The B1G 10: Who looks past Georgia and ahead to a Michigan rematch? Ryan Day
Every Tuesday, Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the Big Ten …
1. The B1G Story
He panicked. There’s no other way to look at it.
Why else would Ryan Day step to the podium and put a big, fat target on an Ohio State team that hasn’t exactly performed well of late in the spotlight.
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Now it’s on the Buckeyes players, as talented a team as any in the country, to back it up.
“It would be unbelievable,” Day said when asked about a potential national championship matchup with bitter rival Michigan. “And to say we haven’t thought about that, of course we have. Everybody has.”
What in the blue blazes is Day doing? It’s Coaching 101 to let sleeping Dawgs sleep. Not, in this specific case, agitate an already tickfed-off Georgia team.
The Playoff committee already gave Georgia motivation by placing Ohio State in the No. 4 spot instead of TCU, clearly trying to avoid a rematch of the blowout played 2 weeks ago in Columbus. Now Day has thrown grease on a kerosene fire.
For some unholy reason, Day poked a Georgia team whose only loss in the last 32 games is to defending national champion Alabama in the 2021 SEC Championship. Of course Ohio State is thinking about Michigan.
Instead of hearing useless plaudits that Day delivered on the Fiesta Bowl conference call, Georgia gets to hear Ohio State’s uber-successful coach talk about a shot at redemption against hated Michigan. It’s a panic move from Day, who only days earlier had to hear how he may not be the right fit for Ohio State, despite his 45-5 overall record.
And had to see a video of Ohio State fans, after the 22-point loss to Michigan, chanting “We want Urban” behind the Fox broadcast set at Ohio Stadium.
Because no coach in his right mind would answer any question about a potential national championship game rematch when you have to get through the defending national champion — and the clear No.1 this season — in the semifinal.
Day answered it because that’s what’s important in Ohio because he’s suddenly — I can’t believe I’m even writing this — feeling pressure to win. So he panicked, and in the process gave Georgia all the focus and motivation it needs.
Excluding Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State will be completely healthy for the semifinal (more on that later), and on talent alone, may have the best chance of the 3 teams to beat Georgia.
But instead of walking softly and making a statement on the field, Day decided to shout from the rooftops and let his team deal with the ramifications.
Not a bad strategy for a team that looked woefully overmatched in its 3 most significant games of the past 2 seasons: a nonconference loss to Oregon in Columbus, and back-to-back losses to Michigan.
Put the pressure on the players and see how they react.
“It’s all kind of happened the way we thought it would,” Day said. “What an amazing story this could be. I kind of like being in this role. What an unbelievable chance to go do something special.”
Or an unbelievable mistake.
2. Tough it out
When Urban Meyer made a big deal of bequeathing his whistle to Day in the postgame locker room after a Rose Bowl win over Washington, the Buckeyes’ fan base thought they were getting a suped-up, younger version of Meyer.
What they were getting was a facsimile of Chip Kelly, Day’s mentor from his time at New Hampshire. It’s Kelly’s offense — the downhill run, quarterback-heavy system — that Day runs, and it’s Kelly’s philosophy that Day and his staff have adhered to both on the field and off (recruiting).
It’s scheme ball (Kelly) vs. strong ball (Meyer).
It wasn’t long after Utah scored 45 points on Ohio State last year in a Rose Bowl loss to the Buckeyes, that Day decided to find the best defensive coordinator he could get to change an overmatched defense.
He hired defensive coordinator Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State, in part, to get more toughness and accountability for a unit that struggled in 2021. The Buckeyes got better across the board — until Michigan showed up in Columbus.
Until Michigan — built exactly like Georgia — physically manhandled Ohio State on the lines of scrimmage. Until Michigan delivered an unmistakable message: Finesse isn’t winning in this series anymore.
That’s why this semifinal against Georgia — and yes, a potential final against Michigan — are so important. In a matter of 5 weeks, Day can prove Ohio State is more Meyer than Kelly, and in the process beat the 2 best teams in the nation.
