think he’s going to have to get an incredible sum of money.
But the bottom line is that it’s not happening anytime soon. It’s not happening until 2024 at the earliest. And even then, I think it’s unlikely that Mike Vrabel would be interested in coaching at the college level.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive in to a little bit more about these comparisons between Urban Meyer and Ryan Day. Although Urban Meyer is the superior coach, I think people have been pretty quick to forget that it wasn’t always sunshine and roses for Ohio State with Urban in charge. In fact, his last three years there were massively disappointing.
Ryan Day was helped when he started out by retaining basically all of Urban’s coaching staff. They kept the same structure in place and basically tried to make it like Urban was still the coach, even though he wasn’t.
But now they’ve really kind of played out with that whole bunch. They had to get rid of Kerry Coombs, but he never should have been defensive coordinator in the first place. He is a fine secondary coach—great, even—at least he was. He was not great as a defensive coordinator. They got rid of Al Washington when the linebackers fell off a cliff, too.
Now they’re going to probably have to get rid of defensive line coach Larry Johnson because of his questionable rotations and the fact that this defensive line doesn’t get a great pass rush going. Mike Hall Jr. could barely get on the field against Michigan because he’s not gap sound, and that’s a coaching failure. Johnson can recruit the hell out of the defensive line but the players are not being developed like they should.
And you could also argue Larry Johnson has not done a great job of recruiting and developing interior defensive linemen, either. Ohio State lately has been a lot better at edge rusher than they have at interior D-line. And that’s a real issue when it comes to being able to stop the run and pressure the QB with just four, which Ohio State really can’t do. That’s why they have to send linebackers and blitz so often, which leaves them vulnerable in the secondary. You compare Ohio State’s interior D-Linemen to what Georgia has, and even Michigan with Mazi Smith, and it’s no contest.
But was it such a great idea to keep the Urban staff in place for Ryan Day?
The 2019 team was so good because Ryan Day was still at the top of his game as a play caller, and they had Jeff Hafley in charge of the defense. Hafley wasn’t an Urban Meyer guy. Day brought him in. And Day also brought in Justin Fields, too.
It just feels like the problems for Ohio State over the past couple of years–the run defense last year, the pass defense this year–are mainly pinned on guys who were holdovers from the Urban years. Obviously the offensive playcalling is all on Ryan Day, but you have to wonder if it was such a great idea to just swap out head coaches while leaving everyone else underneath basically in place.
People remember the Urban years as perfect and wonderful now because he always beat Michigan. But they were far from perfect. In fact Urban’s last three seasons were huge disappointments.
In 2018 they got taken to overtime by Maryland. Won that game 52-51 on a failed Maryland two point conversion. They were unimpressive against Northwestern in the Big Ten Title game–even though the final was 45-24 Ohio State, that game was 31-24 Ohio State with 10 minutes left. And then who could forget about when Ohio State got whomped by Purdue 49-20, a loss so ugly and embarrassing it kept them out of the playoff despite the fact that it was the only loss they had in a season where they beat a top-5 Michigan team 62-39 and won the Big Ten.
They also barely beat a Penn State team that year that finished 9-4, lost to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, and lost 42-7 to Michigan.
2018 Ohio State also beat Minnesota 30-14 at home. That game was 23-14 OSU with about 5 minutes left to play. They barely scraped by Nebraska at home 36-31. They were losing that game to Nebraska at halftime 21-16.
2018 Ohio State was not a great football team even though they went 13-1 and won the Rose Bowl. Probably a lot of their problems stemmed from the fact that Urban was a lame duck and everybody knew it. The only saving grace was that they beat Michigan that year. And had a great comeback win against Penn state on the road at night. But I remember that year I was never more certain that Michigan was finally going to beat them. When they poured 62 on Michigan’s top ranked defense that year it was shocking. But I guess old Urban had one last trick up his sleeve, one last fuck you for Michigan.
But let’s not act like the Ohio State football program was the gold standard for the nation when Urban Meyer left. The 2018 was 12-1 Big Ten champs and never even considered for the playoff seriously because of how unimpressive they’d been all year long.
