February 26, 2024

Ryan Day and Ohio State are now at a crossroads with a lot at stake

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – There are few college football fan bases similar to that of State of Ohio.

As a massive flagship institution of a populous state, the Buckeyes produce tens of thousands of alumni each year and inspire many more to don the scarlet and gray. Part of it is the simple fact that they are winning at a level that few can compare to; another is that they belong to the select group of schools without which you cannot tell the history of the sport. Expectations in the city are measured by rings and banners of national championships.

To say that being the head coach of such an endeavor is as daunting as it is rewarding would be an understatement.

If you’re looking for a win-it-all performance, few can compare to the team that has endured just one losing season in 35 years and remains one of the few teams to successfully enter the core of college football challenged the South.

At the same time, few coaches will be scrutinized as closely and often as the one who holds the big chair in Columbus. Every decision, from recruiting to low-level hiring to pointless (or critical) third-down calls, will be endlessly dissected.

This is where Ryan Day finds himself, at the center of a cauldron of fear, despair and anger. It’s the job he willingly signed up for, and it is now, after Ohio State’s 30-24 loss to Michigan on Saturday, the one he may have to fight to keep – if he wants to.

“Just sick,” Day said from the depths of the Big House when asked how he felt after the third straight loss to the Buckeyes’ most bitter rival, a defeat that once again sent his team to the brink of the national title hunt and away from the Big Ten title game.

“We are all disappointed,” he continued. “We know what this game means to so many people. To come up short is certainly crushing. Not just because you invest your whole year in it, we know at Ohio State what this game means. There’s a locker room there that’s devastated.”

[Michigan beats Ohio State for third straight year, first time since 1995-97]

As emotionally distraught as the players on the field waded through a sea of ​​maize and blue amid an epic field storm in the nation’s largest stadium, fans far beyond the reach of the Big House quickly went through the seven stages of grief.

Only they stopped at anger.

There will be no bargaining or acceptance from the Buckeyes faithful, just distrust in the head coach who is 40-0 against the rest of the conference but 1-3 against the team up north.

While the 45-year-old New Hampshire native wonders how Ohio State lost three straight to Michigan for the first time since late 1997, he’ll also have to reckon with the fact that he was outscored Saturday by a standalone . in who isn’t even a head coach, while Jim Harbaugh could sit at home and enjoy how his creation was perfectly able to seize the time.

It wouldn’t be surprising at all if, deep down, after removing all attachment, Ohio State fans were more likely to admire Sherrone Moore – the emotional Wolverines offensive coordinator who was thrust into the spotlight as a result of Jim Harbaugh’s two suspensions this season. In a game so often determined by who was the more physical and aggressive team, Day’s Buckeyes were neither.

[‘You’re not tough’: Michigan’s Roman Wilson calls out Ohio State after win]

“Coach Moore said from the beginning he was going to call the most aggressive game ever,” Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy said after finishing with 148 yards passing and a touchdown.

“Coach Moore said he wasn’t going to call this game scared,” added tailback Blake Corum, who set a school record with his 21st and 22nd touchdowns, which he did against a top-two defense.

Nothing summed up the dichotomy better than the times when head coaches really earn those nine-figure salaries, whether coming in or out of the breaks late in the first half or in the fourth quarter.

Early on, Day was completely conservative, opting to punt instead of going for it on fourth down or getting creative with a manageable third down. In contrast, the Wolverines were 3-of-3 on fourth down.

Will Ryan Day stay at Ohio State?

Will Ryan Day stay at Ohio State?

Then there was a remarkable sequence before halftime, with Ohio State taking over in the shadow of its own end zone with just over three minutes until halftime. After some nice throws from quarterback Kyle McCord and a key third-down conversion, there was plenty of time on the clock and the Buckeyes were suddenly in midfield.

Instead of pressing the foot down when there was momentum to grab, the reins were pulled back. The head coach and play-caller ordered several short passes and ultimately burned a clock that didn’t need to be burned, leading to a field goal attempt that Michigan good Jayden Fielding called a timeout, but which sailed wide left . the subsequent attempt that counted.

