If two losses to Michigan, an embarrassing 52-24 blowout loss to Alabama in the 2020 national title, a blown 16-point lead to Clemson in the 2019 College Football Playoff and a blown 14-point lead in the fourth quarter against Georgia in the 2022 College Football Playoff weren’t enough, Saturday’s lackluster performance against Maryland at home — a microcosm of the entire Ryan Day tenure — should be all that you need see from the Ohio State head coach to know that things are never going to change.
It won’t be, but it should be his last season in Columbus.
Ohio State under Day will never reach its full potential. The Buckeyes have come into far too many big matchups looking woefully unprepared and lacking the intensity needed to win football games at the highest level. Lauded as an offensive mind, Day seemingly lost any sort of feel for calling plays, and doesn’t understand the personnel at his disposal as he constantly goes away from his best players when it matters most. Once one of the nation’s best units, the Buckeyes have shied from the mesh offenses that worked so well, and instead is doing everything under the sun to achieve some ‘toughness’ obsession for Day, regardless of how much the group flounders as a byproduct.
Day has too much pride to give up the play-calling duties, and this season more than ever his decision-making has been dreadful. We’ve watched the Buckeyes slam their heads against a wall in short-yardage situations, running stretch run after stretch run into the boundary and play-action bootlegs to its tight end while painfully unaware that it has two of the nation’s best wide receivers in Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka available. Day has to be the smartest man in the room and re-invent the wheel at every opportunity. He coaches like he is at a talent disadvantage despite having one of the most talented rosters in the sport.
On top of that, Day cares too much about hurting guys’ feelings, and that showed with Ohio State’s lack of aggression in the transfer portal this past offseason. Everyone knew the Buckeyes were desperately hurting for offensive line help, but instead of going after some of the best players the portal had the offer when the window first opened, Day went bargain shopping at the last minute, and as a result the Ohio State offensive line has been terrible — especially in the run-blocking department. The product on the field has to come before anything else, and if your current group isn't getting the job done, you must be willing to make a change.
In addition to his own problems, Day has been awful at putting together a coaching staff.
He let Kerry Coombs stick around for an extra season as defensive coordinator when it was clear from the get-go that he was way in over his head. He extended Parker Fleming, who in addition to being the nation’s worst special teams coordinator is also taking a full-time coach off the defensive side of the football, and continues to allow Larry Johnson to get in the way of Jim Knowles’ defensive scheme despite LJ’s own position group playing well below its potential. Perhaps worst of all, he’s let Mick Marotti lead an outdated and misguided strength and conditioning program that leaves Ohio State’s players behind the eight-ball and attributes to so many of the soft tissue injuries we have seen.
Jim Harbaugh’s viral quote about Ryan Day being born on third base looks more and more correct as the years go on. The Buckeye headman inherited a strong Ohio State program that Urban Meyer helped build, and proceeded to make copies of copies each year without learning from any of his prior mistakes. Day was handed the keys to a Ferrari, got behind the wheel and drove it into a brick wall. A brand of this caliber and a roster this talented shouldn’t be as hard to coach as he makes it look, which only makes everything even more frustrating.
Supporters of Day will point to his 50-6 record and his recruiting prowess as reason to keep him around. In terms of the record, I don't really care that you can win regular season games with the Buckeyes’ schedule. Congrats on being able to beat up on Indiana and Purdue and Rutgers. I genuinely think the players could coach themselves to wins over 90% of the teams Ohio State plays each season. At the end of the day, Day only has two Big Ten titles and a 1-3 record in College Football Playoff games over now five seasons to show for it. That isn’t good enough, and the schedule is only going to get harder with Oregon, Washington and USC joining the conference.
The recruiting success I will give to Day, even though I don't think it's very hard to get guys to play at a place like Ohio State and he gets a ton of help from Brian Hartline’s wide receiver room. His quarterback recruiting has been thoroughly impressive, and the development of those guys has been strong. Still, they’ve missed on a bunch of key prospects, especially on both sides of the line — which seems pretty important IMO. Also, the quarterback position has declined this season, as Kyle McCord has shown flashes but has overall not impressed.
If you can’t utilize the talent once you get it on the field, what does that really matter? What good is pulling in a top-five class every season when you can’t win in the trenches or in the postseason?
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This Ohio State program has had the same exact issues for years on end, and nothing has been done to try and correct it. There have been small adjustments along the way, but the key areas of concern have not been fixed or even really addressed. The only real improvement has come on defense, where the Buckeyes have been impressive in 2023, but Ohio State still can’t convert on third-and-short, they still can’t score in the red zone, and special teams aren't nearly good enough to warrant a full-time assistant coaching spot.
Nothing the Buckeyes are doing on offense right now seems easy or well-designed; Everything feels forced and unnecessary. Every play is drawn up purely for Day to prove his team is tough, without a care in the world about the actual result. None of that seems to matter, because Ryan Day is determined to prove that it is him that is actually right and everyone else is wrong.
How long can Ohio State afford to do this dance? What else do we need to see from Day to learn that he does not have what it takes to overcome his own shortcomings and achieve the ultimate goal for the Buckeyes? This whole season feels like a slow-motion car crash leading up to what will be losses to both Penn State and Michigan — and maybe even Wisconsin on the road.
I hope I'm wrong, but another close call against a team Ohio State should handle with ease doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that things are change ahead of those three marquee matchups.