And in 2017, they lost soundly at home (31-16) to Oklahoma. Yes, that was probably the best Oklahoma team of the last 10-15 years, and they had Baker Mayfield, the eventual Heisman winner. Ohio State is still supposed to beat Oklahoma. It was Lincoln Riley’s first season. His second ever game as head coach of Oklahoma and he went into Ohio Stadium and won by two scores. That happened under Urban Meyer’s watch–and then, after the game, Baker’s douchebag ass planted the OU flag at the 50 yard line. I thought that never happened before Ryan Day took over?
The 2017 team was actually pretty good outside of the Oklahoma game and the huge letdown against Iowa immediately following the Penn State game. It was a huge emotional 39-38 win over Penn state in the shoe. Penn State had Saquon Barkley and was ranked #2 and had beaten Ohio State the previous year. Ohio state was down 21-3 in the first half. The next week they went to Iowa and just got absolutely housed 55-24. But other than those two games they were pretty dominant.
Probably a big issue in 2017 was it was Ryan Day’s first year there as co-OC, along with Kevin Wilson. The two were brought in to overhaul the offense after the debacle of 2016. They clearly didn’t have it together early on that season as evidenced by scoring only 16 on Oklahoma. It’s not like Oklahoma had some great defense or anything. They never have a good defense. So Ohio State was flawed in ‘17 as well.
But not quite as flawed as they were in 2016, when they had absolutely zero offense down the stretch. It’s why they eventually brought in Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson after the season. They got shut out 31-0 by Clemson in the playoff. They had a great defense that year but absolutely nothing going for them on offense.
People need to realize that it was not all perfect with Urban Meyer in charge. Yes, Urban won a National Championship and went 7-0 against Michigan. In those regards, Ryan Day has fallen way short.
But let’s not act like there were no extremely ugly and embarrassing losses under Urban.
Urban definitely had Michigan’s number, but Dabo Swinney and Clemson had Urban’s number. Clemson beat Ohio State in the 2013 Orange Bowl, and then again in the 2016 playoff 31-0 as we just went over.
And you could also argue there was a stretch there where Michigan State had Urban’s number as well. In both 2013 and 2015, Ohio State had their National Championship dreams crushed at the hands of Michigan State. They were 12-0 going in to the 2013 Big Ten Championship, but lost to Sparty 34-24 (this was back when it was Legends and Leaders divisions not East and West). They win that game, and they’re in the National Championship game against a very beatable Florida State squad that barely squeaked by an Auburn team that was only in the National Championship game because, no joke, they might have been the single luckiest team in the history of collegiate level American football.
In 2015, what I thought was the best of all of Urban’s Ohio State teams on paper, lost at home to Michigan State in the second to last game of the year by a score of 17-14. That year, Ohio State had Zeke Elliott, Michael Thomas and Curtis Samuel on offense, and still only managed to gain 132 yards of total offense and 5 first downs against Michigan State. FIVE first downs. Losing that game kept Ohio State out of the playoff and in my opinion cost them a National Championship. That 2015 was basically the 2014 National Championship team, just a year older. The only guy they were missing was offensive coordinator Tom Herman; their offense just didn’t work without him.
Mark D’Antonio’s Michigan State teams low-key had Urban’s number early on in his tenure at Ohio State.
But that’s okay, because it’s not Michigan. I’m not bemoaning the fact, because I understand how important the Michigan rivalry is for Ohio State fans, but let’s get a little perspective here.
Even in the 2014 National Championship season, a lot of the time, it was not pretty. Right off the bat, they lost at home, 35-21, to a Virginia Tech team that went 7-6 that year. They went to double OT with Penn State in Happy Valley and came away with a win. Normally that would be impressive, but Penn State went 7-6 that year. They won 31-24 at Minnesota later on–a Minnesota team that went 8-5. In the playoff game against Bama, although they dominated most of that game, they were down 21-6 early. It looked like Bama was going to run away with it and blow their doors off. And in the National Championship game against Oregon, I think they had like 4 turnovers or something? They won that game 42-20, but it could’ve been like 63-10 if they had just taken care of the ball. Other than the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin, which Ohio State famously won 59-0, there were a lot of moments during that 2014 season where it was not pretty.
So miss me with all this pining for the glory days of Urban Meyer. Urban was far from perfect. Take off the rose colored glasses.
People are also talking about firing Mickey Marotti, the longtime strength and conditioning coach.
