Plague of Doves

by Ramzy Nasrallah January 24, 2024
Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Ryan Day yell from the sideline during the second quarter of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. on Jan. 1, 2019. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]
© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ending a year with a moment like this felt impossible.

The penultimate game of the 2022 college football season's final seconds coincided with the annual Times Square countdown. They would end simultaneously, and everyone watching the clock and the Peach Bowl knew what would happen next.

We would exit 2022, and the defending champion Georgia Bulldogs would exit the playoff.

Everyone also knew what would take place following those two departures. TCU, a classic junior varsity program would accept an imaginary silver medal and Ohio State would take home its second CFP trophy. Ryan Day would become the third consecutive full-time head coach in Columbus to win a national title.

That would be his legacy for the season and beyond. He could beat Michigan some other time. A title game as a heavy favorite awaited, and it would be clinched at the stroke of midnight. Ending a year with a moment like this felt impossible.

But we have to rewind just 10 minutes prior to the ball dropping on 2022, to appreciate a calendar year which had begun with an equally impossible moment. On Day One, CJ Stroud had passed for 573 yards and six touchdowns against the Pac 12 champions. He was not the game's MVP. Impossible.

That trophy went to Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who accounted for 347 of those yards and half of the scores. Stroud's secondary target - if you can call him that without rolling your eyes - was Marvin Harrison Jr. He arrived in Pasadena with five collegiate catches.

He boarded the plane back to Columbus having more than doubled that total, along with his first three touchdown receptions. Finished 2022 the best receiver in football, with full disrespect to that season's Biletnikoff winner. MHJ started the 2022 calendar year as a secondary target. Impossible.

Day One had been kind, though it began with some bumps. Ohio State in that 1st half looked like a bunch of players wearing matching outfits who barely knew each other; the team part of its operation was absent.

Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave were on the sideline whipping towels over their heads while the guys in pads were waiting for someone else to save them. The best receiver among them along with Stroud's secondary target eventually rose to the occasion.

AN OHIO STATE QB gliding past Georgia defenders and two Chick-fil-A logos *IN ATLANTA* IS like Stetson Bennett IV tearing through the BUCKEYE DEFENSE with the Wendy's marquee painted on the frigid turf of an imaginary Central Ohio bowl game.

Once the Buckeyes realized they were rightful aggressors, Utah found itself in trouble. Even with Wilson and Olave out, Ute defensive star and former Ohio State commitment Clark Phillips was the only formidable obstacle in Stroud's way. And he could not stop them alone. That would have been impossible.

The Rose Bowl and the 2022 calendar year had begun with a shootout, a video game, a points contest, a last-team-to-score-wins affair. And then on Day 365, the Pasadena cadence had reversed itself in Atlanta.

Ohio State began New Year's Eve as the aggressor, executor, rude guest and commanding team for the better part of the evening while the Bulldogs suffered through bouts of their parts not equaling the sum.

This was who Day always was. He was the coach who turned Utah on its head after a warm-up quarter on New Year's Day. He would be the coach who turned Georgia inside-out on New Year's Eve. This coach exists. He is him. He came to Atlanta to win.

Of course there was questionable officiating. Harrison Jr., from secondary option to difference maker, capable of single-source regicide, was knocked out of the game without recourse. Bad calls come standard in football. Every fan base should move past them and every program must be prepared to overcompensate when they don't go their way.

The Buckeyes have a knack for allowing refs to devour them in CFP games. It's an area of improvement.

Ohio State's special teams were their usual negative presence that night, which under Parker Fleming was the only outcome his unit was ever capable of delivering. They produced no punt return yardage while allowing 22 on a single return. They notched a meager 15-yard kickoff return while allowing 50 against them.

No field-flipping or punts inside the 20 on the evening, and most memorably - a botched fake punt which was sniffed out and would have been flagged for 12 men even if it had gone undetected.

But Ohio State still winning the game despite losing everything on the margins appeared to be how Days One and 365 would be remembered. Noah Ruggles had chipped in the game-winner at the Rose Bowl. The first bookend was glorious, if not flawed.

