Ohio State vs Michigan: “Day”-ja Vu and What Went Wrong

Columbus, Ohio is currently in a crater after the nuclear meltdown that was the Buckeyes’ performance in the annual Ohio State vs Michigan game. Despite seemingly being in control early and keeping it close for the majority of the game, Ohio State retreated to its locker room after a 45-23 absolute beatdown at the hands of the one team you cannot lose to.

Was the game closer than the box score would indicate? You could say that. Michigan broke off five massive touchdowns in an exercise of explosive offense that we are not accustomed to seeing from a Jim Harbaugh offense. The worst part in the minds of Ohio State fans? All five of those plays were obvious and avoidable.

Ryan Day and his coaching staff were completely and unequivocally outcoached, knocking him to 1-2 in The Game. Ohio State vs Michigan is the game that all fans of both programs circle on the schedule with a bright red Sharpie. For the past two years, it has looked like Harbaugh and his staff cared a sizable amount more.

Ohio State vs Michigan: A Case of “Day”-ja Vu

Talk is Cheap

For the past 365 days from Saturday, all Ohio State fans heard was “42-27”, “out-coached”, “third base”, and “soft”. Fans were assured regularly that the team is looking forward to the game and training daily for it. “We practice every day for The Game,” Coach Day remarks.

The program refers to Michigan as “That Team Up North” or TTUN, has highlights and lowlights from the game constantly playing in the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex, and a countdown to kickoff: Noon on the Saturday following Thanksgiving.

Famed wide receivers coach Brian Hartline spoke to fans before the game at the weekly Skull Session and said:

“For 365 days, we’ve heard them talk,” Hartline said. “For 365 days, I’ve watched them attack our head coach, attack our quarterback and attack Buckeye Nation. Instead of getting loud and trying to respond on social media, we got quiet.”

What happened?

They acted as if every insult and snarky comment on Twitter was a piece of energy and it was building up for Goku’s Spirit Bomb. Instead, Ohio State fans got Monaka.

The New Bullies of the B1G

Jim Harbaugh is known for his coaching style and his teams often reflect him. He’s built an NFL-tough Michigan team. Week in and week out, the Wolverines out-tough their opposition and it was supposed to end with Ohio State.

And yet, here we are.

For the first half, it looked like Ohio State had flipped the script. Michigan literally could not buy yardage on the ground and the defensive front was getting pressure on JJ McCarthy. The script had not flipped, however. While it looked like Ohio State may have begun to gain traction on the ground, they went away from it. Meanwhile, despite finishing the first half with just 11 yards on the ground, Michigan kept chugging away.

It finally paid off because the Wolverines tired out the defense enough and ended up breaking 75 and 85-yard runs in the fourth quarter. It was the CFB equivalent of Goku’s Kamehameha against Kefla in the Tournament of Power.

via Gfycat

So many Dragonball Super references…sorry.

“Am I out of touch? No, it’s the children who are wrong.”

Offensive Struggles

The thing that makes any coach great is their ability to adapt, adopt, and evolve on the fly. When Urban Meyer was at the helm, the Buckeyes fielded second-half teams…for the most part. Ryan Day and Jim Knowles? They were as stubborn as ever against Michigan and it showed.

You can’t just keep on doing what you’re doing against an NFL coach like Jim Harbaugh.

Offensively, Day was so confusing. Was Miyan Williams hurt? What happened to Dallan Hayden? Ohio State was, effectively, toting out RB6 in Chip Trayanum as TreVeyon Henderson, Williams, Hayden, Evan Pryor, and TC Caffey were not the guy at the time. Even then, the former Arizona State running-back-turned-linebacker was electric for the offense.

Why did he have to be? He ran for 83 yards off of 14 carries and looked good. But the offense looked all out of sorts. The offensive line played well and C.J. Stroud had all kinds of time to throw but they still somehow struggled. Day’s playcalling really came into question late in the contest as he decided to turtle and play scared.

Redzone offense has been a weak point of this Ohio State offense all year, somehow. They have multiple great-to-elite running backs, a very good offensive line, a Heisman finalist at quarterback, and the most NFL talent at receiver in the country but can’t put it away once they get inside the 20.

READ MORE: Ohio State names you should know

What New Defense?

Against the likes of Rutgers and Iowa, the Ohio State defense looked like Georgia’s from last year. Against competent competition? Ugly. Now, credit where credit is due, the front seven/eight is solid. J.T. Tuimoloau was a fingernail away from destroying anything Michigan wanted to do and even made near-impossible tackles in the run game. “Tommy Two Thumbs” Eichenberg continued his All-American play and blew plays up left and right.

But the secondary was bad. BIA? Silver Bullets? Not quite.

McCarthy is not a good quarterback, let’s get that out of the way now. The plan was to make him beat the defense through the air. He did, but 144 of his 263 yards were on a pair of prayer touchdowns. The first, the 69-yarder to Cornelius Johnson, was a falling backwards prayer in the general vicinity of Johnson as the Buckeyes decided to rush what felt like 15. Johnson caught it behind the line, made a corner miss, and did the rest. His 75-yarder (also to Johnson) was a Tua Tagovailoa-like deep ball where he underthrew it bad enough that the Ohio State defender may have had a chance to catch him.

