Skull Session: Ryan Day Thinks Ohio State Can Have “The Best Defense in the Country” in 2024 and Kirk Herbstreit Says He Went to Therapy While Playing for the Buckeyes

By Chase Brown on May 28, 2024 at 5:00 am
Jack Sawyer

Welcome to the Skull Session.

I hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day.

ICYMI: On Monday, I wrote about Fred Norton and Don Scott, who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of the United States in 1918 and 1943.

Have a good Tuesday.

 WHAT IS A RYAN-DAY COACHED TEAM? To borrow a question and term from Josh Pate of CBS Sports, remember when “A Ryan Day-coached team” dominated on offense but not on defense? That was the case in 2020, 2021 and 2022 – but not in 2023, when Ohio State possessed the No. 48 total offense (407.9 YPG) and No. 45 scoring offense (30.5 PPG) in college football but had the No. 3 total defense (265.4) and No. 2 scoring defense (11.23) in the sport.

Day attributes that success to defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, whom he hired from Oklahoma State in 2022. As Ohio State enters year three under Knowles – and brings back nine starters from last season – Day said the Buckeyes could have (I think he meant should have) the best defense in America this fall.

“We’re about to enter year three, and we have the opportunity, with a lot of hard work, to have the best defense in the country,” Day told Brandon Beam and Bobby Carpenter on 97.1 The Fan two weeks ago. “We know that if we want to reach our goals, we will have to play well on defense.”

In further proof that the definition of  “A Ryan Day-coached team” has changed, the sixth-year head coach said Ohio State reaching its goals would depend more on the quarterback and offensive line positions than on defensive line, linebacker, cornerback and safety.

“It will be a huge part of our season, the quarterback play and how well the quarterback plays. We know that. We know how important the offensive line play will be. We know how important the quarterback play will be,” Day said. “The defense will be strong, and how well it plays late in the season will be critical. But it always comes down to the quarterback.”

REPEAT: It always comes down to the quarterback.

 DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH. ​​On Friday, Ohio State linebackers coach James Laurinaitis appeared on 97.1 The Fan’s “Bishop and Friends” — a show known as “Bishop and Laurinaitis” before Laurinaitis left the network to become a graduate assistant at Notre Dame — to discuss serious and unserious with Beau Bishop

Over the weekend, Andy Anders wrote about one of the unserious topics Laurinaitis discussed with Bishop: His excitement for EA Sports College Football 25. The assistant coach said he wants to “teach these kids a lesson” and dominate current Ohio State football players in the game whenever he can.

“I was insane at the (old NCAA games). I want to put that out there,” he said. “I used to destroy Marcus Freeman in the game. Marcus used to get really upset because my speed was better than him. I said, ‘Listen, don’t blame me, blame the nerd who made it.”

One of the serious topics Laurinaitis and Bishop addressed revolved around the revenue-sharing settlement between the NCAA and Power Five conferences. Laurinaitis said the settlement is the latest development to alter the “landscape of college football.” Among the many uncertainties the settlement creates, Laurinaitis wonders how it will impact Ohio State recruiting.

“The landscape of college football continues to evolve,” Laurinaitis said. “Will NIL still be there in a couple of years? Will it be there next year with the new settlement? Who knows what it all looks like? You hold on and evolve and adapt. It takes patience sometimes, and you have to figure out how you want to do things.”

One thing Laurinaitis does not question, however, is whether the current Ohio State coaching staff would have recruited him – a three-star prospect from Wayzata, Minnesota, in the 2005 class – out of high school.

“I won’t lie, I thought about this the other day; in my situation now and the way we’ve gotten in recruiting, I’m not recruiting me,” Laurinaitis said. “I’m not going to Wayzata High School to see a three-star prospect ranked No. 542 in the nation. Today’s Ohio State will not go down that path. The Ohio State back in 2005, I’m certainly thankful they did. But with what national recruiting has turned into and the expectation to have the No. 1 or No. 2 class, you’re not going after that slow, 4.8-second 40 (yard dash) kid out of Wayzata. You’re just not.”

Unfortunately, Laurinaitis is correct. And that’s a shame.

In four seasons at Ohio State, that slow, 4.8-second 40 kid out of Wayzata recorded 375 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and nine interceptions, earning All-American honors in 2006, 2007 and 2008.  He also won two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year accolades, a Bronko Nagurski Trophy and a Butkus Award while leading the Buckeyes to four consecutive Big Ten titles and two national championship games.

In the evolving landscape of college football, will Ohio State ever have that diamond-in-the-rough kind of prospect come to Columbus again?

 “I WAS READY TO QUIT.” In a recent appearance on “The Mental Game” podcast, former Ohio State quarterback and current ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit revealed he dealt with mental health battles in college and went to see a therapist as a sophomore for the Buckeyes.

A five-star prospect from Centerville, Ohio, Herbstreit could have played for a number of schools in college. However, given his father Jim Herbstreit’s status as a former Ohio State football captain, Kirk Herbsreit said he felt destined to become a Buckeye. 

When his freshman season didn’t go as planned, Herbstreit experienced depression. Feeling like he wanted to quit football altogether, he visited the team’s new therapist, who helped him overcome his doubtful thoughts.

“The courage it took in 1990, 1991, to go into his office — which was at Ohio Stadium, where they gave him a little nook — I’ll never forget walking from my apartment looking around my shoulder the entire time wondering if anybody saw me and then knocking on his door. Even then, I’d still be kind of looking around,” Herbstreit said. “Isn’t that crazy? That you’re so afraid. I was like 20 or 21 years old, and I didn’t want people to make fun of me. I didn’t want people to think I was weak because of the way we were trained. But at least I had the courage to knock on his door.

“He opened the door, and I walked in. I didn’t know what to talk to him about. He was incredible because he didn’t know anything about me, and he wasn’t judging me. If you talk to your parents sometimes, they have an agenda, and they think they know what’s best. But he wanted to know about my life. He didn’t want to talk about football. After the first hour with him, I was like, ‘Man, that felt good.’ I left and wanted to come back. I was there once a week for the rest of my career. I really give him a lot of credit because I was rock bottom. I was ready to quit.”

I applaud Herbstreit for opening up about his mental health at Ohio State. As the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback for multiple seasons, I’m sure many would have said Herbsteit had it all. Even still, those circumstances did not exclude him from depressive thoughts and other mental health battles, so I am thankful he looked for help and eventually improved.

The quote above covers about two minutes of the almost nine-minute video The Mental Game posted on the segment, and I encourage all readers to take some time to listen to or watch it all. It’s full of good stuff.

 THEMZ THE RULEZ. When I see a Ted Ginn Jr. mixtape on X, I share it here. Those are the rules.

Very entertaining, indeed.

 SONG OF THE DAY. “Bring It On Home to Me” - Sam Cooke.

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