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You’re Nuts: What comes next for Ohio State football?

The Buckeyes have once again come up short in the biggest game of the year.

Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

This week’s topic: What comes next for Ohio State football?

Josh’s Take

Welp. Saturday sure was a kick in the teeth, huh? Ohio State lost its third-straight rivalry game to Michigan, did not look particularly good in doing so, extended the team’s Big Ten title drought, and was likely knocked out of CFP contention... Again.

I know they got in last year; whatever. That was an anomaly.

The Buckeyes’ mighty defense looked rather mid. Kyle McCord and the offense looked overwhelmed. And both Ryan Day and Jim Knowles coached like they had nothing to win and everything to lose... Or something like that.

Saturday’s game was yet another reminder that TTUN currently owns The Rivalry and subsequent bragging rights, whether they are stealing signs or not. Hell, maybe OSU should get their own Connor Stalions to offset the disadvantage caused by poor coaching lack of aggressiveness and/or execution.

So what’s next for Ohio State? Where does this program go? What do the Buckeyes do? Who do they want and/or need to be, in order to reclaim the B1G and achieve their annual goal of winning a national championship?

Frankly, I have no idea. Because OSU beats every single team it is supposed to and essentially sleepwalks to 10 or 11 wins based on talent alone. That’s sort of the main ingredient in the winning casserole. So it’s not as if the Scarlet and Gray are in need of a total reset. But they are in need of something. Which is what Gene and I decided to discuss in today’s edition of You’re Nuts.

I posed four(ish) questions above, however, I am struggling to answer even one. Maybe that’s because your boy here gave about a 90-minute eulogy on Ohio State’s season yesterday – great, great podcast BTW, in case you haven’t had the pleasure – and now my brain is mush. Or maybe... Just maybe... It’s because this is like asking/answering “what do you get for the person who has everything?”

The Buckeyes literally have everything. EXCEPT big wins as of late. Which is a big ol’ nasty stain on Day’s otherwise very clean and expertly-tailored white shirt (record). But it’s there. And it’s real. And it’s starting to stink a little bit. So he needs to metaphorically clean it or buy a new shirt, otherwise, he risks being run out of Columbus sooner rather than later.

That being said, I just can’t quit the guy. Not yet. Because I have seen too many failures elsewhere. And I’ve seen programs take massive, massive steps back. Whereas Day has maintained most Ohio State’s more recent momentum created and/or cultivated by Urban Meyer and, to a certain extent, Jim Tressel.

Look at Florida. Look at USC and Clemson. Hell, look at an individual like Luke Fickell. Love him to death, but there is a group of Buckeye fans out there who want nothing more than for Fickell to return to Columbus. Well Wisconsin went 7-5 this season! They lost to Indiana!

I don’t want OSU to keep Day around just because he beats beatable teams. But I remember his big win over Clemson. I remember last year’s Peach Bowl. I believe that greatness is within reach with Day at the helm. But he can’t keep doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

Getting back to the questions above... Look, I hope you’ve figured out by now that I don’t know what it’s going to take for the Buckeyes to hoist a CFP trophy. I’ve been stammering and stalling for a reason. If it were so easy to figure out, Ryan Day probably would have done it by now. And that is my point. Winning titles is hard. Defeating top-5 opponents is hard.

But if I am forced to come up with something RE: the questions above, I would say that I think the offensive coaching staff needs a makeover.

It starts with Day no longer calling plays. He is great offensive mind who has simply gone/gotten too far into into his own (mind, head, etc.) He needs to take a step back and hand playcalling duties to Brian Hartline. If he (Day) doesn’t, not only does he risk losing his greatest recruiting asset, but he also never opens himself up to the possibility of Hartline being brilliant. What if the latter is the next Andy Reid? Gotta find out sooner or later. Otherwise, he might be coaching against his alma mater — with an arsenal of elite wide receivers.

I also think that Justin Frye needs to go. Nothing personal, but this year’s offensive was an abomination. And I get that recruiting tailed off under Greg Studrawa, but Frye has done nothing to get the OL back on track. You could argue that all five starters either regressed or made minimal progress, and the 2024 recruiting class is comprised mainly of three-star recruits. And shit, they’re almost all guards! Like, what are we doing here? Show progress, or get shown the door. Go get Jim Michalczik from Oregon State or Joe Rudolph from Notre Dame.

