The clock has officially begun ticking on Ryan Day. A warmth is just beginning to spread on his seat. That’s what happens at Ohio State when fans and administrators, a few hours after being on the precipice of a likely Big Ten championship and berth in the College Football Playoff, see the No. 2 Buckeyes get outplayed for a second straight season by their chief rival in one of college football’s most hotly contested regular-season games.
That’s what happens when No. 3 Michigan outmans you in nearly every phase of the game while severely outcoaching you in the process. The Buckeyes fell to the hated Team Up North 45-23, blowing a 20-17 halftime lead to lose The Game in Columbus, Ohio, for the first time since 2000.
As Day was opting to punt on fourth-and-6 in plus territory, Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines accepted the challenge presented by a Buckeyes that dared them to throw to throw the ball. By the time the dust settled, Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy had thrown touchdown passes of 45, 69, and 75 yards. He outplayed Ohio State’s Heisman Trophy hopeful C.J. Stroud, and the Wolverines somehow outrushed the Buckeyes 252-143 despite being down their own Heisman contender in running back Blake Corum.
It’s the first time Ohio State has lost consecutive games to Michigan since the turn of the century (1999-2000). It’s also the second season in a row the Buckeyes won’t even play for a Big Ten title, let alone win it.
There are three primary goals at Ohio State: Beat Michigan, win the Big Ten and compete for a national championship.
Now, Ohio State fans aren’t unreasonable. At least, they aren’t any more unreasonable than other fan bases accustomed to success. If the Buckeyes don’t win the national title in a given season, it may not be ideal, but it’s understandable as long as they keep accomplishing the other objectives.
Day isn’t achieving any of those goals anymore. With the latest loss to Michigan, he is now 1-2 in his career against the Wolverines as Ohio State’s coach and hasn’t won the Big Ten since the COVID-19 season of 2020.
That’s why Day will enter the 2023 season with pressure mounting. His seat may not be ablaze, but no matter how you want to term it, Day will indeed on the hot seat.
It seems insane to think that a coach who is 45-5 in four seasons could be in anything resembling trouble — and you would be right thinking that way — but this is college football we’re talking about. It’s not a sport known for using sound logic and reason.
College football is a sport that will give a coach a massive extension after one good season only to see his tenure fall apart the next year with a massive buyout suddenly needing to be paid. It’s a sport that will see a coach win a national title only to turn around and fire that same coach two years later if the right people decide they no longer believe in him.
Losing to Michigan by 15 points one season and 22 the next — when you entered each game with what were generally considered more talented teams — is the kind of result that leads to those right people deciding they no longer believe in you.
After last season’s losses to Oregon and Michigan, Day had an easy scapegoat. Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs paid the price for a game plan deemed too predictable and easy to exploit. He was fired, and Ohio State backed up the Brinks truck to swipe Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State. Knowles who brought in a new defense that had been outstanding for most of the season despite questions in the secondary.
On Saturday, Michigan asked those questions repeatedly, much like Penn State and Maryland did in prior weeks. Don’t expect Knowles to be scapegoated like Coombs, though. He drastically improved the Ohio State defense across the board. Plus, it wasn’t Knowles’ defense that was held to three points in the second half despite deploying an offense full of future first-round NFL Draft picks.
And at Ohio State, there’s no offensive coordinator to take the fall for Day this time.
That’s why Day will enter 2023 with some level of heat rising from his seat. His job may not be in jeopardy right now, but a third straight loss to Michigan would surely be the tagger.
The (next) Game is 362 days away, and the clock is ticking.