This one was veering toward generational. Knocking another undefeated SEC champ out of the College Football Playoff in its own backyard and ending a year with a moment like this felt impossible.

That moment would have been permanently interred in the mausoleum of rapturous Ohio State football memories. Not in the 85 Yards Through the Heart the South and Holy Buckeye wing, but close. Those were touchdown plays. This one would be right down the hall by the gift shop.

This moment, which Stroud manufactured with his legs was a victory-enabling play that as we discovered over the final 30 seconds of game play, lacked the necessary dagger characteristics. Euphoria tends to cloud reality. That's why it feels so good.

The final 1st down conversion of 2022 could have been enshrined in the Tyvis Powell Ends the 2013 Michigan Game wing. Instead, it receives the unwanted distinction of being buried under the most unkind Ball Drop any of us will likely experience.

Ohio State had gotten clobbered by Michigan, scoring three points in a 2nd half where the talented Wolverines' defense knew exactly what was coming, play after play after play. Perhaps without extensive surveillance that's a tossup game - like the 2023 edition would become a year later.

But at 11:57 on Dec 31, 2022 that possibility had not yet entered anyone's minds. The only thought anyone was giving Michigan at that moment was the joyful thought of the Wolverines watching the Buckeyes play in a game that could have been a rematch.

This was happening. That impossible moment was its big bang. Under a minute left in the game and the year. The defending national champions swarming for the kill. Stroud refused to allow the Buckeyes to die:

27 yards through the heart of the south :(

He did that. Stroud had introduced himself to Ohio State fans with a 48-yard touchdown scramble. Two years later, the 2020 Stroud felt like a different person from a surreal season which might not have actually existed. It was his only collegiate rushing touchdown.

The 2022 Stroud wasn't anything like that. The one which played through gale force winds at Evanston in a surreal game which might not have actually existed ran the ball, but that was a glitch.

This might have been a glitch, too. A glorious, profound and extremely well-timed glitch.

A Buckeye quarterback gliding past Georgia defenders and two Chick-fil-A logos in Atlanta would be like Stetson Bennett IV tearing through the Silver Bullets with the Wendy's marquee painted on the frigid turf of an imaginary Central Ohio bowl game.

Every bit of insulting subtlety had fortified this impossible moment - the particular team which would be winning, the enigmatic quarterback who was actually running (!), the stadium and city hosting it all, the unfortunate outcome of the rivalry game played a month earlier and that fading first bookend from Day One.

We were acclimating to the authentic version of who Day was. More of this, please. More of him.

The Buckeyes really were going to beat Georgia. A Peach Bowl autopsy would conclusively determine the visitors had kicked the No.1 seed's ass for three quarters, allowed an NBA-style comeback through defensive lapses, prevent-offense and typical special teams and margin lapses - before beating the Bulldogs in Atlanta.

Ohio State was on the fringe of field goal range with two timeouts - but Georgia would call the first one. Kirby Smart wasn't interested in allowing the Buckeyes to plow forward for more precious yards to tilt probability in Ruggles' favor without saving some clock for his superior special teams' unit and, potentially, his 25-year old college quarterback.

Here is how the final half-minute of the 2022 Peach Bowl CFP Semifinal played out.


They had to get closer, especially with two timeouts and Georgia stopping the clock a third time They had time to prepare. They had time to calm down. Instead OSU got tight and ceded precious inches when it needed premium yards.

So, was this the authentic version of Day? Less of this, please. How could they possibly coexist?

Buckeye fans have memory-holed the sequence following Stroud's 27-yard scramble for obvious reasons, but crucial details in the rubble are important for understanding why the hardliners among the tribe have been screaming for changes since Day reached what appears to be his cruising altitude and ceiling as Ohio State's head coach.

He gets overwhelmed by the big moment. Hey, we all do that during Ohio State games. He can't.

You would quickly recognize that memory-holed Hayden run on 1st & 10; it was one of those weakside boundary piles of humanity to nowhere which would become an unfortunate and chronically failing staple for the Buckeyes over the first half of the 2023 season. That's what Day dialed up following Georgia's timeout after Stroud ripped their hearts out.

