The Hodgepodge: Another Loss in The Game Brings More Scrutiny, Ohio State's Path to a CFP Bid, Alabama Has Iron Bowl Magic, Michigan State Hires Jonathan Smith

By Garrick Hodge on November 27, 2023 at 12:25 pm
Ryan Day
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Remember the Notre Dame game?

In the days after that game concluded, we wrote about how it was lowkey remarkable how a single play changes the result of how you feel about a game, and how if it had turned out differently, an entire narrative changes. I remember all too well how a Notre Dame defensive back dropped a would-be Kyle McCord interception on the eventual Ohio State game-winning drive. If he secures that catch (or if Notre Dame didn’t run 10 dudes out on the field on the final two plays), the outlook on this season would have been far different. 

Well, I sort of got Notre Dame vibes, but in reverse, during Michigan’s 30-24 victory over Ohio State Saturday in Ann Arbor. On Ohio State’s final offensive possession, left guard Donovan Jackson didn’t have his finest play and got beat badly, resulting in McCord getting pressured and throwing the game-clinching interception. Had he been kept clean, Marvin Harrison Jr. was open on a dig route that at worst would have given OSU a first down inside the 20, and at best had a chance to go for six. 

Instead, Harrison Jr. was left sitting on the field for nearly 30 seconds after the play with the morbid realization that OSU’s third straight defeat to its archrival was all but a certainty, and that may be how his Buckeye career finishes if Ohio State doesn’t make the College Football Playoff and he opts out of the New Year’s Six bowl game.

If that play goes for a touchdown, we’re writing various pieces about the drive that saved OSU’s season. But alas, that’s not reality. The truth is far crueler, and it starts by admitting OSU has lost the most important game of its season three times in a row now, something that hasn’t happened since the calendar year started with the number one.

The third iteration of OSU’s November disaster was far more competitive than its previous two, but moral victories don’t exist at Ohio State. You either beat Michigan, or you don’t. 

Following the defeat, there was plenty of blame assigned on message boards and social media alike, particularly to three parties. Personally, I think all of them share some blame for the defeat, but it's hard to pin the loss squarely on their shoulders individually. 

Kyle McCord: Far too often, he is a notoriously slow starter. He was again on Saturday and threw a horrendous interception to Will Johnson on Ohio State’s third drive of the game. That gave Michigan a starting field position at the seven-yard line and essentially gift-wrapped the Wolverines a touchdown. In a one-score game, that certainly adds up, doesn’t it? But McCord also rebounded and made some nice plays afterward, and it’s hard to blame the game-ending interception solely on him when the protection was horrendous. Nevertheless, he’ll likely be the first starting quarterback in Ryan Day’s tenure who’s not guaranteed to be the starter in his second season under center.

The defense: In the last two years, Ohio State’s defense got bullied off the ball far too often, had awful coverage lapses and was otherwise incapable of stopping Michigan’s offense. That’s not exactly what happened this go around. Still, OSU’s defense did not force a single punt in the second half and was not the dominant unit it had otherwise been all season. Ohio State’s primary weakness defensively had been defending the middle of the field in the passing game, and Michigan exploited that weakness. 

The Buckeyes scored a touchdown to bring the game to within three points with around eight minutes remaining in the contest, and the defense in turn allowed Michigan to put together nearly a seven-minute drive that ate up most of the clock and added another three points to the deficit. Jim Knowles probably had some form of PTSD from being too aggressive in last year’s game that resulted in a bevy of big plays for the Wolverines. But after a few first downs on the final defensive drive, it was a bit surprising Knowles didn’t call any wrinkle in an attempt to throw Michigan off-schedule.  

Ryan Day: The man that’s going to suffer the brunt of the blame for the defeat, mainly because he’s been around for all three of them. And as much as he projected confidence heading into the matchup, he’ll now feel the weight of the third straight agonizing loss. 

There were some things I thought Day did well on Saturday. Namely, Ohio State’s first scoring drive of the second half. One of the biggest criticisms Day faced in the previous two years in this rivalry was he abandoned the run too quickly. He didn’t do that Saturday, and the offense put together a ground-and-pound drive that ran right through Michigan’s defense that would make the most old-fashioned Buckeye fan proud. He also made adjustments after falling into an early 14-3 hole. 

