Look at the numbers. 2022 is Ryan Day’s fourth season as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team. His record in those four seasons is 42-5. If we add the victories from 2018, when Day was Interim Coach during Urban Meyer’s suspension, that record extends to 45-5 — a very handsome 90%. (For the record, Meyer’s OSU record was 83-9, or 91.2%.)
Day’s Bucks won the Big Ten Championship in 2019 and 2020. They’ve made the four-team College Football Playoffs three of the four years that Day has been at the helm. Almost unrivalled success.
Yet... there’s no national title. No B1G titles the last two years. And only a 1-2 record against TTUN. (Yes, the 2020 game should have been a forfeit!) As a consequence, there are unmet expectations, some frustration and disappointment. Partly because Meyer set the bar so high, but mainly because of the level of talent on these Buckeye teams.
Do you want an interesting stat? Try this one: of the top 20 recruits in the history of the storied Ohio State football program (or at least since statisticians started tracking such things), six of them will be playing against Georgia on New Year’s Eve. Here they are, with their all-time rankings. No. 4 J.T. Tuimoloau, No. 5 Jack Sawyer, No. 6 Julian Fleming, No. 14 Paris Johnson, No. 15 Emeka Egbuka, and No. 18 Zach Harrison.
The Buckeyes have a rare opportunity. It’s been referred to redemption. But I see the opportunity as something simpler – a second chance. They don’t come often, and, when they do, they shouldn’t be wasted.
Here’s my list of guys with big second chances.
Ryan Day and C.J. Stroud are the obvious choices here, so I won’t say much about them. Day was a golden boy, an offensive genius, but he’s lost the last two Michigan games, and diehard Buckeye fans are demanding his head. Stroud entered the 2022 season as the nation’s top QB and the leader for the Heisman. The big prize eluded him, and he’s slipped in the quarterback rankings. Several players have simply been better than Stroud this year. And they’ve won the big games.
Ryan and C.J., here’s your second chance.
I’m limiting myself to three players in this category, but clearly, we could add more. Two of them are among the six listed above.
Zach Harrison. Harrison has had a decent career as a Buckeye, but he’s never really broken out and lived up to his billing. And that billing was written in big, bold letters. Harrison was the Buckeyes’ top recruit in the 2019 recruiting class. The five-star player was the No. 2 defensive end and the No. 12 overall player in the class nationally.
As I said, he’s been OK. But he hasn’t been a Bosa or a Chase Young. Or even the Zach Harrison that we thought he would be. Zach – here you go, a second chance.
Taron Vincent. Another five-star defensive lineman, Vincent was the No. 1 defensive tackle nationally in the recruiting class of 2018. As a Buckeye, he won a starting position pretty early on, and he’s shown flashes. Nonetheless, I’d have to rate him as an underachiever.
He’ll have a challenge against the Dawgs. Their OL is a good one, and so is their running game. How about it, Taron?
Julian Fleming. First off, Fleming has suffered a number of injuries that have hampered his play. Additionally, he’s had a roomful of superstars to compete with for playing time at his wide receiver position. But if you look at OSU’s 2020 recruiting class, Fleming was at the top. He was the No. 1 receiver nationally in that class and the No. 3 player at any position.
He’s healthy, and he’ll be on the field against Georgia. Flex your muscles, Julian.
These three guys earned All-America status at the end of the season. While they’re certainly not “underachievers,” they might feel that they have something to prove. Well, here’s their chance to show the country that they’ve earned the accolades.
Marvin Harrison Jr. Not just Buckeye writers, but sportswriters and college football followers generally are calling Harrison Jr. the best wide receiver in America. OK, Marvin, let’s see it. UGA is vulnerable to a good passing attack, as we saw in the SEC championship game against LSU. And the Tigers’ passing game is nothing like OSU’s.
I’m not saying that you can win this game by yourself, but you can make it really tough on the Bulldog defense. Get open. Catch the ball. Run like the wind.
Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones. I’m lumping you together because your roles are similar. As offensive tackles, you’re primarily responsible for protecting Stroud in the pocket against outside rushes. You’ve got to do it. The Buckeye offense depends on protecting Stroud. You can do it; you’re All Americans, after all. Yes, their D-line is very good. Keep them away from your quarterback and seal them off on running plays.
Show everybody why you’re the best in the country.
Defensive team leaders
Against Michigan, the Buckeye defense fell apart, collapsed, giving up huge play after huge play. That kind of performance cannot happen again. There are a number of you who have played well all season. Here’s your chance to step up and assume a leadership role. Other guys look up to you. Do your job and help your teammates do theirs.
I’m talking to you, J.T. Tuimoloau, Ronnie Hickman, Tommy Eichenberg, Tanner McCalister, Steele Chambers, and Lathan Ransom.
Now and then comes a big surprise. Trey Sermon against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game of 2020 will serve as my example. I have several prime candidates here: Emeka Egbuka, Jack Sawyer, Miyan Williams, Xavier Johnson.
All of the above
Maybe to beat a team as dominant as Georgia has been over the past few seasons, the Buckeyes will need for most (if not all) of these guys to step up, to realize the significance of this game and to turn in the performance of a lifetime. Surely the talent is there. But they’ll need the leadership, the discipline, and the will to win.
Win this one and there’s a third chance, one that could erase all of the bad plays, frustrations, and disappointments of the Ryan Day era.