On the opening defensive series of the second half of Saturday’s game, star defensive end Nick Bosa was held by a TCU offensive lineman (though no penalty was called) and suffered an injury in the process. After staying down on the turf for a couple minutes, Bosa slowly limped off the field and then back to the locker room, and when he returned to the sidelines later in the second half, he was no longer in uniform.
Ohio State acting head coach Ryan Day did not provide an update on Bosa’s health after the game, as the medical staff was still evaluating his injury at the time of Day’s press conference. ESPN’s Maria Taylor, however, reported that Bosa suffered a lower abdominal strain.
We probably won’t know until at least Monday what the prognosis is for Bosa and when he will be able to return to game action. The Buckeyes probably won’t take any chances next weekend, considering that they’re hosting Tulane, but surely, it would be a big hit for their defense if he’s not back on the field two Saturdays from now at Penn State.
The Buckeyes managed to forge a second-half comeback despite being without him on Saturday, though, and fellow defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones – who helped lead that comeback by returning an interception 28 yards for a touchdown – said he and the rest of the defense felt a responsibility to step up and help fill the void left by Bosa’s injury.
“We lost Nick,” Jones said. “It was a little bit of a wake-up call because we lost our best guy. So we had to go out there and play. I mean, there's no one to rely on. We got to rely on ourselves. We got to rely on each other. I think tonight, after a hard first half, we did.”
Bosa had a big first half before his injury, recording a strip sack on the goal line that fellow defensive lineman Davon Hamilton recovered for a touchdown, along with five total tackles.
A case of the drops
Austin Mack has demonstrated an ability dating back to last season to make tough downfield catches for Ohio State, but the story of his game on Saturday night were the catches he wasn’t able to make.
While Mack caught four passes for 84 yards from Dwayne Haskins on Saturday night, he also dropped four passes in Saturday’s game.
He made his biggest catch of the night on Ohio State’s opening possession, beating two TCU defensive backs deep and laying out for a 48-yard reception that set the Buckeyes up at the 2-yard line. Just three plays later, however, Mack dropped what should have been a touchdown catch at the back of the end zone on 3rd-and-goal, forcing the Buckeyes to settle for a field goal.
By the early third quarter, Mack had dropped three more passes, while he also flagged for a holding penalty in the second quarter. Yet Haskins continued to look his way, and after failing to catch any of the passes thrown his way since catching two on the first drive of the game, Mack was able to catch two more passes by the end of the third quarter.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Haskins continued to have faith in Mack despite his struggles on Saturday night, considering that the two are best friends and roommates. So while many Ohio State fans were wondering why the Buckeyes kept Mack in the lineup as his mistakes piled up, Haskins said he told Mack to keep his head up and expressed confidence that he would overcome his struggles.
“We are really close, so I was just saying, ‘Look, play. If you mess up, I'm going to keep coming to you, throwing you the ball,’” Haskins said. “It was hard for him having those drops like that in key moments in the game, but he kept pushing. And I relied on him again on the big moments, and he came through for me.”
Saturday night’s game could certainly be described as uncharacteristic for Mack, and Day said that’s why the Buckeyes never benched him despite his struggles.
“Austin is usually a reliable guy,” Day said. “And the big thing we talked about going into the game was that this was going to be a fight. And when you go into a fight, sometimes you get hit. And when you get hit, you can't flinch. So we didn't flinch. We kept putting Austin back in there.
“And then he dropped one, and then he came back, and he made a catch. Then he made another catch. So, we believe in our guys. We know what we see every day in practice. We trust that some days guys are going to maybe put one on the ground. We don't like that, but we believe in our guys. And when things don't go well, we've got to stick together.”
He can run
While it’s widely accepted at this point that Haskins is a more gifted downfield passer than J.T. Barrett was at Ohio State, it’s also well-established that Haskins isn’t as skilled a runner as Barrett was. And while it’s mostly the positives of Haskins’ increased passing aptitude that have been highlighted through the start of his tenure as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback, the absence of Barrett’s running ability was noticeable for much of Saturday’s game.
In situations where the Buckeyes have often leaned on Barrett to run the ball in the past, the Buckeyes haven’t turned to Haskins to do the same, and there were times in Saturday’s game – particularly in 3rd-and-short situations, on a night where the Buckeyes went just 4-of-12 on third downs – when a quarterback keeper would have been the more effective play. But when the Buckeyes needed one more score early in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game to help finish the Horned Frogs off, Haskins finally showed he can do it, pulling the ball away from J.K. Dobbins on a read option and running behind a block from Rashod Berry to the left side of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown.
While it was presumptive to think Haskins would give the ball to Dobbins in that situation – given that Haskins ran the ball only two other times in Saturday’s game – that was why the play worked. Haskins said he saw the defensive end crashing down toward Dobbins on the play, and that was why he chose to keep the ball himself.
“We saw the end was crunching in hard,” Haskins said. “So that's why we called that play.”
Dobbins said he wasn’t surprised that Haskins made the decision to keep the ball, because he saw the same thing Haskins did.
“I wasn't that shocked,” Dobbins said. “I seen the end crash and I saw a big opening. It was like, please go score!”
Day credited fellow offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson with identifying the fact that the defensive end had been leaving the outside open and making the decision to call that play, setting up the opportunity for Haskins to score the first rushing touchdown of his career.
“He said that two plays earlier, we called a play where the fullback came across and crunched the defensive end. He said he was coming real hard. So Kevin says, if we call the play where he can read the guy, that we've got a chance to hit it. And he was exactly right,” Day said. “He was right on the money. The timing was right. So he pulled it; he read it. And then Rashod came around and led the way. Big play in the game.
“Dwayne can beat you with his feet,” Day said. “That's a part of his game. It's not the biggest part of his game, but it is part of his game.”
Day’s watch ends
Saturday’s game was the final game of Day’s tenure as Ohio State’s acting head coach, as it was also the final game of Urban Meyer’s three-game suspension. With his suspension now fully complete, Meyer will be back on the sidelines for next Saturday’s against Tulane.
Following his final game as acting head coach on Saturday, Day said he was honored to have the opportunity to lead the Buckeyes to their first three wins of the season. But he also said he was excited and relieved that he could return to fully focusing on his regular duties as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with Meyer taking over the head reins once again.
“We're just so excited to get Coach back next week,” Day said. “Our goal was to get 3-0 so that when Coach got back, he had a team that was 3-0. That goal is accomplished, but we have a lot ahead of us.”
Day also expressed gratitude to his fellow coaches and his players for everything they did to help him handle his interim head coaching responsibilities.
“I got so much help from these players and from the coaching staff,” Day said. “(Especially) Kevin Wilson and (associate head coach and defensive coordinator) Greg Schiano. What Greg Schiano has done for me in the last month is something I'll never forget. He is the classiest person I've ever been around in the coaching profession. The way he's handled himself, helping me along the way, counseling me on day-to-day stuff.”
Ohio State’s players are certainly happy to have Meyer back in the fold now, too. But the Buckeyes had nothing but praise for how Day performed over the past three weeks, particularly Haskins when asked how he would grade Day’s performance.
“Is there an A++ in the grade book?” Haskins said. “I thought he did really good.”