I am not sure why this has become a narrative, honestly.
The whole physical toughness and softness thing went out the window against Michigan. They did not get beaten physically. They got outcoached and outplayed in the second half, and had meltdowns in the secondary in key moments.
Mick does not coach the secondary. The secondary is why they lost that game to Michigan. The secondary through blown coverages handed Michigan 24 points.
Mick is the one who handles instilling the culture of beating Michigan. He’s doing the same stuff that worked under urban. He just doesn’t have any control over the secondary. I am not sure why he’s getting blamed for that game.
People are pointing to the injuries that plagued the team all year, but it’s hard to see how those were his fault as well.
JSN missed most of the season because he reinjured his hamstring twice because they tried to bring him back too early. He got hurt in week one, then for some reason they tried to bring him back for the Toledo game. Then they tried to bring him back later for the Iowa game and he got hurt there for a third time.
Miyan Williams had a I believe a broken finger in the Penn State game. That’s not coach Mick’s fault.
Miyan also hurt his ankle against Indiana after a defender landed on it. How is that coach Mick’s fault there?
Treyveon Henderson has foot injuries. He said on Twitter he has a broken bone in his foot and torn ligaments. I’m not sure how that’s on Mick. Wasn’t doing enough foot workouts? Come on. S&C cannot prevent broken bones and torn ligaments.
And as for the secondary, it’s not Mick’s fault they have 6 cornerbacks on scholarship.
It’s lazy and simplistic thinking to say Ohio State’s injuries are all on coach mick. I’ve never once in ten years heard anyone say coach Mick is the problem until this year. His S&C program was never called into question until this season.
Last year they tried to argue Ohio State’s players weren’t physically strong enough to beat Michigan and that’s why they were soft and lost. But that was always nonsense. They lost last year because of scheme. They were bad at tackling, bad at linebacker and their DBs wouldn’t tackle. They were not gap sound.
Just a lazy and ridiculous narrative out there on Twitter about Mickey Marotti.
There is Still Hope
The one thing I will say is that usually in sports, when things look bleakest is right before they get better.
I’m sure Michigan fans in 2019 and 2020 thought their program was totally cooked.
Coming in to the 2021 game, they had lost 7 in a row to Urban Meyer, plus lost at home to Ryan Day in his first season.
They knew they weren’t going to beat Urban. He just had their number.
But when Ohio State had a new coach? And the game is at home in Ann Arbor?
2019 should’ve been the year. Instead Ohio State won by 29.
In that moment, Michigan fans must’ve been despondent. They probably figured they’d never beat Ohio State again. Couldn’t beat Urban, and then the new guy takes over in Columbus and you lose even worse to him.
If not then, in 2019, then when would Michigan ever beat Ohio State again? Eventually the losing streak will be so long that nobody in the younger generation will remember when Michigan was actually on the same level as Ohio State, and then Michigan will fall down to Notre Dame’s level permanently. Michigan will just be another Big Ten team that can only hope to catch Ohio State off guard once every 10-15 years.
Then comes the Covid year in 2020. Michigan goes 2-4 and can’t even play Ohio State because of Covid. Ohio State fans still to this day think Michigan ducked them and used Covid as an excuse. And there is some merit to that because Ohio State was favored by 30 in the game.
2020 was rock-bottom. An all-time low for Michigan. Not even losing but being accused of running from the rivalry altogether.
And now look at what they’ve done since that point.
In November of 2020, would anyone have guessed that Michigan would be where they are today?
Just when it looked like Harbaugh was a complete and total failure against Ohio State, he does this.
It’s possible that this was the rock-bottom moment for Ryan Day and Ohio State. It’s very possible.
It was an extremely ugly and embarrassing and shameful loss. But it can be overcome.
If Day reels off like 5 or 6 straight wins against Michigan from this point on, people will forgive this. They’ll look back on it and brush it off as “growing pains” or “bumps in the road.”
Just look at how Jim Harbaugh’s image has been completely transformed by beating Ohio State twice. Harbaugh started off 0-5 against Ohio State. Urban Meyer owned his bitch ass. People forget about 2019 but Ryan Day even took his team up to Ann Arbor and laid a 29-point whooping on Harbaugh.