Other than Day passing the playcalling sticks, I’m not asking for major changes. Make a few tweaks, keep the defensive braintrust together, and coach like your ass is one fire. Be aggressive, and fans will be on board. Go Bucks.

Gene’s Take

I am not going to sit here and rant about Ryan Day, because at the end of the day I know Ohio State isn’t actually going to fire him. The Buckeyes have come into The Game looking woefully unprepared for three-straight seasons, and their head coach has made decisions both in-game and with his staff that have directly costed his team each of those games. While I don't know who else you would go out and get, it is clear right now that the man in charge simply does not understand what it takes to win at this level.

That being said, there are a handful of obvious changes that can be made this offseason to at least put Ohio State in a better position to succeed than it has been the past few years.

The first and most important is to finally fire Parker Fleming. On top of him being a dog shit coach at a position that costed the Buckeyes numerous times in big games — including partially in this one, where the punting unit failed to flip the field time and time again and continually gave Michigan great starting position — there is no need to have a special teams coordinator at this level. Fleming is worse at his job than any other individual across all fields in the United States, but even if he were competent, only five teams have ever produced an AP Top-10 finish with just four of the 11 allotted coaches assigned to one side of the ball:

  • 2023 Ohio State
  • 2022 Ohio State
  • 2021 Ohio State
  • 2018 Texas

Are you noticing a trend here?

Ohio State is the only team doing this at the top end of the sport, and the only reason things aren’t even worse than they are right now is because the program continues to bring in some of the nation’s top talent. Ryan Day, who is an offensive-minded head coach, is severely hamstringing his defense by only have four assistants on that side of the ball. The Buckeyes worst position group by far over the last three games against Michigan has been linebacker. Want to guess which defensive position is the only one without a full-time coach assigned to it?

I’m actually mad that it is now Monday and Fleming is still employed.

Jim Knowles deserves some of the blame for another lackluster defensive performance against the Wolverines, but he is playing with the deck stacked against him. The only way some of these issues can be fixed is to fire Fleming and promote James Laurinaitis — who you literally already have on staff as a graduate assistant — to full-time linebackers coach, allowing him to hit the trail and recruit as well as work on a position group that has let Ohio State down when they need them the most.

But that is not the only change Ohio State needs to make on that side of the ball. I understand he is a legend and I respect what he has done over the years in Columbus, but it is time to let Larry Johnson go. The Buckeyes’ defensive line recruiting has not quite been at the level it has in the past, and the production on the field has been awful considering the amount of five-star talent on that unit. On top of that, he is further hampering Knowles’ ability to call his defense by not allowing him to incorporate his ‘Jack’ position, which is a staple of his defensive scheme.

Having two of your defensive coaches openly feuding is incredibly stupid and should not have been allowed to linger into this season. It is time to rectify it by moving on from Johnson.

Outside of a shakeup on the coaching staff, Day should probably give up the play-calling, but I’m less worried about that than other people. I think the down-to-down play-calling was more or less okay against Michigan, but his conservativeness in big moments continues to get the better of him. I don't think Brian Hartline would have the full authority to decide to go for it on 4th-and-short or to try and score a touchdown at the end of the first half rather than settle for a 52-yard field goal, as Day would ultimately still have the final word on those types of calls, so I don't think passing the sticks would change the actual problems of the offense — which is turtling in big games.

Finally, there will obviously need to be some work done in the portal this offseason, and for real this time. No bargain shopping for offensive lineman late after you’ve already watched the top names come off the board because you didn’t want to upset the players on your roster. If you can get an upgrade at any position, you have to go out and get it. This is Ohio State. You cannot be more worried about hurting feelings than you are about winning football games. If you can go out and get an offensive lineman, an experienced quarterback, more experienced linebackers or players in the secondary, then do it.

There is a lot of work to be done in order to get Ohio State back to a national title caliber program, and at this point I cannot trust Day to do it. He hasn’t cleaned up the obvious problem areas to this point, so why would he start now?