Ohio State vs. Michigan Notebook: Offensive Line “Not Consistent Enough,” Ryan Day Thought Settling for Field Goal Was “The Right Move” and Marvin Harrison Jr. Breaks Record But Leaves Unfulfilled

By Andy Anders and Dan Hope on November 25, 2023 at 7:43 pm
TreVeyon Henderson getting tackled vs. Michigan

Ohio State’s final drive illustrated the overall performance of the team’s offensive line on Saturday.

Some great moments, but also some costly lapses.

“I think there were some good things in terms of moving guys,” Ryan Day said. “A couple of those drives were pretty good. I thought some of the protection was good. But not consistent enough.”

None of the line’s lapses loomed larger than the Buckeyes’ final offensive play against the Wolverines. With Ohio State down six at Michigan’s 38-yard line with 33 seconds remaining, Kyle McCord dropped back to pass and saw Marvin Harrison Jr. breaking open over the middle. As he delivered the ball, however, Michigan defensive end Jaylen Harrell hit him square across the chest. 

The football fluttered in the air and was intercepted by safety Rod Moore. Looping over to the middle of the line on a stunt, Harrell had run over left guard Donovan Jackson, who had been considered the foundation of Ohio State’s offensive line entering the season.

For most of the drive, McCord had been kept clean. But on that play, everything collapsed, and the interception sealed a 30-24 win.

While McCord only took one sack during the contest, he came under enough pressure to affect throws at various points. More inconsistencies appear for the offensive line when looking at the running game.

Ohio State picked up just 3.1 yards per carry on 12 first-half rushing attempts. But for one drive in the second half, it looked like a world-beater on the ground.

On the 75-yard touchdown drive that pulled the Buckeyes even at 17 with Michigan in the third quarter, Ohio State ran the ball each of the final eight plays to gobble up 46 yards and plunge into the end zone with TreVeyon Henderson.

“O-line did a great job moving them (on that drive), Trey and Chip obviously did a great job of pushing the ball,” McCord said. “To cap it off with a touchdown there, that was good. That was, obviously, one of the better drives we had in the game.”

“A couple of those drives were pretty good. I thought some of the protection was good. But not consistent enough.”– Ryan Day on the offensive line’s performance

Many of the team’s runs with backup running back Chip Trayanum also found success, with the former Arizona State Sun Devil picking up 37 yards in six carries for an average of 6.2 yards per attempt.

Take away the eight-play touchdown sequence, however, and the Buckeyes finished with 53 rushing yards on 3.1 yards per carry.

Day didn’t want to risk turnover on downs

One of the more controversial head coaching decisions from Day on Saturday came when Ohio State settled for a 52-yard field goal attempt, missed by kicker Jayden Fielding, on a 4th-and-2 before the end of the first half.

After getting the ball back on their own 2-yard line with 3:23 to play in the second quarter, the Buckeyes drove down to the Michigan 41-yard line for a 3rd-and-9 in the final minute of the half.

McCord hit tight end Cade Stover with a pass to gain 7 yards. Forty seconds remained on the clock, but Day elected to let it run down to three seconds remaining, take a timeout and attempt a field goal rather than try to push the pace and go for it on fourth down.

“I felt like, at 52 yards, it was worth a field goal there,” Day said. “If you don’t get it on 4th-and-2 … you get no points. I felt like it was worth the opportunity to kick the field goal at least. If we come up short there, then it’s a turnover on downs. So I felt like it was the right move.”

The play of Ohio State’s defense in the first half also went into his decision, Day added. Ohio State only allowed one sustained Michigan scoring drive in the opening 30 minutes, the other coming after an interception from McCord set the Wolverines up in a goal-to-go situation.

Generally, on 4th-and-2 from that spot on the field, Day said he’d lean toward kicking the field goal.

“Whether it was the end of the first half or eight minutes to go in the second quarter, I would have made the decision to kick a field goal,” Day said. “Whether there were 30 seconds in the half left or not, the decision was made to kick a field goal.”

“I felt like it was worth the opportunity to kick the field goal at least. If we come up short there, then it’s a turnover on downs. So I felt like it was the right move.”– Ryan Day on settling for a field goal at end of first half

Marv breaks unfulfilling record in potential final game

Marvin Harrison Jr. made more history on what may have been his final drive as a Buckeye.

Entering the Buckeyes’ last possession of the game with 96 receiving yards for the day, Harrison caught a 22-yard pass to top 100 receiving yards in a game for the 15th time in his Ohio State career, moving him past David Boston for the most 100-yard receiving games ever by a Buckeye pass-catcher.

With his five catches for 118 yards and a touchdown against Michigan, Harrison has now topped 1,200 receiving yards and caught exactly 14 touchdown passes for the second year in a row, securing his standing as one of Ohio State’s all-time great receivers – arguably the best in school history. Yet Harrison left Ann Arbor on Saturday without accomplishing what he had said was his biggest goal all year – beat Michigan and make the Big Ten Championship Game – leaving him unfulfilled after what could have been the last time he’ll suit up for the scarlet and gray.

“Everything you worked for this year, all the goals that you had, you weren't gonna accomplish them,” Harrison said when asked how he felt after Michigan’s game-sealing interception, a play after which he spent an extended moment sitting down on the field before returning to Ohio State’s sideline.

Ideally, Harrison will still have the opportunity to play for a national championship if the Buckeyes receive a bid to the College Football Playoff. If that doesn’t happen, however, Harrison will face a decision on whether to play in a non-playoff bowl game or opt out as many top NFL prospects do to preserve his health for the 2024 NFL draft.

Harrison said after the game that it was too soon for him to know what his next move would be.

“I don't know. I don't have an answer for you just yet,” Harrison said. “A lot of conversations to be had with family and coaches, teammates. So I don't have an answer for you just yet.”

Rough outing for Mirco

Ohio State punter Jesse Mirco didn’t set up the Buckeyes’ defense with as good of field position as it could have had with better boots off his capable cleats.

Mirco averaged a mere 36.7 yards per punt on three kicks and downed none of them inside Michigan’s 20-yard line.

His first two punts traveled 34 and 33 yards, respectively. The latter of those came after the Buckeyes had converted a first down to flip field position, pushing the ball out close to midfield. Mirco punted from his own 46-yard line and only pinned Michigan to its own 21-yard line following a fair catch by Michigan wide receiver Jake Thaw.

Mirco’s lone punt of the second half was his best boot of the day, a 43-yarder downed at Michigan’s 31-yard line. Five yards of it were negated by an illegal formation penalty against Ohio State’s punt unit, however.

With special teams lapses being a storyline for Ohio State much of the last two seasons, the Buckeyes were looking for a better day from their punt team in The Game.

Longest losing streak in 26 years

None of Ohio State’s current players were even born the last time the Buckeyes lost three straight games against Michigan before this year.

Before last year, Ohio State hadn’t even lost two games in a row to its rival since 1999 and 2000. Now, the Buckeyes have lost three games in a row to the Wolverines for the first time since they did so from 1995-97.

All of those losses came when John Cooper was coach; Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer lost just one game to Michigan combined. And while the Michigan teams Ohio State has faced over the past three years have certainly been three of the best Michigan teams of the 21st century, Day will nevertheless be saddled with Cooper comparisons – not in a complimentary way – for the next year as his record now sits at just 1-3 in The Game as a head coach.

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