Weakside boundary runs gift the defense a 12th defender in the form of the sideline - which, the Buckeyes didn't want to stop the clock in the sequence - putting more pressure on offensive linemen to pummel rushers in a phone booth.

An even transaction for Productivity and Safety. A time-waster. A momentum shifter transferring confidence from offense to defense. Ohio State needed to get closer to the uprights. It inched further away.

That play also had Emeka Egbuka in pre-snap motion toward the field side, removing another blocker for Georgia to overcome. The Bulldogs were ready for that futile weak side push. None of them even looked at Egbuka. He could have jogged to the Georgia 20.

Ohio State called its next two timeouts following identical static pocket passes where Stroud was rushed and nobody was open. Play design which dared all-world DT Jalen Carter to make a play, and you'll never guess who was in the final frame for both of those Stroud throws.

Ruggles came out on 4th down to end Day 365 the same way he had ended Day One, albeit from 31 yards further away. He missed wide left by a cartoonish margin right as the ball dropped, another lesson among the surplus which took too long to be learned about relying on Fleming's unit to do anything other than compromise a football game.

Buckeye fans have memory-holed the sequence preceding Ruggles' triumphant Rose Bowl kick too. Crucial details in the rubble are important for understanding why the hardliners among the tribe have been screaming for changes. Yes, Ohio State won.

But look closely. There's a crack in there which failed to cost them.


Big game 4th quarters deliver a profusion of anxiety - imagine being a decision maker with millions of eyes watching, judging, cheering, booing, hating, loving what you are doing in real time. Day was five minutes from holding a Rose Bowl trophy and was overwhelmed by the moment after Henderson's nine-yard run.

That's when 14 seconds elapsed while the Ohio State sideline was catatonic. It was time the team did not need, but there is no sober explanation for calling a time out with 12 seconds remaining. A bad snap and the game goes to overtime anyway - that buffer only provided value to the Utes.

It was a clock management failure which resulted in the Buckeyes having to kick off after the field goal and contend with a return. Put in terms we should all now appreciate, this meant relying on Fleming's unit - which had allowed Utah to score a touchdown on a kickoff in the 1st half - to preserve a win.

Day will be outsourcing special teams to someone else this season without it occupying a precious coordinator position, which is great news. He did the same for the defense, hiring more capable and interested hands. This is CEO stuff, but his org chart is imbalanced.

Not only do the Buckeyes have fewer defensive coaches, Day has been the head coach, play caller, quarterbacks coach and talent evaluator. Unbalanced and overwhelmed. They teach this stuff in undergrad management courses.

Ohio State's non-defensive units have cost the team big games 1) on the margins, and 2) under pressure in big moments. The margins are where Day elevated Fleming, retained him, extended his contract and then finally terminated him. This era should be closed.

There is no sober reasoning for having granted a two-year extension to a former intern who demonstrated to most aggressive incompetence the program has ever experienced from a coordinator. Hopefully, that's who Day was. He should be the aggressor in charge of a premium college football program should not tolerate, let alone adulate consistent mediocrity.

If the three weeks since the disastrous Cotton Bowl are any indication, it seems as though the past three seasons and Michigan's current place in the college football universe have persuaded him to stop managing the program with passive urgency.

But talent acquisition has never been a glaring problem. The stewardship Day deprioritized while acting as offensive coordinator, quarterback pedagogue and Chief HR Officer is what has been kept incubating.

The workload he's taken on for himself through five seasons is almost tenable for one brilliant coach handling a September home game as a high double-digit favorite, which are the games every single Ohio State head coach is expected to win by the predicted margin.

The biggest games - the matchup ones, the consequential ones, the legacy-defining ones - those require elite focus as much as elite coaching talent. Precision. Attention to detail. Clock management. Understanding and interpreting the condition of both teams psychologically as well as physically.

The X and O stuff has to stay outsourced, preferably to a trusted and talented advisor. Brian Hartline's promotion into that role should have accompanied a more tenured coach for him to shadow. Hindsight.

This is why the only reaction to hiring a seasoned and experienced one in Bill O'Brien should be relief. Overdue, obvious but marvelous news for Buckeye fans and players. If only Day had relieved himself of the unsustainable gameday chaos he levied on himself sooner.

