The clock has officially started 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, hours after standing on the brink of a probable Big Ten championship and berth in the College Football Playoff, see the No. 2 Buckeyes outplayed for a second straight season by their main rival in one of college football’s most hotly contested regular season games.
That’s what happens when No. 3 Michigan outsmarts you at almost every stage of the game, when he seriously outsmarts you in the process. The Buckeyes fell to the hated Team Up North 45-23, leading 20-17 at halftime and losing The Game in Columbus, Ohio, for the first time since 2000.
With Day opting to punt on fourth and sixth in plus territory, Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines accepted the challenge of a Buckeyes who challenged them to pitch to throw the ball. By the time the dust settled, Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy had thrown touchdown passes for 45, 69, and 75 yards. He defeated Ohio State’s Heisman Trophy hopeful CJ Stroud, and the Wolverines somehow outpaced the Buckeyes 252-143, despite outrunning their own Heisman contender by running back Blake Corum.
It marks 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 that the Buckeyes won’t even play for, let alone win, a Big Ten title.
Ohio State has three main goals: beat Michigan, win the Big Ten, and compete for a national championship.
Ohio State fans are not unreasonable. At least they are not more unreasonable than other fans 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 continue to achieve the other goals.
Day no longer accomplishes any of those goals. With the last loss to Michigan, he is now 1-2 in his career against the Wolverines as Ohio State’s coach and has not won the Big Ten since the 2020 COVID-19 season.
That’s why Day enters the 2023 season with. His seat may not be on fire, but whatever you want to call it, Day will indeed be in the hot seat.
It seems insane to think that a coach who is 45-5 could be in trouble in four seasons — and you’d be right to think so — but this is college football we’re talking about. It is not a sport known for using sound logic and reason.
College football is a sport that gives a coach a huge extension after a good season, then his tenure falls apart the following year with a huge buyout that suddenly has to be paid. It’s a sport where a coach wins a national title, only to turn around two years later and fire that same coach when the right people decide they no longer believe in him.
Losing to Michigan by 15 points one season and 22 points the next — when you entered every game with what were generally considered more talented teams — is the kind of result that leads the right people to decide that 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 pick up Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State. Knowles bringing in a new defense that had been outstanding for most of the season despite questions in secondary.
On Saturday, Michigan asked those questions repeatedly, just as Penn State and Maryland did in previous weeks. Don’t expect Knowles to be scapegoated like Coombs, though. He dramatically improved Ohio State’s defenses across the board. Plus, it wasn’t Knowles’ defense 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 blame for Day this time around.
Therefore, Day will enter 2023 with a degree of warmth rising from his chair. His job may not be in jeopardy right now, but a third straight loss to Michigan would certainly be the tagger.
The (next) game is in 362 days and the clock is ticking.