Now Harbaugh has won 2 straight and people talk about him like he’s Bear Bryant. The funniest part is that they act like he’s never lost to Ohio State before, too. It’s like those 5 straight losses for him just never happened.
Winning the rivalry game makes a world of a difference for a coach’s reputation.
People in the Ohio State fanbase talk about Urban Meyer like he never lost a game. But Urban had some very ugly losses during his time at Ohio State. They lost 55-24 to Iowa. They lost 49-20 to fucking Purdue! They got shut out 31-0 by Clemson in the playoff in 2016. They let Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma come in to Ohio State and beat them 31-16, and then Baker’s clown ass planted the Oklahoma flag at the 50 yard line (Michigan did the same on Saturday, and everyone in Buckeye Nation is up in arms talking about how past teams would never let this happen–even though it did back in 2017).
Yet people in Buckeye Nation still revere Urban like a god. Why? Because he went 7-0 against Michigan (and won a Natty). Ohio State fans will tolerate a lot when the head coach consistently beats Michigan.
Same is true for Michigan fans. They got absolutely skull-dragged by Georgia in the playoff game last year, and nobody ever freaking talks about it! All they talk about is beating Ohio State. It’s like the Georgia game never happened, and the Ohio State game was for the National Championship.
Michigan is probably going to get skull-dragged by Georgia in the playoffs again this year, and I’m sure it will get swept under the rug just like last year, Because Harbaugh Beat Ohio State.
So if Ryan Day regains control of this rivalry and reels off like 4-5 in a row over Michigan, this game and last year’s game will quickly be forgotten. I promise you that.
Even if Ohio State goes up to Ann Arbor next year and beats the brakes off of Michigan, they’ll be singing Ryan Day’s praises in Columbus. They will not be saying, “Yeah, but the 2022 game…”
People forget quickly if you give them a good reason to forget.
Hell, Day might not even have to wait until November of 2023 to get his chance to turn things around. Ohio State could still get in to the playoff this year, and Michigan will be there.
We still have to wait and see the committee’s rankings tomorrow night, but if Ohio State is ranked #5, that means they’re in if USC or TCU lose their conference Championship games.
And Ohio State should be ranked #5 in the CFP rankings tomorrow night. There is no way Alabama should be ahead of them.
I know Bama’s two losses were close games, but they still have two losses to Ohio State’s one loss.
And Ohio State’s two best wins–Notre Dame and Penn State–are way better than Alabama’s best wins. Bama’s best win is over a now 8-4 Ole Miss team that was overrated as shit this year. Mississippi State, which is unranked and 8-4. And Bama also beat Texas by a point when Texas was missing Ewers.
Bama does not have quality wins.
And they just just gave up 318 rushing yards to Auburn. Yes, Bama won 49-27, but Bama is not a good team.
318 rushing yards!
In the event of a USC or TCU loss, there is no way Alabama should be in over Ohio State. No way.
We’ll have to see what the Committee thinks tomorrow night. It would not be shocking if Alabama comes in at #5, because Alabama is not held to the same standard as everyone else.
But there’s still an outside shot Ohio State sneaks in to the playoffs and gets a chance at revenge. If Tennessee was still considered a viable playoff contender after losing in non-competitive fashion to Georgia and being effectively eliminated from their division title hunt in the process, then Ohio State should still be alive as well.
If that happens, then it’s possible that the month off will give Jaxon Smith-Njigba time to heal up and enable him to play in the playoff game. That’s a huge deal. And the Ohio State running backs should be relatively healthy with a month off.
Obviously there’s a lot of “ifs” in there, and my gut is telling me both TCU and USC will win this weekend.
But it’s on the table for Ohio State. It’s a possibility.
And don’t forget: Georgia lost to Alabama 41-24 in the SEC Championship game last year, still went on to make the playoff, win the whole thing, and beat Alabama in the Natty. That SEC Championship game was non-competitive most of the way; really at no point in the second half was Georgia within one score. Bama had a comfortable 14+ point lead for basically the entire second half.
(Personally, I think Ohio State would be dodging a bullet by missing the playoffs. I think if they made it they’d get embarrassed again. Consider that of the teams they’d meet in the playoff, Michigan is far and away the worst passing team of the bunch and they still clowned that Ohio State secondary. It would get ugly in the playoffs against Georgia, TCU or USC. Take your pick–any of them would throw for 500 on that Ohio State secondary. USC might hang 70 on them, and I’m not even kidding.)
