All out of answers


In the aftermath of last season’s embarrassing loss at Michigan, head coach Ryan Day and the collective Ohio State program immediately set a course toward the next matchup with its archrival, vowing to not let such a disaster happen again.

Everything Ohio State did this offseason, and much of what it did throughout this regular season, centered around getting to Michigan week with all its goals intact and in a position to right last year’s wrong. In the lead-up to the game, veteran defensive lineman Zach Harrison was direct when asked what changed in the program following last year’s loss.

“Everything,” he said last week. “The mentality, the way we work out, the way we lift, the way we run, the way we carry ourselves. We realized that we gotta do more.”

Yet, in one disastrous, albeit familiar debacle on Saturday, it became readily apparent that while so much may have changed off the field, nothing had changed on the field. Playing without its best player, an opportunistic Michigan team took advantage of a seemingly endless wave of Ohio State miscues and mistakes en route to an emphatic 45-23 beatdown that has once again rattled the program’s foundation.

More alarming than the loss itself, however, is the manner in which it happened. Again.

Much like a year ago, Ohio State entered halftime on Saturday locked in a close, highly-contested battle with Michigan. Both teams had thrown — and landed — their shares of punches over the opening 30 minutes, and the second half figured to be more of the same as Big Ten Championship Game and College Football Playoff berths were decided over two glorious quarters of football.

For Ohio State, everything it had prepared for since the previous November, and everything it vowed to correct, had led it to that moment. An outpouring of emotion and effort would surely ensue, regardless of the final result.

Instead, as Michigan came out of the locker room still swinging, Ohio State proved to be largely punchless before ultimately folding under the mounting pressure of another potential loss in a game that would define the season. With every blow Michigan delivered, Ohio State’s resolve began to dissolve, and it became increasingly clear for a second consecutive year that the tougher, hungrier, and more disciplined team resided on the opposing sideline.

Mix in some interesting decisions from Day and the coaching staff, as well as a defense that once again looked lost, and all the ingredients were there on Saturday for a second consecutive loss and a performance best described as perplexing, maybe even disturbing in the only game Ohio State couldn’t afford to lose.

Now, the question of where Ohio State goes from here takes center stage as Day must once again pick up the pieces of what’s likely another broken season. Following the game, with emotions still raw and the result still fresh, a dejected Day had few answers to provide as he was asked about Ohio State’s path forward.

“We’ll figure out what’s next,” Day said. “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, so when you lose, it all comes back to me. I’m the head coach, and that’s what probably hurts the most.”

He later added, “I thought we had a great week (of preparation), I thought emotionally, we came into this thing swinging. But we came up short. I just gotta get my mind wrapped around why that happened today and how, in the end, we didn’t finish this thing the right way.”

While it’s entirely possible the fix simply boils down to better game planning and execution, two elements that have undoubtedly been lacking in both losses, the depths of Ohio State’s current failures against Michigan seem to run much deeper. For a program that claims to live the rivalry every day, Ohio State’s inability to once again match Michigan’s energy and determination extends well beyond x’s and o’s, and that reality poses questions with answers that won’t be easily identified.

Rest assured, Day is already searching. From the moment he was hired, Day has done well to relay his understanding and commitment to a rivalry that has now been flipped on its head after an unprecedented run of domination by Ohio State. His own effort shouldn’t be questioned.

Whether or not he can ultimately diagnose — and remedy — the underlying issues remains to be seen, however, and that question will continue to linger for 11 long months as Ohio State waits for another shot at Michigan.

Ohio State tight end Cade Stover looks up at the football after it bounced off his fingertips during the second quarter of Saturday’s game in Ohio Stadium against Michigan. State tight end Cade Stover looks up at the football after it bounced off his fingertips during the second quarter of Saturday’s game in Ohio Stadium against Michigan. Joshua Keeran | The Gazette
Loss leaves program searching

By Dillon Davis

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Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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