Consider the 2nd quarter of the Michigan game, when Ohio State took over inside of its own 2-yard line coming off the Wolverines executing the type of big game special teams play the Buckeyes haven't made since Olave blocked a punt in their 2018 meeting in Meyer's final season.

On 3rd down, Julian Fleming did more than just make room for a punt - he moved the chains and kept a drive going by delivering what Hartline's room has done since he took it over.

fleming fingertip catch

Instead of having Jesse Mirco punt from the blue turf with the Michigan alumni section behind him, the Buckeyes were now at their 14-yard line. Officials reviewed what was an obvious catch, siphoning a little energy and momentum from the visitors.

If at this point in the Torturous Officiating Era teams haven't embraced referee vandalism as an every-game expectation, they're preparing to lose the emotional battle. They did this to Wilson in the 1st quarter of the 2019 Fiesta Bowl and Ohio State's offense turned a touchdown into a field goal because it allowed the refs to pucker their red zone strategy.

Once play resumed, the Buckeyes had choices to make with the Wolverines still holding two timeouts. Play it safe or make Julian's incredible catch more than a footnote. Day drew up a smart play, but Ohio State's offensive tackles were both quickly humiliated by Michigan's defensive ends.

Execution and recruiting misses came to roost in those seconds. The offensive line had been steadily deteriorating as the season wore on and this play had every right to be a momentum grab for the home team.

Day's first two post-pandemic shots at Michigan - we must demarcate the virus which separated the two Jim Harbaugh eras - have been defined by the Wolverines grabbing momentum exactly in moments like this.

His insistence two seasons earlier of running Henderson up the middle on the first three plays of the 2nd half to demonstrate toughness became a Michigan momentum grab. Jim Knowles' insistence on playing Cover Zero created a sequence of momentum grabs last year in Columbus.

This felt like the buildup toward an opportunity to recast the game from a contest squandered by a horrific early interception to the resilient visitors controlling the balance of the afternoon by complementing incredible plays by the Buckeye specialists with lucid, high-pressure decision making from the sideline.

While both of Ohio State's tackles were run through like finish-line tape, McCord made a terrific decision to step into the pocket and simply heave the ball out of the chaos he was drowning in and down the field as far as possible while off-balance.

Forty-four yards later, game momentum was entirely in Ohio State's control.

You'll rarely see a smarter defensive pass interference penalty in your life. Unfortunately, and-one has no scoreboard value outside of basketball. It only credits the psychological piggy bank in football.

Which was perfectly fine - Marv doing prototypical Marv things in Ann Arbor is exactly why you recruit and retain aliens to come to Columbus. Not to rub Western Kentucky's face in shit in September - that's for our tawdry entertainment - but to send Michigan back to hell where it permanently belongs.

marv <3

Harrison put the Buckeyes 61 seconds and 42 yards away from a touchdown, with a surplus of good feelings. They had gathered in their own endzone just a few plays earlier and were now slicing through the home team, intent on reaching the student section in the opposite end.

McCord had one consequential time-crunch high-pressure drive to his credit in his single season as a starter, and it also took place on the road. His closing act in South Bend delivered a game-winning score, assisted by two fortunate incidents.

First, the touchdown itself was an 11-on-10 affair, with Chip Trayanum barely clearing the goal line where an Irish defender should have been. Second, he was nearly picked off on that final drive. It wasn't a breadbasket botched game-ender; it would have been a challenging, albeit possible catch.

The prevailing reason defenders don't play offense begins at their wrists and ends at their fingertips. If catching footballs was a strength, they'd probably line up on the other side of the ball. Either way, McCord and all of the visitors were grateful.

Ohio State went 65 yards in 85 seconds to close that 2nd half in South Bend with six points. Forty-two yards in 61 seconds with a timeout to spare in Ann Arbor along with all of the momentum felt more accessible. Stroud's 27-yard scramble in Atlanta carried similar, albeit game-ending instead of half-ending energy.

At this point in the season, Day had largely abandoned his mystifying fetish for timewasters; safely running into the boundary for no or negative yards. Sending Hayden straight to nowhere was not what he dialed up following Marv's big catch.