Or Georgia (or Michigan) can further expose the idea of toughness at Ohio State — and maybe push Day into the NFL.
3. The time is now, The Epilogue
Day says Ohio State will be completely healthy for the Peach Bowl, something it wasn’t for the Michigan game. (OSU hasn’t had Smith-Njigba for months.)
Specifically, star tailback TreVeyon Henderson — one of the most dangerous players in the nation — will be full go.
Want to know how Ohio State gets more physical? Henderson and tailback Miyan Williams getting 25-30 combined touches against Georgia.
That’s the same game plan Meyer used in 2014, when Ohio State snuck into the first Playoff and played No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. Because Ohio State was on its 3rd quarterback (Cardale Jones), Meyer told his staff he wanted tailback Ezekiel Elliott — one of the most dangerous players in the nation — to touch the ball 25 times, and the Buckeyes had to rush for more than 200 yards on a defense that was top 5 in the nation against the run.
Elliott had 21 touches (1 catch) and ran for 230 yards and 2 TDs, including a game-clinching 85-yard score. Ohio State ran for 281 yards.
Henderson has played 8 games this season, and has had more than 20 carries once: 21 carries, 121 yards vs. Wisconsin. Williams had 11 carries for 101 yards in the same game — against one of the Big Ten’s best defenses.
If Ohio State gets 258 yards rushing against Georgia like it did against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes will be moving on to the national title game. And maybe a rematch with Michigan.
4. Moving on
Kirk Ferentz is officially doubling down, everyone. And he’ll have the Music City Bowl game to back him up.
Quarterback Spencer Petras is out for the bowl game, and backup Alex Padilla has entered the transfer portal. That leaves untested freshmen Joey Labas and Carson May to play in the bowl game — and leaves Ferentz wiggle room with the state of his anemic offense.
Any further deterioration of the offense — already among the worst in the FBS in nearly every category under coordinator Brian Ferentz, Kirk’s son — will be seen as young quarterbacks in an untenable situation, instead of what it really is: an overmatched offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach and play-caller.
“I don’t think anything is really broken right now,” Kirk Ferentz said. He added that there were “things” Iowa could do better across the board.
Maybe the offense isn’t broken at Iowa. Maybe everyone else is overreacting, and Ferentz — who has led Iowa for more than 2 decades — knows what he’s doing and will get it fixed.
Because Cade McNamara had to feel Kirk and Brian Ferentz knew what they were doing when he transferred from Michigan. McNamara had more options than just Iowa when he announced he was leaving Michigan after leading the Wolverines to the Big Ten title and the Playoff last season — but losing the starting job JJ McCarthy this season.
TE Sam LaPorta is headed to the NFL, but backup Luke Lachey — another potential All-Big Ten player — returns. Sophomore wideouts Arland Bruce IV and Keagan Johnson have also entered the portal. The entire offense is unstable now.
Suddenly, the problem isn’t Kirk Ferentz as much as it is players. Who stays, who goes — and who can Iowa land in the portal to help McNamara?
5. The Weekly 5
Ranking the top 5 Big Ten bowls, with odds provided by our friends at FanDuel:
- 1. Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State (+6.5) vs. Georgia
- 2. Peach Bowl: Michigan vs. TCU (+8.5)
- 3. Rose Bowl: Penn State (+1.5) vs. Utah
- 4. Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Oklahoma State (+3.5)
- 5. ReliaQuest Bowl: Illinois (+1.5) vs. Illinois
6. Your tape is your resume
An NFL scout analyzes the prospects of a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Purdue QB Aidan O’Connell.
“I liked him a lot better last season. They had a much better team, believe it or not. Protected better, had better receivers. That’s why the production is down, the accuracy is worse. It’s a more difficult lift now. But he has good size, good arm talent, can make all the throws and has nice touch on the ball. He understands passing game concepts. Get him on your roster, and he’s a solid backup.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: The QB question, post regular season.
