Back to the drawing board for the Buckeyes.
Despite all the coaching staff changes over the offseason and the “shift” in attitude Ohio State players talked about in the lead-up to Saturday’s rivalry game, the result was the same. Actually, it was even worse, as the Buckeyes’ 45-23 loss came by a wider margin than last year’s seven-point defeat.
After the game, head coach Ryan Day took accountability for the loss, although he said knowing that the blame falls mostly on his shoulders is the most painful part.
“We'll figure out what's next. I don't know exactly what is next right now, but that's life at Ohio State. I certainly know what this game means to everybody, and so when you lose, it all comes back to me. I'm the head coach and that's what probably hurts the most.”
Day said the Buckeyes actually had a good week of preparation for the contest, and that he liked what he saw from his team in the first half. Ohio State took a 20-17 lead to the intermission and had the edge on Michigan in most statistical categories.
But in the final 30 minutes, the Wolverines thoroughly outplayed Ohio State to the tune of a 28-3 advantage to turn a halftime deficit into a 22-point beatdown.
“This is not the outcome we all envisioned. I thought we had really good preparation. I thought we were building towards playing really well in this game. We were fighting there in the first half. I felt really good going into the second half and we just didn’t execute well enough in the first half. I thought we played hard, I thought we were fighting out there, but in the end, we came up short.”
Given that Ohio State’s only regular-season loss came to a team that will likely rank No. 2 in the country on Tuesday, its College Football Playoff hopes might not be completely dashed just yet, though. Day said Ohio State might even match up well with some of the potential top teams after conference titles are settled next week.
“I thought we were in it, and we were fighting there at the end. It obviously got out of control down the stretch, but it wasn't like we were out-matched in terms of overall play, I don't think. As we get to those decisions, I think you got to look at the body of work and what we've done. We've got a lot of good pieces on this team and came up short today. But I think if we were able to get a shot in the top four, we'd be a dangerous team.”
The Buckeye defense gave up five touchdowns of 45 or more yards on Saturday, and those big plays were largely the difference. Despite how good Jim Knowles’ defense looked throughout much of the regular season, it gave up more points to Michigan than Matt Barnes, Kerry Coombs and company did last year, and that was without its best offensive player (Blake Corum) for most of the game.
“Knowing that the second half when they hit a couple, obviously there at the end they had a couple of big runs. That’s the difference, it was just disheartening. Obviously, I have to take the blame for that. Surely, you know, just got to do a better job. It’s a story of explosive plays. I thought we matched well, and nothing was lost like that. We matched through the course of the game, but too many explosives. And that’s what is disheartening, you know, for not just the defense, but the team, the fans and I have to take responsibility for that.”
Knowles said the blame should fall on him, and said despite being “crushed” by the defeat, it is even harder for his players.
“It’s football. It’s a hard game. All those things you mentioned, you just have to take responsibility. Obviously the players are hurting much more than me. I’m crushed but they’re young men who put their heart and soul into it. They’re the ones that I have to be able to look in the eye and talk about all those things that you said. Scheme, technique, fundamentals, everything that goes into it has to fall on my shoulders.”
On offense, C.J. Stroud finished with 349 yards and two touchdowns, although he tossed two interceptions in the fourth quarter as Michigan pulled away with it. In what was likely his final game at the Shoe, Stroud suffered his second loss to Michigan, which also extinguished his chance to win a Big Ten title for the second straight year.
Asked how he wants fans to remember him, in the event that he doesn’t return next season, Stroud said he isn’t sure.
“Honestly, I don't know. I mean, people are gonna say I never won The Game and I understand. People are gonna say I never won a Big Ten championship. I understand. So I mean, when it comes to that, I just have to eat it and it's life. Nothing's ever been easy for me. I don't expect to get easy.”
But Stroud said even if Ohio State fans don’t hold him in as high regard after another loss to Michigan, they should know he left no stone unturned in his pursuit of victory.
“I want to be known as the best. And I don’t think I’ll have that respect from Buckeye Nation anymore. Even if I do, I appreciate you. But honestly, I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have won these games. But no one can question my heart. I don't think anybody could question how hard I tried to win this game. I left everything on the table. There was no rock I didn’t flip over. Nothing I could’ve done more, other than play better today. But it's not like I left it to chance.”
- #3 Michigan 45, #2 Ohio State 23
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- • Ohio State Postgame • Photos • TBDBITL • Quotebook • Notebook
- • Michigan Postgame • 3 Key Stats • Five Things • Social Reax • Debriefing