With only three seconds left on the clock and his team trailing by four points, Ryan Day knew his team had only one more chance to pull out a victory by scoring a game-winning touchdown from the 1-yard line.
Day’s offenses have been known far more for what they’ve done through the air than what they’ve done on the ground, and the Buckeyes had just passed the ball from the 1-yard line one play before. The Buckeyes passed the ball on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the first half after getting stopped on a Miyan Williams run from the 1-yard line on 3rd-and-goal, and they were stuffed for no gain twice on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 on their second-to-last drive of the game.
But Day went into Saturday’s game wanting to prove a point after Lou Holtz criticized Ohio State’s physicality during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show on Friday, and knowing that the Buckeyes were unlikely to get another play even if they passed the ball, he decided the right call was to hand the ball to Chip Trayanum to get the 1 yard they needed at the goal line.
Trayanum rewarded Day’s faith in him by running left behind a cavalry of Buckeyes and stretching the ball across the goal line to give Ohio State a 17-14 win with one second left on the clock.
WHAT A CALL!— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) September 24, 2023
WHAT A PLAY! pic.twitter.com/YDsDwaKLkN
“I made the call. Was there a doubt? I looked at the clock and knew there were three seconds left. So I'm thinking that's the last play anyway. You know what I'm saying? I knew we couldn't get two plays with no timeouts because we lost the timeout on the (intentional grounding penalty with 15 seconds left). So I said, ‘Well, you know, at this point, it probably just makes sense (to run the ball) for 1 yard.’ Not only do we need to get that yard for this program, but I felt like it was the right thing to do schematically,” Day said.
Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord said he “had no doubt” Trayanum would score.
“Because that's what we've talked about,” McCord said. “Especially coming off that game from last year (against Georgia), where we felt like we were really one play away, to kind of have it all come full circle this early in the year, there was no doubt in my mind that we were gonna get in there. Our O-line did a great job getting a push, and there was no way Chip was gonna be denied with the game on the line. So, it's just a tribute to everybody on the offense, man. What a way to win.”
Beyond just the decision to run the ball on that play, Day had to decide which running back to give the ball to. He could have gone with TreVeyon Henderson, who led the Buckeyes for the game with 104 rushing yards on just 14 attempts, including a 61-yard touchdown on Ohio State’s first offensive play of the second half. He also could have gone with Miyan Williams, who’s often been brought in to run the ball in goal-line situations this year.
Instead, the Buckeyes trusted a player who initially transferred to Ohio State as a linebacker to power the ball into the end zone with the game on the line. Trayanum said it “means a lot” that the Buckeyes trusted him in the first defining moment of Ohio State’s 2023 season.
“It just echoes the confidence that my teammates and my coaches have in me,” Trayanum said. “Just to give me the ball with the game on the line, just to keep our season dreams alive really at the end of the day. So it means a lot that they have confidence like that in me. And I just knew the job had to be done. Simple as that. I mean, we always preach one play, 1 yard and toughness and fight, and I believe that, I mean, that one play sums it all up.”
Ohio State got an assist on the play from Notre Dame, who lined up with only 10 defensive players on the field. McCord and Trayanum didn’t specifically recognize that in the moment, though. More simply, Trayanum just followed the blocks that the offensive line and tight ends gave him and told himself to make sure he kept his knees up until he crossed the goal line.
“That play has specific reads to it, but I mean, at the end of the day, how I saw the penetration of the line and just how I saw Notre Dame coming off the edges, I just knew to stay tight to it,” Trayanum said. “But at the end of the day, it’s just you either get the yard or you don't.
“In moments like that, it may all seem very fast, but at the end of the day, in the moment, those plays seem super slow and you just know what you gotta do to get the job done. And thankfully, I had the wisdom to know to keep my knees up.”
“There was no doubt in my mind that we were gonna get in there. Our O-line did a great job getting a push, and there was no way Chip was gonna be denied with the game on the line.”– Kyle McCord on Chip Trayanum’s touchdown run
That one play doesn’t mean Ohio State has solved its issues running the ball in short-yardage situations. Day said after the game that he was “really upset” about the plays the Buckeyes didn’t convert earlier in the game, so that will undoubtedly continue to be a point of emphasis for Ohio State as it now goes into its bye week before returning to the field in two weeks against Maryland.
But for a team that lost the last marquee game it played on its final offensive play when Noah Ruggles missed a 50-yard field goal in the final seconds of the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl against Georgia, Saturday’s game served as catharsis as the Buckeyes proved they could win a big game in that situation.
“There were four opportunities where the whole game could be different if we convert in those situations. So upset about that. But I'm not gonna be upset right now because that was one heck of a win for our team,” Day said.