None of that changes the fact he got outcoached by an interim head coach. Though Sherrone Moore was just an acting head coach until Jim Harbaugh returns from his suspension this week, he called a near-perfect game on Saturday. Michigan went for it on fourth down three times and converted all three, while OSU did not attempt any fourth down conversion. There certainly were opportunities to do just that, namely having a 4th-and-short near midfield on the second drive of the game and Day opting for a 52-yard field goal attempt instead of going for it on 4th-and-2 at the end of the first half when Jayden Fielding hadn’t converted a field goal longer than 47 yards all season.

Moore also had a couple of “break glass in case of emergency” plays in the call sheet, notably the Donovan Edwards halfback pass that fooled OSU for a second straight year and the backup QB run package that went for a long gain. It’ll be surprising if Moore isn’t a head coach somewhere by the end of this coaching carousel, but to use Day’s own previous words from earlier this season, it was disappointing the Buckeyes didn’t “let it rip” offensively as often as their opponent did. 

So, where does Ohio State go from here? In short, no, Day isn’t getting fired. We won’t pretend losing the game OSU fans care the most about for a third straight year isn’t unacceptable and it’s insulting to college football’s greatest rivalry to suggest otherwise. 

But that doesn’t change the fact Day has still been successful in other facets during his OSU tenure and the Buckeyes are well-positioned for consistent success in college football’s 12-team College Football Playoff era beginning next year. 

Michigan perhaps is, perhaps isn’t. The Wolverines have 44 seniors this season and could also lose their coach if the NFL comes calling. Not to mention they’ll likely face further sanctions from the NCAA pending its investigation. 

That doesn’t mean Day won’t be under a big microscope next season. Athletic director Gene Smith will retire this summer, and his successor might not have as much patience for a potential fourth straight loss to Michigan. 

Day will have to take a long look in the mirror and reevaluate if further changes are necessary to Ohio State, whether that be a staff shuffle or how the team prepares. There’s certainly a world where he can right the ship and thrive at OSU, especially considering the Buckeyes were a field goal away from essentially winning a national championship a year ago. 

But we don't need to tell you patience from fans is wearing thin.

Ohio State’s path to the CFP

If this were a year from now, Michigan and Ohio State would be prepping for a rematch on Saturday in the Big Ten Championship and fighting for a first-round bye in the 12-team expanded playoff. 

Alas, it’s not next year, and the Buckeyes’ fate is out of their control. The most likely postseason scenario ends with Ohio State facing Louisville in the Orange Bowl, a matchup that wouldn’t excite anyone except Cardinal fans. 

Considering the wound of a third straight loss to Michigan is still too fresh, a good chunk of Ohio State fans have little to no interest in talking about OSU’s path to backing into the CFP similar to how it did a year ago. But such a scenario does exist.  

  • Georgia beats Alabama.
  • Louisville beats Florida State.
  • Oklahoma State beats Texas.

All three of those things have to happen, with any of the opposite results ending OSU’s slim CFP hopes. It also wouldn’t hurt if Washington beats Oregon and Michigan beats Iowa (I know, I know), but those aren’t necessarily requirements.

After Oregon and Washington play Friday, the Big 12 Championship Game is the first game to kick off on Saturday. Oklahoma State beating Texas is the most unlikely result of the three, so this pipe dream may be over before it starts. But hey, Ohio State fans get to root against Quinn Ewers, so that should be fun, right? 

Alabama pulls off voodoo magic in Iron Bowl

It’s almost inconceivable that Alabama pulled out an Iron Bowl victory on Saturday on the road and in turn kept its CFP hopes alive. 

Auburn had a 24-20 lead with just more than 6 minutes remaining, then forced a three-and-out from Alabama. What ensued from Auburn’s special teams was nothing short of a catastrophe.

We’ve all seen this story before, right? Alabama takes a mistake and demoralizes its opponent with it. Well, that’s not exactly how this played out. 

Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe took a sack on second down to put the Crimson Tide in a hole on 3rd-and-20, but ran for 19 yards on the next play before Alabama picked up the first down a play later. 

