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Column: Ryan Day proved himself as a play caller in the Peach Bowl, but giving that up is the next major step for his team

If Justin Frye is promoted to coordinator and play caller, that very well might bring balance back to the OSU offense.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Ohio State v Georgia Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

For the past 13 months, I have written about how it was time for Ryan Day to relinquish his offensive play-calling duties for a multitude of reasons. None of those reasons were because I thought that he was incapable of calling a tremendous offensive game, we have seen him do it on multiple occasions, but my reasons were mainly centered on the fact that his responsibilities as the head coach did not allow him fully dedicate himself to what it takes be an elite-level playcaller.

Not to rehash more than a year’s worth of articles (a few samples linked above), but Day’s in charge of one of the biggest businesses in the state of Ohio, he just doesn’t have the time to get into the schematic weeds on a weekly basis to innovate like he’s capable of.

Think about it, what are the two best play-calling games Day has had? The Sugar Bowl against Clemson after the 2020 regular season and Saturday’s Peach Bowl against Georgia. What do those two games have in common, aside from being against blue-blood programs in the College Football Playoff semifinals?

That’s right, Day had more than a month to prepare. Yes, it was a busy month, but despite the early signing period and diving into the transfer portal, he had time to watch hours upon hours of film and then sit in front of a whiteboard and draw stuff up. This should reinforce the fact that Day is obviously still capable of being one of the best play callers in college football, but as Ohio State’s head coach, he just doesn’t have the time required to make that happen.

The other logistical reason that it is time for Day to give up the play-calling job is because, as the head coach, he is on the sideline during games, and I firmly believe that playcallers should be upstairs. There’s a reason that when players and coaches break down film that it is while watching from the All-22 angle. You can just see things better from above, meaning that you have a better understanding of what will and won’t work.

Also, when you’re in the booth, you don’t have to worry about calling timeouts, arguing with refs, or any of the other mishegoss that happens on the sideline during a game. You just have a better view, and more time, to think things through when you’re an eye in the sky.

All too often, we’ve seen Day almost get overwhelmed by the moment — how many delay of game penalties or timeouts have come from the play not getting called in on time? — and effectively get so stubborn that he went into a play-calling turtle shell, ignoring the most obvious paths to offensive success.

As I’ve said since he was hired, I think that Ryan Day is the right guy to lead the Ohio State football program for years to come. However, because he had never been in charge of a program before, there have been some growing pains along his journey. Following last season, we saw him take a huge step in his development by dismantling his defensive coaching staff, and now, according to Kirk Herbstreit, he is getting ready to clear the next major hurdle in his head coaching process.

If Herbie is correct — and I have no reason to think that he isn’t — and the head coach actually follows through, that means for the first time since 2016, someone other than Day will be calling offensive plays (except for the 2020 game against Michigan State that Day missed due to COVID).

With offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson leaving to become the head coach at Tulsa, this is a perfect time for Day to hand-pick the perfect successor to pass the sticks to. Since there has been no announcement made about any other coaching changes as of yet, and the program has already announced that it has promoted Keenan Bailey to tight ends coach, I think most onlookers assume that the next OC — and presumably play caller — will be coming from in-house.

While many fans have been stumping for Brian Hartline to get the promotion since Wilson’s departure was announced, as I said on our podcast nearly a month ago, while I love Hartline and hope that he never leaves the Buckeye coaching staff, the far better — and more likely — option to take over is offensive line coach and run-game coordinator Justin Frye.

Not only does he have offensive coordinator experience, but he has it under Day’s mentor Chip Kelly. Frye was the offensive coordinator and o-line coach at UCLA before essentially taking a demotion to come to Columbus this season. While Ohio State is a step up from even a Power 5 contender (and future conference foe) in UCLA, it is unlikely that he would make such a move without there being some sort of understanding that should an opportunity to rise up the ladder present itself that he would be given the first opportunity to do so.

So, while that is admittedly just speculation on my part, all of the pieces fit — from experience, expertise, and personnel moves. But what makes me most excited about this potential partnership is that obviously Day is still going to be heavily involved in the offensive game plan and will undoubtedly maintain veto power as each play gets radioed in. But, with Day’s wunderkind passing game knowledge and Frye’s creative running game expertise, this very well might be what the Buckeyes need to bring back some semblance of offensive balance.

Despite having some extremely talented running backs during Day’s tenure, the ground game has essentially been relegated to second-class citizen status. Defenses never really feared the threat of the run from OSU, at least not enough to have to worry about both a run and a pass. It has seemingly always been that defenses have just picked trying to stop the pass as their particular poison; daring the running game to beat them. Sometimes it has, more often it hasn’t had to, and — unfortunately — against some of the best teams that the Buckeyes have played in recent years, it has failed to do so.

Therefore, with Day’s influence on the game plan — and Hartline’s preternatural recruiting acumen — the passing game will almost certainly remain at the forefront of offensive play calling, but having someone whose roots are in the running game will hopefully provide enough balance to get the Buckeyes back to being able to deploy a smash-mouth running attack when it needs to.

Perhaps it is just me looking for something to make me feel better after Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to Georgia — or somehow patting myself on the back for calling for this for over a year — but this potential play-calling development has made me more excited for the 2023 season than I anticipated being.

Ohio State will almost certainly be starting a new quarterback this fall, but if Justin Frye can find ways to incorporate TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams, Evan Pryor, and Dallan Hayden (or whichever combination of those backs returns for next season), that should go a long way to bridging the gap left by a departing two-time Heisman Trophy finalist QB.