Ohio State should have played in the title game last season. They were the better team but Clemson did enough to win and Ryan Day suffered his first loss. Year one couldn’t have gone much better for Day, but is Justin Fields holding it all together?
A Similar Story
Fields was everything you would hope for once he transferred in. The Heisman finalist was incredible all year and the fact that he returns means Ohio State is a likely playoff team again. 51 touchdowns is hard to replicate, however you don’t get rich betting against Justin Fields.
I can go on about how talented this generational player is, but this is more about the team picture. Oregon was in a similar situation almost a decade ago and Justin Fields could be the modern day Marcus Mariota.
Mark Helfrich was the OC and QB coach for Chip Kelly and they were taking the country by storm. A hybrid fast-paced spread option offense had Oregon near the top of the rankings every season. They had the players, the offense and the coach to be a national power. Chip Kelly left, Helfrich was handed the keys and things went status quo for two years. Then it all fell apart.
Mariota won a Heisman, propelled Oregon to a title game and Helfrich was carrying on what Kelly started. Then Mariota graduated and the further he got from Kelly the worse things would get for Oregon. The first season after Mariota, the ducks saw a drop to 9-4. The season after ended at 4-8 and Helfrich was let go after posting the worst season for Oregon in 25 years.
That recap was to point out the similarities. An OC/QB coach taking over for a big name coach with a star at QB and team loaded with talent to ease the transition. Ohio State had the best defensive player in the country to go with an offense just loaded in NFL talent. Not to mention that Ohio State is both DBU and WRU. Ryan Day had plenty to work with and anything less than a playoff would have been disappointing. So is Ryan Day still on pace to be the next great coach or the next Mark Helfrich.
Day had a massive benefit being handed the Ohio State roster. However he earned some of it, Day was out on the recruiting trail before Urban Left. He is also a proven recruiter and that isn’t a real concern with Ryan Day. The playoff game is the first real question we can raise.
Ryan Day had out coached Brent Venables in the first half. Not just out coached him but Ryan Day was putting on a clinic and Venables looked all out of sorts. From substitution errors to not having answers for the offensive play calling. Then the second half got away from Clemson.
Then, J.K. Dobbins injured his ankle and Venables made second half adjustments. Ohio State only scored seven points and Clemson went on to win the game.
You can make excuses about the injury and Dobbins said it was the reason they lost. However it is worth wondering if Urban Meyer would have made a difference in that situation. Ohio State was up by at least 10 points at halftime during every regular season game. The Big Ten Championship was the first time Ohio State had to dig themselves out of a hole all year. If I’m going to knock Day for his second half struggles against Clemson, he deserves credit for that performance. All of this to say, Ohio State was just flat about better and more talented than everyone else they played until Clemson.
We can’t put a stamp on this either way that Day is the next Meyer or the next Helfrich yet. Justin Fields will continue to help with the transition as Ryan Day keeps growing and learning to be a head coach at an elite program. He is recruiting well enough to carry this momentum long after Fields is gone. He also has long been thought of as a top coach going back to his Boston College days. However the more time he spends outside of Urban’s shadow will prove where Day stands among college football elite.