Look, I understand that a lot of Ohio State fans want Day fired. When I started this column in the aftermath of the came, I thought he should be fired as well. I wanted him gone before he could even get back to the locker room to address his team. I wanted him gone before the postgame press conferences. I wanted to see Luke Fickell named Ohio State head coach by sundown.
The Michigan game defines the whole season, in the eyes of the fans. You go 11-1 and lose to Michigan, it’s a failure. The fans want Ryan Day’s head on a platter, and they have every right to be pissed.
But I still think there’s reasons for some optimism here–at least some shreds of hope for the future.
Biggest thing is that they need Day to give up playcalling. I think that would be a major step in the right direction. The offense clearly doesn’t work and I think it’s because he calls the plays. Making this move would in my view benefit the whole team, not just the offense.
Second thing is that Jim Knowles will have another year with the defense. It was always a fantasy to expect him to completely turn things around in just one year. They were horrible last season. And the secondary was even worse than the run defense, honestly–people just didn’t realize it because the only game they remember from 2021 is the Michigan game.
Jim Knowles did his best to cover up the glaring deficiencies in the secondary with smoke and mirrors, but he could not fix that thing in one year. You saw against Toledo and Penn State–the only teams Ohio State played all season that were even remotely competent throwing the ball–that the OSU pass defense was very much exploitable. It didn’t really show up in the season-long stats because Ohio State played a bunch of teams that can’t throw the ball. But Michigan wasn’t fooled. It’s going to take more time for Jim Knowles to get that defense turned around. I think people really underestimate just how horrendously bad they were last season. Again: the pass defense was even worse than the run defense last year, and the run defense was atrocious.
The third thing is simply that I think they need new blood in there at quarterback. CJ Stroud has a good arm and is a good dude, but he has no dawg in him. So they’re a team without a leader. I really think that hurt them in the one game this year where they had their backs against the wall.
I don’t know who the next QB in line is–it’s either Kyle McCord or Devin Brown, both highly touted recruits. Neither of those guys is the next Justin Fields, but at the very least it will be good to get some new blood in there at QB. Maybe it turns out one of those guys is an absolute dawg and changes the culture of that team.
So I do think there’s a few reasons to be optimistic for 2023. Obviously it all hinges on the Michigan game next year. Even if they go 10-2 next year and miss the playoff, if they beat Michigan in Ann Arbor, and plant their flag at the 50 yard line–that goes a hell of a long way towards turning things around.
And then in 2024, or 2025 at the latest, the playoff expands to 12 teams, and Ohio State is basically making it every year. So that will really decrease the importance of the Michigan game going forward. It won’t make or break their season anymore.
I get why people want Ryan Day run out of town on a rail. I get why they think he’s a total pussy, he doesn’t get the rivalry, etc. All those thoughts went through my head on Saturday afternoon.
But I also think Ohio State fans need to step back off the ledge here. Rome is not burning to the ground. Especially with the chance to still make the playoff and avenge this loss in the National Championship game.
If they lose to Michigan in the National Championship game, you might as well not even take the field ever again. The rivalry is done, finished, over with at that point. That’s the end of the Ohio State football program.
But if Ohio State doesn’t make the playoff (and I’d give them like a 20% chance of making it, because I think USC and TCU will both win this weekend), then it’s all about next year.
Let Kyle McCord and Devin Brown play in whatever bowl game you end up in and see what you have in those two.
Michigan was able to come into Columbus and win with a first-year QB. So no excuses in 2023.
If Ohio State loses next year, then yes, it might be time to panic. But it all depends on how the game plays out of course.
If Day’s team is still making the same old mistakes–stalling out in the red zone, underwhelming on defense, overall poor execution and unrealized potential–then I think he’s got to be canned. That would mean he’s five years in and isn’t evolving.
That is when you have no choice but to go in a different direction.
That’s when the boosters will put their collective foot down. Nobody will care any longer how good of a recruiter Day is. What is he doing with all that talent? Not much–just beating up on Indiana and Mel Tucker.
But then again, Ohio State let John Cooper hang around for 13 years and compile a record of 2-10-1 against Michigan…