1. Michigan: With a big performance in the Playoff, McCarthy can set the table for a Heisman Trophy run in 2023.
2. Ohio State: CJ Stroud was primed to skip the bowl season and head to the NFL until Ohio State made the Playoff. Kyle McCord will battle Devin Brown in spring practice.
3. Penn State: Sean Clifford held on to the job all season (a surprise to some), and freshman Drew Allar is next in line. Christian Veilleux has entered the portal.
4. Purdue: Aidan O’Connell is headed to the NFL, and Brady Allen, a 2022 4-star recruit, is the front-runner for the 2023 season.
5. Illinois: Tommy DeVito graduates, and NC State’s Devin Leary could fit here. His bother, Donovan, is a freshman QB for the Illini.
6. Minnesota: Athan Kaliakmanis will get every opportunity to win the job in 2023. Coach PJ Fleck isn’t big on the portal, but needs experience at the position.
7. Maryland: Taulia Tagovailoa returns for his senior season in 2023.
8. Iowa: McNamara gives Iowa a steady, smart player at the most important position on the field — and a player with something to prove after losing his job to McCarthy.
9. Wisconsin: After 3 years of uneven play, Graham Mertz is in the portal. Myles Burkett will get a look, but new coach Luke Fickell likely hits the portal for a starter.
10. Michigan State: After a season of regression for Payton Thorne, don’t be surprised if Spartans coach Mel Tucker — who has mastered the portal the past 2 seasons — finds a quarterback to compete with Thorne.
11. Nebraska: Casey Thompson has another year of eligibility, and played well at times this season. New coach Matt Rhule will find spring competition, likely from the portal.
12. Rutgers: Tried 3 quarterbacks this fall, and none played well enough to lock up a job in 2023. A new OC likely means a new QB from the portal in the mix.
13. Indiana: Connor Bazelak has entered the portal as a grad transfer after 1 season. Look for coach Tom Allen to sign 1 from the portal to compete with Dexter Williams II.
14. Northwestern: Ryan Hilinski and Brendan Sullivan will compete for the job. Virginia transfer Brennan Armstrong could be a factor here.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt, Looking past TCU, does Michigan really have a chance against Georgia? — Fred Dickson, Detroit.
A couple things: Michigan better be completely focused on TCU and dangerous QB Max Duggan, and a handful of dynamic skill players. And don’t think a healthy Ohio State roster can’t beat Georgia. The semifinals could be the most competitive in the history of the Playoff.
If Michigan and Georgia meet in the championship game, it will be another significant win for those who still believe defense and the run game win championships. Georgia and Michigan are built nearly identically, from the inside out. The interior lines are the priority, the skill players — while important — are secondary.
The development of McCarthy was so quick and seamless because of the strength of the offensive line. For the 2nd straight season, Michigan ran for more than 3,000 yards.
The difference is defense: Michigan gave up 1,770 yards rushing last season, and cut that number to 1,108 this season. Running the ball and stopping the run, and getting big plays off play action in the pass game, is Michigan’s identity.
Who does that sound like?
That would be Georgia.
189.5. In 3 seasons with Mertz at quarterback, Wisconsin finished 13th, 13th and 11th in the Big Ten in passing. The highest mark was this season, when the Badgers averaged only 189.5 yards passing per game.
That will change under Fickell, whose offense is more multiple and spread than the ground and pound days of the past 3 decades in Madison. The Badgers will still have a run mentality, but Fickell won’t stay tied to a quarterback who isn’t producing.
Former coach Paul Chryst tried to land Caleb Williams from the transfer portal. Fickell will get at least 1 quarterback from the portal to compete for the starting job.
10. Quote to note
Nebraska coach Matt Rhule: “How do you have the great seasons? How do you have 5 national championships? You need leadership and you need alignment. I have learned that lesson. I have learned that no matter how fertile the seed is, it has to be in great soil for the plant to grow.”