There were less than 11 minutes to go in the second quarter of last year's Michigan game when the tide turned Ohio State's way.
To that point, the Buckeyes were leading a clunky, ungraceful affair, holding a 7-6 lead while trying to get the offense on track after consecutive three-and-outs.
It was second-and-11 at Ohio State's 33, and Terry McLaurin ran a quick break route that should've gained eight yards. That's not how it played out, though, after McLaurin lowered his shoulder into 235-pound Michigan linebacker Devin Gil and pushed him three yards downfield to the first-down marker.
It was a tone-setting play that drew a double-fist pump from Meyer, who watched the play unfold about five yards in front of him.
Following that play, Ohio State's offense caught fire. Here's how the rest of the Buckeyes' drives ended that afternoon:
|7||74||Field Goal (End of Half)|
|6||35||End of Game|
One punt. Eight scoring drives. Two drives that were cut short near the goal line because of intermission and the end of the game. It was a complete and utter demolition of what had been the nation's stingiest defense, and it started when McLaurin lowered his shoulder and symbolically showed the Buckeyes were flat out tougher than Michigan.
That wasn't a coincidence. With Meyer at the helm, toughness was a foundational element of the culture he built not just at Ohio State, but at every stop of his coaching career. Flash back to that 2007 BCS National Championship Game and you'll remember a similar effect — an overmatched opponent running into an active, angry buzzsaw.
If Day wants to make the Buckeyes an annual College Football Playoff contender like Meyer did, he'll need to maintain that toughness.
He already has the tools to do so. Meyer was great at building and motivating his teams — the 4-6 seconds of relentless effort mantra became a staple when he talked to his Buckeye squads. But behind the scenes, it was strength coach Mickey Marroti who instilled that toughness.
Going back to Meyer's first Ohio State team in 2012, Zach Boren explained how Meyer used Marroti to sculpt his teams.
"Coach Meyer says that and really preaches [relentless effort], but it's really coach Mick who's the one that goes through with it," Boren said. "It's just things like intensity. We would go in every day with [Marroti's] strength program not knowing what to expect. Coach Mick didn't want guys getting into a rhythm. He always wanted us to be on our toes. It shocked our bodies."
That hard work in the offseasons paid off for Meyer and Ohio State, which went 83-9 from 2012-18. And fortunately for Day, he'll have the same advantage with Marroti still in place as the head of Ohio State's strength and conditioning program.
If Day manages to maintain that overall team toughness during his tenure at Ohio State, the Buckeyes will continue to muscle their way into the playoff conversation.