The Crimson Tide were on Auburn’s 7-yard line and knocking on the door, then lost a yard on a first-down run. Everything went to hell when a botched snap went past Milroe and resulted in an 18-yard loss for Alabama. 

On the next play, Milroe decided to take a leisurely stroll past the line of scrimmage and still attempt a pass anyway.

Alabama had 4th-and-goal from the 31-yard line. Just like that, the Crimson Tide’s postseason hopes were shattered unless they could convert on a desperation play. Fortunately for them, Auburn coach Hugh Freeze only rushed two players on the final play of the contest, and somehow left Isaiah Bond in single coverage in the end zone. You can guess what happened next.    

Alabama now faces Georgia in the SEC Championship Game with a CFP spot on the line.

Michigan State hires Jonathan Smith, Texas A&M hires Mike Elko

The coaching carousel keeps spinning, but two of the biggest jobs are now off the market. Michigan State hired Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith on Saturday while Texas A&M poached Mike Elko from Duke on Sunday.

For the Spartans, I think it’s a tremendous hire and a win-win for both parties. Smith produced back-to-back winning seasons at a place where it’s difficult to do so, and Oregon State’s future in the new college football landscape was very much up in the air. He has a proven track record of scoring points offensively without exceptional quarterback play. Now, you’ve also seen Michigan State play this year, so Smith has quite the rebuild on his hands and probably isn’t going to get it figured out in his first or maybe even his second year. But the Spartans probably made the best hire they could. 

In regards to the Aggies, well, guess that message board rumor of Day to Texas A&M didn’t last very long, did it? Anyway, who the hell knows what happened here. Saturday evening, the smoke was pointing toward Kentucky coach Mark Stoops getting hired by Texas A&M, which led to a small revolt from Aggie fans on social media and message boards. A few hours later, the deal fell apart, seemingly after A&M boosters saw the backlash then quickly retracted.

Can you imagine being Stoops and having to slink back to Kentucky after the team already reads that you’re gone? He’s going to get hammered on the recruiting trail, I can tell you that much. 

The Aggies hired Elko the next day, which in fairness I think is a solid hire who runs a hell of a defensive scheme, but I’m not sure he’s the massive upgrade from Stoops (or even Jimbo Fisher, for that matter) that their fans were hoping for.

And then there were five

Heading into championship weekend, five out of 133 FBS teams are still undefeated. 

Big Ten: Michigan (12-0)

ACC: Florida State (12-0)

SEC: Georgia (12-0)

Pac-12: Washington (12-0)

Group of Five: Liberty (12-0)

What was fun and what was wacky about Week 13

Week 13 had a lot of things that were fun

  • My favorite Thanksgiving tradition is watching the Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and Ole Miss, mostly because I covered MSU for two years before working for Eleven Warriors and think it’s one of the more underrated rivalries in college football. As someone who’s covered both The Game and the Egg Bowl multiple times, here’s how I’d compare the two: OSU vs. Michigan is two heralded Roman gladiators that have never been defeated and have hated each other since their training began. They face each other in the primus to cement their legacy and will win by any means necessary. Meanwhile, MSU vs. Ole Miss is two street brawlers that would stab the other in the eye with a fork if it meant they could finish fourth in the SEC West. This year’s edition was kind of a snoozer with a 17-7 Ole Miss victory, but it usually always delivers. 
  • Speaking of petty rivalries, you have to appreciate Virginia turning on the sprinklers on the field after Virginia Tech returned to the field after delivering a 55-17 beatdown to take pictures. 
  • Lauding the stones of Washington coach Kalen DeBoer to go for it on fourth-and-one from his own 29-yard line in a tie game with an undefeated season on the line. THAT’S how you coach in a rivalry game (cough, cough). 
  • This improbable win by Hawaii sends 5-7 Minnesota to a bowl game.
  • Onside kicks hardly work, but this one should now be in every coach’s play sheet.
  • We’ve got tight ends out here throwing touchdowns.

