A 'Day' without panic: How Ohio State disassembled Wisconsin
Pare and peel the discussion about the best play callers in college football however the discussion sees fit. There are the evil geniuses of a system and the coaches who implement a scheme in harmony with the talent and skills of their players. Meta decisions with meta understanding of a concept or innate knowledge of what their guys do on the field.
Sound, hearty football men, the whole lot. The sort to doodle a play on a cocktail napkin, their hands steadied by a gallon of Tom Collins’ to scribble some X’s and O’s and the counter to the counter in a back and forth with decision makers on the opposite side of the ball. All well and good, prepared to the utmost, but what happens when the game starts?
How do they adjust to the tweaks in formation to throw their wide receivers open and allow the tight end to slip past the first level untouched? How they adjust mid-game is a tell to their real value. There isn’t one better nationally than Ryan Day.
The thing that stood out from Day’s play calling in the Buckeyes’ 38-7 over Wisconsin was his comfort in the moment. He called plays with the sort of patience that few coaches inhibit. The sort of talent on Ohio State’s offense would bring out an antsiness in coaches accustomed to spectacular, extravagant, and excellent bouts of offensive efficiency. Scoring at least 21 points in the second quarter in each of the past six games leading to Saturday naturally amps up the urgency to score early and often.
While the walking embodiment of 15 minute energy lay dormant, Day lived within the stalemate for the better part of a half. His hulking offense, one that is top five nationally in yards per play, goes three-and-out for three consecutive series in the first quarter. Completely acceptable for some neck-scratching, forehead-pinching angst to follow. Coaches grow uncomfortable, anxious with no results. Day forced Wisconsin to empty its playbook on defense in the first 30 minutes.
He put feelers out there to see what Jim Leonhard wanted to do with the Wisconsin defense. Day’s confidence in his own defense and his offense gave the Buckeyes a chance to pull away in the second half.
Some could decipher Ohio State’s first half as a slow play, run, run, pass and trade punts for the better part of 30 minutes as bending to the will of the opposition. Day knew the overall strength of his offense, the drastic advantage his defense had over the other offense.
It wasn’t until the end of the first half that Day became a little more daring with his play calls. Not daring in the sense of flea-flickers and double-reverses, he broke with tradition established early in the game. Two touchdown drives in particular stood out in terms of when Ohio State shot its shot.
The first one came with the game tied at 3. The Buckeyes drove 85 yards in under two minutes. Five pass plays, three runs, one touchdown. The balance in which Day called plays kept Wisconsin on its heels and culminated with a spectacular touch pass over the top of the defense for a score.
After Wisconsin flashed its lone bout of offensive competence and drew within three, Ohio State answered with the sort of bone-by-bone torture technique to crack mortals in an eight play, 74 yard drive that took 2:34 and yielded another touchdown. More run and pass balance for the Buckeyes, and glowing efficiency in the big chunks of yardage gained with one pass and two runs over 20 yards.
There is no shortage of talent on Ohio State’s roster, specifically at the skill positions, but Day seemed comfortable changing up speeds on the competition and grinding out drives against the Badgers early in the game. He did not get flustered and rode out the sort of hiccups that came when his receivers had a few drops and Justin Fields bobbled an untimely snap from the center. Day did not get out over his skis, trusted his defense, and called the sort of plays that allowed Ohio State to slowly and steadily disassemble Wisconsin and run up the score.
That’s the sort of steady hand any team needs navigating the unsteady world of the College Football Playoff. No one’s shown to be more in sync with their team and equipped with calmness in the moment than Day.