Eleven Warriors Roundtable: Taking Stock of Ryan Day's Buckeyes After a 4-0 Start

By Chris Lauderback on September 29, 2023 at 10:10 am
Ryan Day
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETWORK

Bye weeks aren't exactly awesome for fans and as we saw last year, an open date can be a factor in a team completely losing its rhythm but here we are as the Buckeyes have an off week after beating Notre Dame last Saturday to run their record to 4-0. 

Theoretically the open week gives Ryan Day and company a chance to continue working on the offensive line's shortcomings among other areas of opportunity while the team otherwise rests up for the resumption of Big Ten play next weekend as a game Maryland squad enters the Shoe for a high noon kick. 

The 11W Roundtable however doesn't take weeks off during the season so I've got our own Kyle Jones, Josh Poloha and Johnny Ginter here to opine on Ohio State's undefeated start. 

Let’s start with Ryan Day’s rant on Lou Holtz and any other doubters of the physicality of his program. Is it fair to say on some level that Day’s teams have indeed lost the physical war more often than he admits, if not in the defeats Holtz specifically called out? Was Day justified or out of line in his multiple responses on the topic? I feel like the most important purpose it served, intentionally or not, was to likely further galvanize his team and show his players he has their back. Looking forward, as Ohio State won some battles and lost some battles at the line of scrimmage against Notre Dame, do Day’s offensive and defensive lines have the chops to be help the Buckeyes win the league and be legit national title contenders? 

Josh: It is certainly fair to say that, especially when it comes to the two most recent losses to Michigan. Like it has been said by multiple people since Ryan Day's rant Saturday night, Lou Holtz was just the latest to criticize and became the face of some long-standing criticism that clearly built up in Day and he let it all out following the win over Notre Dame. Whether right or wrong, Day used those comments to motivate his players both prior to the game in South Bend last week and likely the rest of the season, especially when you pair that with Day's postgame rant. I do think Ohio State has the toughness to win the line of scrimmage going forward and be a national title contender.

Kyle: The 'soft' label must be frustrating, if only because it's an attempt to reconcile two completely different issues with one root cause. Systemic problems with the defense caused the losses to Oregon and Michigan in 2021, which had nothing to do with the offensive play-calling on 3rd & short last season. Given the way the defense traded blows with an extremely physical run game Saturday night, it must feel more confident about its ability to do so moving forward, but the offensive line needs more from Carson Hinzman, in particular, who struggled at times in South Bend.

Johnny: Calling someone or someones "soft" is the ultimate insult in football, and in a certain sense I don't think that any player or team in major college football is "soft." Like, I'm soft. I get the vapors thinking about confronting the Taco Bell drive-up guy for getting my order wrong. Anyone willing to subject themselves to weekly televised car crashes isn't a wuss, and it's understandable that Holtz's comments would stick in Day's craw.

But that's a different issue than "can Ohio State convert short yardage running plays?" The Buckeyes had five six! significant downs of a yard or less against Notre Dame, and it's lucky for them that the one they managed to cash in on was the final drive of the game. But if they had managed to get even one of the previous four five, there wouldn't have been a reason for any last-second heroics. All of that is to say that yeah: they've still got a lot to figure out in short yardage situations, and until they do, it's going to hold them back.

Kyle McCord showed steady improvement across his first three starts this season and then led the Buckeyes to win over Notre Dame in his first real test, throwing for 240 yards, not turning it over, completing 10-of-13 on third down for 155 yards and leading the team on a game-winning drive with multiple clutch throws to keep his team alive. How are you feeling about his development through four games? Where does he need to improve for Ohio State to reach its goals? 

Johnny: Mentally, McCord is already there. He might make bad throws, but I've only seen him make one or two really bad decisions so far in a game. I think the biggest thing now is developing a rapport with his receivers and having a better understanding of when and how they'll get open. The other thing about this is that I don't really care who his personal WR1 is; if it just so happens that McCord is most comfortable throwing to Cade Stover or Emeka Egbuka, so be it.

Josh: Love McCord's development thus far. He just has to continue to improve his efficiency, especially with the deep ball. While riding the momentum from that game-winning drive in South Bend, I have no doubt that he will do so while continuing to develop his game under Day. The more reps McCord gets, the better he will be going forward. He has shown flashes time and time again and McCord will eventually put it all together.