Week 13 had a lot of wacky things too

  • Oklahoma coach Brent Venables got trampled by his own players during the team’s entrance against TCU. 
  • By god, that’s Puddles the Duck’s music!
  • Speaking of Oregon, masterful troll job showing the Michigan State game on the jumbotron before the start of Oregon vs. Oregon State as rumors circulated that Jonathan Smith was taking the MSU job.
  • This Kansas State would-be tackler needs a hug.
  • I don’t know what offensive play design entails one of your players just breaking out into a dance party instead of blocking, but whatever works, right, Ohio?
  • Another fine edition of JUST HOW THEY DREW IT UP.
  • Missouri vs. Arkansas has never really been a rivalry that has much juice as much as the SEC would like it to, but maybe a skirmish that leads to three ejections would help fix that.
  • College kickers.

Nepotism tracker 

Have you ever seen a Power Five football team win 10 games yet finish the regular season averaging under 250 total yards per game? Hell no, you haven’t, that’s because nobody has ever done it in history until the fighting Brian Ferentzes came along in this magical 2023 season.

We’ve got two more memorable games with our dear pal at the helm of the Iowa offense, so let’s be sure to relish them as best we can. Michigan won’t know what hit it on Saturday.

By the way, Iowa and Nebraska lived up to everything I was hoping for and more. It’s the most Iowa thing in the world to throw an interception in a tie game with less than a minute remaining in regulation, immediately intercept another pass defensively and still win the game as the clock expires via the leg of a backup kicker.

Stuff that brings a tear to your heart, truly.

Last game: Iowa 13, Nebraska 10. 

Points tallied this season: 216.

If the season ended today: Iowa would average 18 points per game. The Hawkeyes need to score 134 points across the next two games to average 25 per contest, a totally feasible feat. OK, leave our pal Brian alone, not a SINGLE Big Ten West team averaged 25 points per game or more either! 

Up next: Iowa faces Michigan, who allowed 24 points in a 30-24 win over Ohio State, in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Game of the Week

No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 8 Alabama in the SEC Championship, 4 p.m. Saturday on CBS

Season record: 6-7-1

My pick: Georgia -5

Breakdown: There aren’t too many truly elite teams this season in college football, but Georgia has proven to be one with each passing week. After Alabama survived by the skin of its teeth against Auburn, the Bulldogs covering in this one seems like a surefire bet.

Hodgepodge team classifiers heading into championship week

Likely CFP bound: Michigan, Georgia 

Win and in: Florida State, Washington, Oregon

If both win, the CFP committee has a hell of a debate on its hands: Alabama, Texas 

Needs a lot of help, otherwise see you at the Orange Bowl: Ohio State

Going to the Orange Bowl: Louisville

New Year’s Six Bowl contenders: Penn State, Ole Miss, Tulane, Missouri

Awesome in-state MAC teams: Toledo, Miami (OH), Ohio

They’re bowl eligible, so that’s something: Oklahoma, Liberty, Oregon State, Oklahoma State, Utah, Boston College, Rutgers, Tennessee, North Carolina, Miami, Kansas State, Kansas, UCLA, SMU, Memphis, Fresno State, UNLV, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Troy, Duke, Arizona, Air Force, North Carolina, LSU, Notre Dame, Wyoming, Kentucky, UTSA, Coastal Carolina, Texas State, West Virginia, North Carolina State, Bowling Green, Maryland, Iowa State, South Alabama, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, Auburn, San Jose State, Georgia Tech, Northwestern, Eastern Michigan, Utah State, Northern Illinois, UCF, Cal, Rice, Old Dominion, Syracuse, Louisiana, Marshall, Virginia Tech, South Florida

Underwhelming B1G West champions: Iowa

The most underwhelming 8-4 team of all time: Clemson

Well, 7-5 sure wasn’t what you were expecting, was it?: USC

Good for you, Jerry Kill: New Mexico State

Fired coaches club: Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Syracuse, Michigan State, Boise State, Indiana, Houston, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico, UTEP

Retired coaches club: San Diego State

Our beloved G5 heroes that got justice served and will be going bowling after all: James Madison, Jacksonville State

Keeping their coach and I’m not really sure why: Arkansas, Baylor

Coach could get another year or get the boot: Florida

The lame 5-7 APR pity bowl bid team: Minnesota

Not great, Bob: Virginia, Purdue, Arizona State, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Vanderbilt

What a collapse: Colorado

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