Earlier in the game he had chosen to punt on 4th and inches near midfield, resulting in Mirco's second sub-35 yard effort. His third play call of the game was a brilliant seam concept which McCord had thrown behind Egbuka - it might have gone for a 69-yard touchdown had it been thrown more accurately.

He brought a wealth of innovative and aggressive concepts into the afternoon, which as a play design prodigy is to be expected. That's a primary cog in the Ryan Day Value Proposition, along with elite quarterback tutelage.

His strategy on this play called for a Trayanum leak, knowing the Michigan defense would be on its heels after being torched deep by Marv. It's absolutely gorgeous play design. The marquee aliens from Hartline's room clear out the middle of the field. Catch a little dump-off pass and those premium yards come way too easy.

This play probably beats Georgia if Day runs it following Stroud's 27-yard scramble. Clear out the Bulldog secondary, teardrop a pass behind the defensive line and we're talking about a second-consecutive Ruggles chip shot to win a bowl game.

Instead, we were treated to the second-worst throw McCord made that afternoon.

enjoy syracuse

Pardon me, but goddamn it. This is a disqualifying throw for an Ohio State quarterback.

But this sequence was the authentic version of who Day can become. Cresting toward a big moment, not being overwhelmed by it. Completing a simple pass over the middle changes the complexion of the whole season.

McCord's worst throw had been that game-opening interception. Michigan went seven yards on four plays to earn the game's first points because the guy whose job is to take care of the ball telegraphed a pass to the Wolverines' best defensive back.

It's fair to debate the interception which ended game as his second-worst throw. Ohio State's offensive line collapsing all around and on top of McCord can take healthy credit for that moment. Debating Worst Throws at Michigan by a Buckeye Quarterback is a special hell we're all welcome to slide into at our choosing.

This airball to Trayanum was his second-worst throw, and possibly one of the worst big game passes ever seen considering the moment and the momentum. An Ohio State quarterback incapable of making this throw to conclude a third season with the program belongs at Syracuse.

Watch that GIF enough times and you'll see Egbuka had a walk-in touchdown in his sights. He might have had another one had McCord put some accuracy on his fourth-worst throw, the forfeited 69-yard seam route touchdown to Egbuka on the first drive, another brilliant Day script under medium Game pressure.

Two Michigan defenders were in better position to make the catch than Trayanum was. McCord should have been much, much better at this point in his development. He had spent most of his first two seasons with Meyer's son-in-law Corey Dennis before earning the upgrade to the real QB coach's attention in 2023 after Stroud left for the NFL.

But we also know the Buckeyes' CHRO hand-picked McCord over the now-outgoing Michigan quarterback, legend and eternal Conquering Hero, previously a lifelong Ohio State fan and now a national champion with a 3-0 record against the Buckeyes:

McCarthy was in Columbus two weekends ago when the staff hosted several of its top 2021 targets. Northwestern, Michigan, and Wisconsin are all very much in play for the Illinois product, though he's not planning on rushing into a decision. Last year he led Nazareth Academy to the 7A state championship. McCarthy threw for nearly 3,500 yards with 39 touchdowns to just four interceptions. 247 Sports Director of Recruiting Steve Wiltfong has logged a crystal ball pick in favor of the Buckeyes.

Day could have had either quarterback. He chose the one who should have been at least as good in Year Three as the one he rejected was in Year One. Hindsight, sure. But carrying four jobs at once can only make foresight fuzzier.

cursed image
(L-R) Lorenzo Styles Jr, J.J. McCarthy and Emeka Egbuka in Columbus during a recruiting visit In 2019.

McCord made an incompetent throw on a beautiful play call designed to both be safe and successful. The cruelty of Ohio State's QB coach, offensive coordinator and head coach all being the same guy is that the consequences can bite in any one of three ways, and on this play it was the underdeveloped quarterback which sunk the opportunity and squandered the momentum.

And that incompletion created negative pressure where buoyant energy had just been one snap earlier in the game.

