During Big Ten media days ahead of the start of the 2022 season, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day set three goals for his program: beat Michigan, win the Big Ten, and win a national title.
After a 2021 season where the Buckeyes failed to accomplish any of those goals, Day knew the expectations in Columbus were much higher. He made wide sweeping changes to his staff in the offseason to try and accomplish those goals, including bringing in guys like Jim Knowles and Justin Frye to try and fix the issues of the prior year.
The results? Exactly the same. Another 0-for-3 for an Ohio State team that should be far better than what we’ve seen over the past few seasons.
Those three goals are what the Buckeyes strive to accomplish in any given year, but over the course of Day’s tenure at the helm, they are now just 3-8 in reaching those benchmarks — including a concerning 0-6 over the last two years.
They won two Big Ten titles in Day’s first two seasons as the headman in charge, with a win over Michigan in 2019 before the Wolverines dodged the game in 2020, but had no national titles to show for it. Huge losses to Jim Harbaugh’s guys each of the last two years has thwarted any hopes of a B1G title, and a second lease on life in 2022 was not enough to salvage the ultimate goal of a national title.
So now here we are, in the exact same spot we were after the end of the 2021 campaign. The defense, which we had thought was fixed throughout most of the year, came crashing back down to earth in the team’s biggest games down the stretch, with a secondary that, even on the best days for the defense as a whole, never quite looked right. Offensively, the Buckeyes will be tasked with breaking in a new starting quarterback, with C.J. Stroud off to the NFL, as well as a number of key offensive linemen.
Some questions will be harder to answer than others, but there are a few things Ohio State seemingly needs to do to take the next step back to regaining its prominence as a national college football power.
At the very top of the list, the Buckeyes absolutely have to get things righted in the secondary. Outside of a one-year positive blip in 2019 — thanks largely in part to Jeff Hafley and a guy like Chase Young hiding some issues elsewhere — Ohio State’s secondary has been nothing short of terrible for three of the last four seasons. At a program that produced first-round NFL Draft picks at cornerback in each of the three years prior and has a history of stellar defensive backs, this shockingly poor level of play cannot continue.
It seems pretty clear that Tim Walton is not the guy, and Day should not look to retain the former NFL assistant heading into 2023. We saw no improvement from any player in the cornerback unit over the course of this season, and if anything guys just got worse this past offseason — see: Denzel Burke. You have a guy on staff who just produced a pair of NFL Draftee’s at corner in his previous stop at Cincinnati in Perry Eliano, including the likely NFL DROY in Sauce Gardner, so maybe just let that guy coach the position he’s shown to have success at?
While we’re making coaching staff changes, the Parker Fleming experiment must come to an end. There is no reason to have a full-time staffer coaching your special teams unit in general, but especially when that unit was really bad this past season — specifically in the team’s biggest moments. Twice Ohio State tried to run what would have been game-changing fake punts against Michigan and Georgia, and both were a disaster for different reasons. You would be far better served replacing that spot on the staff with another full-time defensive assistant, rather than the guy too busy searching his own name on Twitter to actually coach his position group.
Another issue that has plagued Ohio State, especially over the past two seasons: strength and conditioning. How many soft-tissue injuries have we seen in Columbus to key players these last few years? How many times has a guy gotten hurt, only to never return to full strength at any point the rest of the season? How often have Ohio State players gotten visibly bigger, but shown no signs of any actual in-game benefit or strength gains along with that size? Mick Marrotti is a dinosaur, his methods are out-dated and misguided, and it is past due that Day moves on from one of the few remaining Urban Meyer holdovers and gets with the times.
As far as Day himself, we have started to see rumors that he is considering removing himself from the play-calling duties moving forward — an issue that became especially apparent in the latter half of the regular season. To his credit, Day called a very good game against Georgia, similar to that against Clemson in 2020, but he also had a full month to prepare for those games. For the most part, his game plans against some of the best teams on Ohio State’s schedule have been lacking in creativity and largely conservative, and so I think that him taking a backseat as a play-caller to function as more of a CEO of the program and a QB guru is a step in the right direction.
Ohio State fans seem exceptionally spoiled from the outside looking in. A program that routinely wins 11-plus games and just took the defending national champs to the brink in a College Football Playoff game needing to make wholesale changes may appear to be a bit of an overreaction, but that is the nature of the beast that is Ohio State. The current state of the Buckeyes is not good enough, at least by their own measures — and by their own head coach’s set of goals. Simply running it back next season and expecting better results isn’t going to get the job done.
Ohio State is one of the top three most talented teams in the country in any given year based on recruiting rankings, and so beating Michigan and winning the Big Ten should be nearly a given. This program should be competing for national titles year in and year out. Right now, none of those things are true.
As it was last time around, this will be another pivotal offseason for Ryan Day. Ohio State did take some major strides in some key areas earlier this year, but at the end of the day many of the same problems that held them back in 2021 once again proved to be their downfall in 2022. Unless those issues are resolved and tangible changes are made, they will be the same problems that doom the program in 2023. There are a ton of reasons to be optimistic about the Buckeyes next season, but if Ohio State once again goes 0-for-3 on its three main goals, that head coach’s chair in Columbus is going to be feeling mighty hot.