“I felt like at 52 yards it was worth the field goal there. If you don’t get it… you don’t get any points and I felt like it was worth the chance,” Day said, repeating the chorus three times a nine repeated. minute to explain his decision-making process. “Then I didn’t want to give them any momentum early in the game in midfield, I felt like we could pin them down and play the defense that we play.”

That could work if you play at Michigan State, where the talent advantage is significantly pronounced. It’s quite another when things are even and played at the home of a rival like Michigan.

Complicating matters further was how the Wolverines remained on the forefront in such an evenly matched battle, aggressive in nature while teams without their head coach usually are not.

It was Moore who turned on backup quarterback Alex Orji on the first drive of the second half, as the little-used third-stringer turned for a period into the Wolverines’ leading rusher on a day when every yard was hard-fought.

It was Moore who set up a trick play to start the fourth quarter, allowing last year’s hero, running back Donovan Edwards, to make a toss, roll right and find Colston Loveland for a 34-yard gain. The fans, if they weren’t already, stood up when the tight end was finally tackled and never sat down again as they seized the momentum that was never relinquished.

“I just feel at home, we’re going to be the aggressive ones. We’re going to be aggressive on offense. They went out there and played their tail off,” Moore said. “I don’t sleep well with these guys.

“These guys don’t budge.”

Too often in such key moments under Day, the Buckeyes have done just that.

Postgame presser: Ryan Day talks about Ohio State’s crushing loss to Michigan

Postgame presser: Ryan Day talks about Ohio State's crushing loss to Michigan

This is just Day’s seventh loss at Ohio State, but there have been three against Michigan. The other four happened in the play-off, less of a cardinal sin than disappointing. His biggest success since taking over for Urban Meyer came in the pandemic-affected 2020 campaign, in which the Buckeyes were blown away by Alabama in the national title game after playing a truncated schedule that is now as much as a deviation seems as it seemed. prophetic at that time.

There can only be so many Big Ten mid-major wins and a mediocre non-conference slate before executives will start thinking they’re empty calories.

There are only so many times Day leaves the field after The Game, and his massive fan base compares him less and less to his immediate predecessor and more and more to John Cooper – best known in Columbus for failing to capture those golden pants that means a win over the Wolverines.

“At the end of the day, these types of games come down to one or two plays,” McCord said. “That just shows that the margin for error is so small.”

[Tom Brady, others react to wild finish to The Game]

On the losing end of such a margin, Ohio State and its head coach now find themselves at a crossroads.

There will soon be a new athletic director in charge of the program as veteran administrator Gene Smith retires next year. A new school president is also about to take over, and many of the key players from a group that has long featured NFL talent will no longer be running around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. A 12-team playoff is coming, and the nature of the Big Ten itself will change as the league grows from 14 to 18.

Even The Game will no longer carry the same weight it did on Saturday, rewarding one team’s hopes and crushing the other. In the future it is only for sowing and pride.

Who knows if a decision on Day’s future will actually be made by the college brass as they face a fanbase that is as close to a full-blown revolt as is possible at the end of an 11-1 season. If nothing else, next year’s game against the Wolverines at the Horseshoe will bring a win-or-go-home feel.

Either way, it’s conceivable that this could have spelled the end for a coach and a program that may have seemed incompatible with expectations. As FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman reported on Big Noon Kickoff, Texas A&M could be sounding the alarm – seeing a 56-7 record as too good to pass up and eager to take a guy with a Michigan problem off the hands of the Buckeyes.

Texas A&M interested in Ohio State head coach Ryan Day? – Bruce Feldman reports

Texas A&M interested in Ohio State head coach Ryan Day?  - Bruce Feldman reports

Some NFL team, given how good Day has been at producing offense and developing quarterbacks, could offer a similar option.

“I believe in our players, we have an experienced team. I think we have a team that is solid in all three phases,” Day said, with palpable dejection. “I truly believe this team can play with anyone in the country.”

That may be true. That’s been the case year in and year out for the Buckeyes for decades.

But this current The team that Day recruited and, most importantly, coached, cannot beat the team that matters most.

And probably nothing anyone can do about it in the coming years, except think about it again.

No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 3 Michigan Wolverines Highlights

No.  2 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 3 Michigan Wolverines Highlights

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has covered college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets including NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Including Sports and NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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