Well, the season is over in some respects. Certainly the regular season is done and it appears there will be one more exhibition game that several of the NFL-bound players will likely sit out. But for what we as Ohio State fans hoped to see happen this year, that dream died on Saturday, only to be reborn into one that takes place in 2024. The Buckeyes made too many errors on Saturday to beat a good team on the road, but there is plenty to build on heading into next year.
Here’s what threatened to drive me to drink during The Game, and I want to preface this by saying I could have written an extra 5,000 words on this game but I’m sticking to the most memorable gripes I had, especially the ones that set the tone for the overall game.
The jitters were apparent early. The Buckeyes should have had an easy third down conversion on their opening series. Instead of setting the tone with an early scoring drive, the OSU offense went three-and-out as Emeka Egbuka dropped a pass while wide open beyond the line to gain. It wasn’t the best throw, but it was certainly catchable and Egbuka would normally make that grab. It set a negative tone to start the game instead of a positive one.
I don’t know the meteorological nuances in wind velocity of when it might affect punts, but according to the broadcast and googling the weather, there was a light wind in Ann Arbor for The Game. Was it enough to take 10-15 yards off of each punt? I have my doubts, but maybe. From what I was able to discern, the wind was around 10 mph with gusts up to 15.
Somehow those gusts must have always come when Ohio State was punting, because it wasn’t a great day for Jesse Mirco in flipping field position. His first one traveled only 35 yards. His second wasn’t an improvement. It was maddening to not be able to pin Michigan deep and perhaps secure better field position over a few series’ while the defense was getting stops, but special teams continue to disappoint throughout 2023.
Officials spotting the ball were wildly unpredictable, and typically in Michigan’s favor, but on Ohio State’s second possession, there was no second look at the spot on Xavier Johnson’s catch and run. It might have been short anyway (it likely was), but it was close enough to take a second look and perhaps inch it forward much closer to the line to make. That could have determined whether it was worth trying to go for it. Instead, the Buckeyes punted again, and it was another poor one.
McCord’s Massive Mistake
The Buckeyes lost by six points, but gifted the Wolverines their first seven. Not being a math whiz, I could be wrong, but losing by six when you give up seven points on turnovers seems like a deciding factor.
Kyle McCord, who had a rough start to the game, had no business throwing to a well-covered Marvin Harrison Jr., on the third drive. Will Johnson jumped the route and Harrison was covered by any standard. McCord threw it anyway and made no sight adjustment to where he could perhaps have thrown it to his receiver’s back shoulder. I’ve seen criticism of Harrison for this play, and I don’t know if he was at fault, either fully or partially, because I’m not privy to what Brian Hartline and Ryan Day want him to do when the defender cuts inside him or if it’s a sight adjustment someone didn’t make.
I just know McCord should have come off that read and found an open man. Instead, the Buckeyes jumpstarted Michigan offensively by essentially handing the Wolverines a touchdown.
Day’s Dumb Decision
Day will tell anyone who listens how tough his football team is, but it starts at the top, and the coach turtled in a big moment late in the first half. Trailing 14-10 and facing fourth-and-2, Day opted to let the clock run down and then call timeout. The choice he made was for Jayden Fielding to attempt a career-long 52-yard field goal on a breezy day. This would only have cut the lead to 14-13, when he had the time (if he’d used the timeout immediately) to try to pick up the two yards at the Michigan 34-yard line and perhaps score a touchdown or at least set up a shorter field goal. There was plenty of time on the clock, and going for the two yards is a higher percentage play than trying the kick.
I’ve seen people on social media defending this choice, because they were worried a failed attempt would automatically net Michigan more points. The Wolverines are good at many things, but they’re not exactly known for their quick-strike ability on offense, and the OSU defense had played well to that point in the game. Michigan would have had to move about 30 or more yards in a short amount of time. I like the defense’s chances to defend that, but why assume the worst?
The team that used trick plays and went for it on fourth down multiple times won the game, so that should prove the point. You can’t coach scared in The Game (or any big game). It can affect the team’s mentality, for starters. Show confidence in the players and give them a chance to reward you and gain momentum from the excitement of that success. And trust your defense to pick you up if you fail. Playing to be down one point at the half is much different than playing to lead 17-14 at the break and just playing the percentages of success means going for it there.
Oh, and predictably, Fielding missed the field goal after making the same kick when it didn’t count as Michigan called timeout.
Ohio State’s defense hadn’t conceded more than 17 points in a game all season, but Jim Knowles’ unit, for as far as it’s come this year, not only gave up 30 on the day (yes, they were put in a terrible spot for the first seven, but they still allowed a touchdown) but also failed to produce a single stop in the second half. Just one stop may have been enough for an Ohio State win, but his group failed repeatedly.
Again, Michigan pulled out the stops, with a wildcat package for Alex Orji and a halfback pass. The linebackers struggled to locate or cover tight ends all day long, despite the fact that Michigan has always used its tight ends. The pass rush couldn’t get home, either. Against the run, the team was a little less stout in the second half, following a good showing in the first half.
O-Line Picks Bad Time to Implode
Despite a cavalcade of mistakes and poor play, Ohio State got the ball with plenty of time to find a way to win. The Buckeyes started at their own 19-yard line, and McCord drove the team down to Michigan’s 37. But then disaster struck. The offensive line couldn’t handle Michigan’s rush and McCord was hit as he threw, sending the pass right to Rod Moore instead of to Harrison. While I’d like McCord to get the ball out a bit more quickly in that situation, that’s on his line, and it seemed Carson Hinzman particularly had an issue on the play. That ended Ohio State’s comeback bid and a shot at a storybook ending.
And that’s a wrap on the regular season. Next up… well, I don’t know. If someone has said where the Buckeyes will likely play next, I haven’t heard it. I’ve been mainly avoiding the internet and stomping around in a rage ever since the interception ended things. I’ll let someone else tell you when the Buckeyes will play again.
I’ll be back with another installment of this series after whatever game ends up being next.