Alas, they did not make the plays and let Michigan plant the flag in the Block O. Knowles’ defensive line was stopping the run and getting to the quarterback with just four or five rushers. Despite that, he kept leaving his disappointing corners on islands in man coverage. Additionally, OSU corners love to not look back for the ball when they’re beaten. A fact that McCarthy exploited to near-perfection.

For the most part, on the ground, Ohio State was not allowing Michigan anything. After the offense forgot how to play football and kicked a field goal from Michigan’s nine-yard-line with 7:23 to go in the game, it all changed. It was obvious that Michigan was going to run. Even if they had run it 30 times for just 92 yards to that point (seriously, it was that bad), the Wolverines were going to run it. It’s what they do, for one, and they were just going to try and bleed clock.

75-yard touchdown run.

Ohio State then drove down and threw an interception.

85-yard touchdown run.

Each of those runs was on obvious running situations. The Ohio State defense had this game won. Then they went soft and the rest is history.

APB Out for Marvin Harrison Jr.

With 3:49 to go in the second quarter, Stroud hit future top-ten NFL Draft pick Marvin Harrison, Jr. for a 42-yard touchdown on a fantastic throw and catch. After that, Stroud targeted him five times for four completions and 41 yards. When you have an elite, best-in-the-nation type of receiver, it doesn’t matter what the defense throws at him.

In the biggest game of the year, Harrison finished with just 10 targets. He was beating his man on just about every play and has a catch radius that has NFL teams wondering how they can get him in 2024. But the offense did not go through him. Cue file bill-oreilly-you-cant-explain-that.gif.

Cade Stover has been a very fun story all year but is he the guy you draw up a fourth down play for? Michigan left its corners on islands a bit in the second half but you can’t get Harrison going?

If Ohio State had Jaxon Smith-Njigba, it would have been a very different story. But, as the saying goes, “if ifs and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas.” You work with what you have and Ohio State has a generational talent in 18 and did not use him as they did JSN in the Rose Bowl.

Is Ryan Day the guy or is he John Cooper 2.0?

Ohio State vs Michigan is the game. It’s The Game. Both schools prioritize The Game and make their decisions based on the coaches’ performance against their rivals.

There is a solid rumbling within Columbus that Day just is not the guy. There are plenty who have begun to think that there was some merit to Harbaugh’s third-base comments. Could it be time to move on from Day?

No. At least, not yet.

READ MORE: Expanding the CFP is a GOOD thing

There is no denying that when he’s on one, Ryan Day is an offensive-minded freak. Additionally, he’s been able to recruit at a level never before seen at Ohio State. And that’s saying something since his predecessor revolutionized Ohio State recruiting. Day is 45-5 as a head coach with two CFP appearances, a CFP National Championship appearance, and two B1G Titles.

Unfortunately in today’s world, that isn’t meeting Ohio State’s lofty expectations. We are waaayyyy gone from the days of “win The Game, win the Big Ten, win the Rose Bowl”.

Of course, Day is not without scrutiny. As stated above, he did not adjust and he tends to get a bit conservative. A turning point in the game and an indication as to how the game was going to go was with 7:42 left in the third quarter.

Ohio State gets the ball off of a bad punt at Michigan’s 48. A massive 23-yard Trayanum run gets called back for holding…plus a bone-headed, selfish, moronic Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty by Gee Scott, Jr resulted in 1st & 35. The offense was still playing pretty well and they have been gashing the defense. What did Day do? Shotgun toss sweep that resulted in a meager three yards (thanks to Trayanum’s physicality and nothing more).

After a pair of chunk plays to Harrison and Trayanum, Ohio State got to 4th & 5 at Michigan’s 43. Stroud could be seen pleading with his coach to trust him and to trust his defense enough to go for it.

They did not. They punted a net 28-yard punt thanks to a touchback, Michigan smelled blood, and the rest is history.

Time to (Buckeye) Nut Up or Shut Up

Is a season defined by a single game? When it’s Ohio State vs Michigan, absolutely. The Buckeyes are 11-0 in games that don’t matter as much and 0-1 in The Game. Yes, it has been a great season filled with fantastic play by incredible athletes. Sure, Ohio State still has a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff if they 1) are ranked ahead of Alabama and 2) one of TCU or USC lose their Conference Championship games.

Even if Ohio State gets in and beats Georgia in the CFP Peach Bowl, this year will be tainted…unless Michigan also wins and the two face off in the CFP National Championship and the Buckeyes emerge victorious.

The past two Ohio State vs Michigan tilts have been very, very similar. Ohio State comes in as the favorite with, objectively, more talent. And get their lunch money stolen at every turn. CFP, Rose Bowl, or ramen bowl, Ohio State has to take a good, hard look in the mirror and figure out who they are this off-season. It’s okay to not be the most physical team and lean towards a finesse style. If that’s the case, you have to be prepared for when you get socked in the jaw.

Urban Meyer “built an SEC team in the north.” Don’t let it be a Texas A&M. Be Alabama or Georgia.

READ MORE: Expanding the CFP is a BAD thing

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