This was in the same section of the Ohio State psychology textbook as Running Hayden to the Boundary in the Peach Bowl pressure and Waiting a Weird Number of Seconds to Call Time Out in the Rose Bowl pressure. We know what happens next.

And there's no helpful hindsight here, because if McCord can miss Chip by a mile with no one covering him, what's the right passing play for a team intent on six points instead of three? It was always suffocating waiting to see which version of a McCord pass would take place.

The choice was safer throws of the non-crossing route variety, which means taking an entire food group out of the Ryan Day nutritional pyramid. McCord hung Henderson out to dry on a telegraphed screen which tilted the stadium back toward home field advantage after a big Michigan hit. On 3rd down he found Cade Stover at the Michigan 34 for seven yards.

Decision time on 4th and 2 with 39 seconds and a timeout left. The Buckeyes had already punted once on 4th and 1. Two yards further away than Ruggles' ill-fated season ender.

Momentum, aggression, Michigan receiving the 2nd half kickoff - probably best to call a timeout immediately and dial up a sober, executable play to move the chains and get closer with time for at least three more plays following a conversion.

Here is what Ohio State's sideline did instead, sped up 300x.


This isn't terribly different from the lapse between Henderson's run in Pasadena and Ruggles' kick.

Note how many advisors are in Day's orbit or even speaking to him while he's managing the game, the team, calling the plays and coaching the quarterback.

Contrast that sight with the image atop this column. Really stare at that one. Day used to be the exact same Trusted Advisor he had eschewed having for himself until O'Brien's hiring.

His old boss had similar, if not toxic control issues which experience eventually taught him was baggage he would benefit from permanently checking. After Ohio State's offense grew dangerously stale, he hired both Day and Kevin Wilson, the latter of whom had worked with Randy Walker to innovate the offense Meyer had adopted for his own teams once he began leading programs of his own.

Day would be his QB coach and Wilson would coach tight ends - but much more importantly, he'd serve as a consigliere for the offense. Urban had Day and Wilson, a mensch for each ear. He finally figured out that attempting to be superhuman was a failing proposition for mere mortal coaches.

Greg Schiano would lead his defense. Both Wilson and Schiano had B1G and B1G-adjacent head coaching experience in grim, unrewarding programs in Bloomington and Piscataway.

Meyer's trusted advisor stayed in Columbus when Day ascended to the head coaching role. He left to take over at Tulsa, and in 2023 his void was filled by Keenan Bailey - a highly-regarded and first-time position coach, and Hartline - as part of his coaching development and second career path (seven years in the NFL is equivalent to a 25-year career in an office building).

The Ohio State fan base celebrates and defends being entitled. Going 33-6 over the past three seasons has felt like a catastrophe.

Which is to say Day had no trusted advisor last season. No consigliere, and this is probably more author conjecture than fact: Wilson was never his trusted advisor. They arrived in Columbus within a week of each other to serve the same boss in different ways. Day did not choose Wilson, however qualified he might have been as a football aide. Meyer did.

Meyer trusted Wilson because of his relationship with Walker. Meyer hired Day because of his relationship with Chip Kelly, whom the two men both consider a trusted advisor of their own. O'Brien has NFL, SEC and that grim, unrewarding B1G coaching experience leading Penn State in the two dark seasons following Joe Paterno's exit.

Day does not currently need help innovating his offense or designing plays. He could use some relief with quarterback caretaking with someone more qualified than simply possessing pleasant, responsible supervisor-ish decorum.

What he needs help with is game day. Specifically, big game game day. That's his working epitaph.

Winning in the margins instead of always losing them. Valued, trusted advice from delegates in high pressure moments during big games. Assets the best coaches the game has ever seen have always kept near them on the sideline.

The Cotton Bowl was Ohio State's second unwanted consolation prize in three seasons, and it came as McCord exited the program for lower pressure, reasonable expectations and inferior resources. It might be the most conspicuous example of the consequences of Day being spread too thin.

Devin Brown hurt his ankle late in the 1st quarter, and for everyone watching on television with a working knowledge of how football games work - his behavior as he tried to walk it off suggested he was not going to shake this injury until after the team plane returned to Columbus.

