Ohio State Took “A Hard Look in the Mirror” Following Michigan Loss, Then Turned Page to Preparing for College Football Playoff

By Dan Hope on December 4, 2022 at 9:04 pm
Ryan Day

Ohio State didn’t get here the way it wanted to get here, but the Buckeyes are in the place they had hoped they’d be right now all along.

After a tense week of uncertainty following a loss to Michigan in the regular-season finale that kept the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State got confirmation that it would still have an opportunity to compete for a national championship on Sunday when the Buckeyes received the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff.

Ohio State didn’t want to back into the CFP. The Buckeyes would have much preferred to beat Michigan to complete a 12-0 regular season and follow that up with a Big Ten championship, which would have earned them a top-two seed in the CFP and likely a more favorable matchup with TCU instead of the one they now face against No. 1 seed Georgia, who will have the advantage of playing in its own backyard as the Bulldogs meet the Buckeyes at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.

Now that the Buckeyes are in the CFP, though, they can’t dwell on what didn’t happen last weekend. Instead, they have to focus on preparing to play Georgia and doing everything they can to achieve a better result against the Bulldogs than they did in their most recent game against the Wolverines.

“The goal was to be in the CFP at this point. That was it when we started the season. And here we are. Strange way to get here, but that's it at the end of the day,” Day said Sunday. “So it's a new season, and you learn from the past. And there's been precedents on this. You look at last year, Georgia lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship. I think it was 41-24 and then went on to win the whole thing. So now it's just a matter of what we do moving forward. Certainly, the game at the end of the year is going to be in the back of our minds as motivation. But now it's just all about maximizing this month.”

Ohio State did spend time over the past week looking at what happened against Michigan and trying to figure out what went wrong and what it needs to do better going forward. He said everyone – starting with himself – has to be accountable for the Buckeyes’ poor performance in the rivalry game.

“As coaches, you got to make sure you're looking at are you putting your players in position to be successful? That's it. And then, if not, then why isn't that getting done? And so, a lot of looking in the mirror last week and figuring out why that didn't happen,” Day said. “At the end of the day, it comes down to accountability and ownership, and it starts with me. And then it goes right to the coaches and then on to the players. And it's easy to point the finger at somebody else, and what's the reason why. And what you have to do is take a hard look in the mirror and figure out why that is. And so there's a lot of those great conversations that happened last week, as hard as they were. But we'll find out if we can come out of this thing stronger.”

By the middle of last week, however, Ohio State began to turn the page from the loss to Michigan and start looking forward to a potential CFP game. Even though the Buckeyes didn’t know for sure that they would make the playoff – and there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have if USC hadn’t lost to Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game – they practiced Wednesday and Thursday as though they were going to make the CFP. Day was pleased with the team’s focus amid the uncertainty.

“It was a very focused week. It was very focused,” Day said. “And I thought guys really did a nice job of being locked in. I really did. And I felt we came out swinging pretty hard.”

In addition to evaluating what happened in the loss to Michigan, Ohio State’s coaches also got started on game plans for potential semifinal games against Georgia and Michigan, giving them a head start on the preparation that otherwise wouldn’t have started until Sunday. The Buckeyes would have rather spent last week preparing to play Purdue in Indianapolis, but they didn’t want to waste the time they had.

“I mean, we wanted to be playing in the Big Ten Championship Game and that hurt. So no, it was not a good week. It was an awful week. But we did a lot of that. We looked at self-scout. We looked at Georgia, we looked at up north, even got ahead of the game plans on those,” Day said. “Just that if we're in the situation, let's not be a week behind. We worked pretty hard on that in all three of those areas. And so it was good to take a hard look at everything that went on the season and figure out where we need to be as we head into this stretch here in December.”

Day said he thought it was important for both coaches and players not to spend the week waiting around to see what would happen without a sense of purpose.

“That's why we decided to have a team meeting and a practice on Wednesday and then on Thursday and get out there and say, ‘Guys, we're playing in a game here, in the CFP. So we got to keep our edge.’ I think that's important,” Day said. “I think once you get into a whole week of doing nothing, you can kind of get into that offseason mode, and you get a little lazy, a little sloppy and we didn't do that. We kept our body weights up, we got back on the field, got to work with no guarantee of anything. But the guys went out there, had a really good practice on Thursday, and said if we make this thing, that we know we have this in the back pocket, kept our edge and now we'll go back out there on Tuesday this week and get back to work.”

“It was a very focused week. It was very focused.”– Ryan Day on Ohio State‘s CFP preparation over the past week

The Buckeyes know they will have to play better than they did against Michigan if they have a chance to beat Georgia. The Bulldogs are the defending national champions and widely regarded as college football’s best team once again, so Ohio State will need to be better in every phase of the game if it’s going to pull off the upset.

“We have to play better on offense. We have to play better on defense. We have to play better on special teams. And if we do, then we'll give ourselves a chance to do that,” Day said. “So we're not gonna dream (about winning the national championship) and do all those types of things. We gotta get back to work and make sure that we're playing better in all three phases and executing better and playing really, really fast.”

Georgia opened as a seven-point betting favorite to beat Ohio State, and Day acknowledged his team’s underdog status, saying, “I don't know how many people are gonna give us a chance in this game.” The Buckeyes do still have a chance to win a national championship, though, and he expects his players to be fully bought into trying to take advantage of that opportunity.

“This is an opportunity that wasn't guaranteed, and now we do have it, so let's go do it,” Day said. “Certainly, a lot of people counted us out, and here we are. So I kind of like being in this role, but now we've got to go do something with it. It doesn’t mean anything if we don't do anything. Just being upset or having a second opportunity is not going to mean anything if we don't do anything with it. But what an unbelievable chance to go do something real special.”

Day expects the Buckeyes to play fearlessly and give everything they have to try to win. He thinks there’s a greater understanding throughout the program of how important it is to play that way after they nearly squandered away their playoff berth.

“When it all gets taken away from you, it makes you just kind of sit there and realize that you're gonna have one shot to go play Georgia or whoever team you play, and that we just gotta let it all out and let it go,” Day said. “And there'll be no fear of failure. We’re gonna go play as hard as we possibly can and be aggressive. That's the way that we've done it here. But when it almost all gets taken away from you, it's a stark reminder that you got to make sure that's the way you're playing your game, and that's the way that we're going to attack this month.”

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