Kyle: The throws he made in crunch time were the kind that many long-time starters never make in their careers, so he's already gotten the hard part out of the way. Now it's about throwing into those tight windows more consistently. He has had a bad habit of getting off his first read too quickly, not giving Harrison or Egbuka enough time to get to their break and instead of attempting to go for a big play with a difficult throw, he'd safely hit his check down for a short gain. Now, though, he should have the confidence to wait a little bit more and trust both his receivers and his own arm to make more plays.

Through four games, what has stood out as the most pleasantly surprising aspect/player/thing about this team? What about the most disappointing aspect/player/thing so far? 

Kyle: Josh Proctor looks like a different player in year two with Jim Knowles. Rarely does a player this deep into his career make such a progression, but the sixth-year senior has been a huge part of the Buckeye defense's improvement. The coaches have done a good job of maximizing his skill set by dropping him into an underneath zone, effectively acting as a third linebacker, and avoiding matchups in man-coverage with speedy slot receivers. As a result, #41 seems to always be around the football.

Johnny: Denzel Burke has made a complete 180 from his extremely disappointing 2022 season, and it's telling that Notre Dame and Sam Hartman barely even glanced at his side of the field the entire game. He is matching guys step for step and simply not giving any kind of breathing room for the ostensibly best opposing receiver on the field at any given time.

Steele Chambers has also played well, and his aggression in the running game is going to pay dividends later on in the season (as will Lathan Ransom's).

Josh: The defense. I was hoping they would be good again and regain what they had prior to the final two games of the 2022 season but I don't think I ever thought each unit would be this good already. Denzel Burke becoming a lockdown cornerback and Tyleik Williams becoming one of the best defensive tackles in the country are some of the things I didn't expect, at least this early in the season.

Last season, Ohio State’s offense was deadly in the red zone ranking No. 2 in the country with a scoring rate of 95.2% and No. 6 with a touchdown rate of 74.6%. Through four games this year, Ohio State ranks 95th in red zone scoring rate at 76.9% and 96th in touchdown rate with a mark of 53.9%. Is it too early to panic about the red zone troubles? How does Ryan Day fix this, assuming you think something indeed needs fixing? 

Josh: Those numbers certainly aren't pleasing but it's still a bit too early to panic. With three new faces starting on the offensive line paired with a first-year starter behind center, I have no doubt that the offense will improve as Ohio State gains more experience and chemistry together.

Kyle: To me, this is an output of an offensive line that is still finding its rhythm. None of the five starters has been consistently excellent, which is the sign of a group that is still learning how to work together. As they become more and more comfortable, the execution should improve, as should the red zone numbers.

Johnny: This doesn't bother me too much, especially given that Ohio State is breaking in a new starting quarterback. We keep forgetting that the Buckeyes lost the second pick in the NFL Draft, a guy who is tearing up the league as a rookie. You don't just slot in a new guy and expect everything to continue exactly as it had been.

Expanding to the national landscape, which team has impressed you the most so far? Which team’s poor performance has caught you off guard? 

Johnny: I absolutely love watching Washington play football, in part because of my delight that Michael Penix, Jr. is still playing football and kicking so much ass. I have not forgotten the game in which he put the entire Hoosier football team on his back and passed for damn near 500 yards against Ohio State. It's great that he's with a competent program that has a real shot at a natty.

I keep waiting for Alabama to magically fix all of its problems somehow, and it's absolutely wild watching a Nick Saban team look this vulnerable across the board (but particularly on their offensive and defensive lines).

Josh: Washington has impressed me the most. That passing attack is lethal and so fun to watch. On the other hand, Alabama has impressed me the least. The Crimson Tide clearly has a quarterback problem and that will hold them back this season.

Kyle: Oregon and Washington are Good with a capital G. They're very real CFP contenders as they've shown the ability to control games on both sides of the ball. Many people have focused on what Dan Lanning said about last weekend's beatdown of Colorado, but there's a reason he cut his WWE promo before the game - he knew his team was going to put the hurt on the Buffaloes. On the flip side, Minnesota seems to really miss Tanner Morgan at quarterback. Many expected them to rise to the top of the Big Ten West this fall, but the opposite seems to have occurred in the Twin Cities.

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