The Ohio State Buckeyes lost to the Michigan Wolverines, 30-24, on Saturday in the 118th iteration of The Game. The Buckeyes had the chance to make a game-winning drive with one minute remaining but ultimately lost their third-straight game to their rival.
Should Ohio State head coach Ryan Day now be on the hot seat?
Ryan Day Should Be On the Hot Seat
As successful as Day has been at Ohio State, amassing a 56-7 record since taking over in 2018, Michigan has been his weakness. Day has a 39-2 record against the rest of the Big Ten conference but is only 1-3 against Jim Harbaugh’s program. Saturday’s defeat was the closest yet, but the Buckeyes lost similarly.
Michigan had the better quarterback in J.J. McCarthy, more timely playcalling, including a halfback pass that led to points on the drive, conservative playcalling at the end of the first half that led to a missed 52-yard field goal, and an inability to stop the run when Ohio State needed it most. Michigan ran almost seven minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter before kicking a field goal with a minute remaining.
Day’s been fantastic on the recruiting trail, ranking no lower than seventh in composite rankings since being promoted. He’s nabbed stars for his offense, including Justin Fields, CJ Stroud, Marvin Harrison Jr., and numerous other household names. Most programs would sell their souls to have Day’s production at Ohio State.
But, as John Cooper would attest, you must beat Michigan to survive at Ohio State. Cooper went 111-43-4 over 13 years with the program, winning a Rose Bowl and ripping off at least nine wins in six straight years. However, Cooper is best known for going 2-10-1 against Michigan.
It’s not an accident that Bruce Feldman of The Athletic mentioned that Day could be a candidate for the Texas A&M head coach opening if the Buckeyes lost to Michigan. That job is undoubtedly worse than Ohio State’s, but the pressure on Day after losing to his hated rival, who was without Harbaugh on the sidelines, is immense.
Day brought Jim Knowles in as the defensive coordinator and made him one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the nation at $2 million. Knowles has been great outside of his two matchups with Michigan, but his defenses don’t produce turnovers or key stops when it’s mattered most. That lands on Day for bringing in someone who hasn’t accomplished his task.
Harbaugh fired Don Brown for the same struggles against Ohio State in 2020. Michigan immediately saw positive returns after hiring Mike Macdonald, including a win against Stroud. Jesse Minter took over the unit after the Ravens hired Macdonald and has picked up where he left out.
Day’s inability to match Michigan by trading wins each year makes it difficult to argue for keeping his job. The Buckeyes will never have an issue recruiting due to the program’s history, NFL pipeline, brand, and resources.
There’s some risk of a drop-off if Day moves on or is fired, but one program is clearly ahead of another unless Harbaugh leaves Michigan for the NFL. Day’s also only 1-6 against top-five teams, so beating the nation’s elite has been an issue.
I don’t want to hear about any recruiting classes, draft picks or any of that other bullshit. You have to beat Michigan. All of that other shit is cool but it’s not why you come to Ohio State. You have to beat Michigan and go on a championship run. That’s why you’re paid…
— Maurice Clarett (@ReeseClarett13) November 25, 2023
Unsurprisingly, former Ohio State legends have become critical of Day. There was a time not long ago with the Buckeyes were maybe the most physical team in the country, and they often used trick plays with masterful timing to pull one over their foes. Now, the shoe is often on the other foot.
Ohio State’s lack of physicality in the matchup over the last three years is especially alarming. Day is consistently conservative in a game he has to win, costing his team each season. He had two top NFL QB prospects in Fields and Stroud, yet couldn’t beat less proven Michigan passers.
It’s one thing to lose to Michigan with Kyle McCord, who had a tough first year as a starter. It’s another to lose twice with Stroud, who rarely looked as good in big games at Ohio State as he has with the Houston Texans. Stroud’s best game was one of Day’s best against Georgia in the 2022 College Football Playoff.
Ohio State had the chance to beat Georgia at the final buzzer in the Playoff but missed a field goal. But Day was aggressive in scheming, allowing Stroud to play loosely and look like a playmaking star instead of a more limited pocket passer. It seemed Day had learned his lesson about being too uptight.
Being closer to the vest with McCord made sense because he’s not a dynamic talent despite his recruiting profile. McCord struggled throughout this season, and Ohio State’s unwillingness or inability to add an impact transfer this past offseason is another mark on Day’s resume. McCord barely beat out backup Devin Brown during the offseason, and his limitations were on full display against a fast and active Michigan defense.
Day would never match or exceed Urban Meyer’s success with the Buckeyes. That’s not the bar in Columbus, though. It’s been nine years since the Buckeyes won the National Championship, which is surprising considering how much talent has walked through their doors and how many big games they’ve played.
Ohio State shouldn’t force Day out for just anyone. It would have to take a superstar hire for them to bank on, such as Mike Vrabel.
However, if Day walks for a bigger payday and less pressure at A&M, it relieves both parties of the mounting frustration, which might be the best resolution as his seat gets red hot.