Nov. 28—On Saturday, we hailed the Michigan football team for a job well done.
Today, let us check in on Ohio State, which returned home through a snowstorm that must have felt like a frozen hell.
Our advice to the Buckeyes: After taking care of the obvious things that must be done — shutting down the university, firing the entire coaching staff, hiring an interior decorator to “hang” those 100 points we were promised some place nice — take a few deep breaths.
That goes for fans, too.
Especially among the younger supporters who populate social media and have few frames of reference for Saturday’s result, I have sensed both a bit of defense (Michigan still sucks!) and despair (Ohio State sucks!).
Again, deep breaths.
Truth is, as much as many wearing scarlet shades don’t want to hear it, Michigan’s 42-27 win is not just great for the rivalry. It’s what should happen in showdowns like this, a team rising to the moment in front of its roaring home crowd, no matter how unassailable its rival may seem. (See: A 6-6 Auburn team nearly slaying the Alabama Death Star for the third consecutive time in its home confines on Saturday.)
Ohio State had gotten used to an alternate reality in winning eight straight and 17 of its last 19 games against Michigan, just as the Wolverines enjoyed residence in a parallel universe in the 1990s.
Saturday marked a return to Earth, temporarily or not.
Here was a very good Michigan team taking it to a very good Ohio State team, proving the more physical, more determined, more everything outfit. That’s college football. Now, it’s up to the Buckeyes to answer.
And yet, their response will be interesting.
Fair or not, Ohio State has created a playoff-or-bust standard, and third-year coach Ryan Day will have to answer for why it fell short, including in — gasp — the first Big Ten defeat of his career Saturday.
The biggest question: What changes will he make to his defensive staff?
Let there be no doubt, the changes he should have made after last season, they’re coming now, after Michigan bully-balled them off the field, rushing for 297 yards (7.2 yards per carry).
“For them to run the ball on us like that,” safety Bryson Shaw said, “you know, it’s embarrassing.”
It’s also hard to explain.
OK, that’s not entirely true. Some of Ohio State’s issues on D stem from inexperience (six underclassmen starters in the back seven) and a lack of true game changers (think edge-rushing monsters like Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo).
For all of the talk of the Buckeyes’ talent advantage — they have signed more top-100 prospects in the last four classes (37) than the rest of the Big Ten has combined, per 247Sports — a healthy share of those blue chips play offense.
As we wrote after the loss to Oregon, this isn’t your older brother’s Ohio State defense. You know, the one in 2019 that featured six five-star prospects from the ’17 and ’18 classes alone (Chase Young, Jeffrey Okudah, Baron Browning, etc.) and was the best unit in the nation.
That star power is missing. In the ’19 and ’20 classes — the classes that form the core of this team — the Buckeyes signed only two top-100 defensive prospects. The difference makers fans are used to are either missing or very young, most notably at linebacker, where they’re so thin that a converted running back (Steele Chambers) is their best player.
All of that is real.
But the talent excuse only goes so far.
Because, relatively, Ohio State still has plenty, and there is never a reason for its defense to look so overmatched when it counts, as it has the past two autumns.
Like last year, the Buckeyes papered over their structural issues with an electrifying offense and a solid pass rush, ranking second in the Big Ten with 35 sacks. And like last year, the house of cards came crashing down.
Didn’t matter if it was Kerry Coombs coordinating the defense, or Matt Barnes, who took over for Coombs after the Oregon game. Ohio State was in over its heads.
In their two defeats, the Buckeyes allowed 992 yards, including 566 on the ground.
“We’ll have to take a hard look and figure out why,” Day said.
And, for that matter, why they couldn’t establish a run game of their own in those games (the offense isn’t off the hook, either).
All that’s certain is change is coming, with Day, his nice-guy image betraying a ruthless streak, no doubt set to take whatever actions he believes necessary to assure days like Saturday remain an anomaly.
“I feel awful,” he said. “When you work this game 365 days out of the year and you come up short, it’s a failure. It hurts. It hurts a lot.”
After Michigan hit ’em with its biggest punch, we’ll see how the Buckeyes swing back.