He stayed on the field. On the next drive, he hobbled out to lead the offense again. It was clear Ohio State had prepared some unconventional gadget infusions to help take pressure off of an inexperienced room with McCord's departure.

The Buckeyes had forced a Missouri punt following the Brown injury drive, which - like two others on the night - they fair-caught inside of their own 10-yard line, The first play Ohio State ran on that possession featured Henderson in the wildcat receiving the snap.

He faked the pitch to Brown, who was visibly hobbling around in pain and no threat to be a ball carrier, throw a block or lend any physical energy toward the Buckeye offense. Does anyone on the sideline see what's happening?

That should have been enough. It was unfair to the team and especially to Brown to keep him on the field in that condition, and yet that's what Ohio State did. Here's the second play of that drive. Brown is lined up wide in the boundary at the top of the screen.

why play 11 on 11 when you can play 10 on 11
Devin Brown (top of screen) split out wide, hobbling around while Ohio State burns clock running wildcat while trying to figure out what's next.

He belonged in the injury tent, not cartoonishly limping a decoy route in front of his own sideline.

Trust is a core value for earning playing time, and Brown didn't even earn as much trust as McCord had during the season. Knowles kept Tommy Eichenberg - trustworthy, no argument - on the field in Ann Arbor, who was playing in obvious pain and limitations due to a shoulder injury which had kept him out of the previous games leading to Michigan.

Knowles likely didn't trust the linebackers he had to replace him, deciding to play a one-armed Eichenberg instead of a two-armed downgrade, whomever that might have been. But that was the Michigan game.

Missouri was a consolation prize where the Buckeyes had no starting quarterbacks, and Day was actively choosing to play a visibly hobbled one for nearly two drives before tapping freshman Lincoln Kienholz to finish the game behind an offensive line no Hall of Fame pocket passer could have survived.

The Buckeyes actively chose to play 10-on-11 football for a consequential number of plays.

Like the Rose Bowl freeze, the Peach Bowl lapse, the Michigan game...whatever the delightful German expression is for allowing 40 seconds to run off the clock in a rivalry game with a timeout on 4th & 2 and an offense loaded with difference makers this may have been a symptom of the guy in charge trying to do too much of everything all at once. Day is prone to überdenken.

But this all seems to be producing one of the most conspicuously urgent periods in program history. Current and future state has shown aggressive and unified NIL programs retaining and acquiring difference makers, which may be unsustainable but demonstrates the proper urgency for an era which has ceded two decades of conference domination in just three seasons.

Innovation, energy, urgency and talent are not lacking. Ohio State has seemed to thread the needle on championing brotherhood culture and relentless elimination games, which should be sustained and ingrained rather than used as an In Case of Emergency lever pull. Three losses to Michigan. Urgency is late, albeit welcome.

As always, Buckeye football is in an enviable position. Only three components are missing heading into the 2024 season, and there's still plenty of time. One, they do not have a playoff-contending offensive line. Perhaps they can coach what they have into one.

Two, better production and development out of the linebackers. Don't lose any sleep there.

And three, the still 44-year old prodigy who has 30 productive years left leading a football program must demonstrate the discipline and willingness to delegate big moment in-game tasks and be open to counsel, like hey maybe call a timeout now so we can go for it.

The trophies don't increase in size when the head coach makes coaching too difficult for himself. Gold Pants charms, which none of the players and only a few of the coaches own at the moment, are the same size and karat every time Michigan loses. They don't increase in value in self-sabotage. They're all priceless.

The Ohio State fan base celebrates and defends being entitled. Going 33-6 over the past three seasons has felt like a self-inflicted catastrophe, with half of those losses coming to Michigan while the guy in charge has been thinking too hard and doing too much.

The unprecedented energy since the Cotton Bowl has been inspiring, though the Buckeyes are separated from any big game opportunity by an entire offseason and several layups.

But stocking up on elite talent like Day has, right after the floor caved in, suggests the plague of doves circling a program which appeared content to go 11-2 in games and 0-3 in goals have flown away.

Ending that era by embracing the authentic, aggressive and executive version of what Ohio State's coach can be is not only possible, it's already happening - in January. The Buckeyes will need it most in November.

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