ANALYSIS: Buckeyes have Ryan Day’s back after coach calls out critics

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Ohio State football coach Ryan Day told the world the way his team finished its comeback win at Notre Dame answered questions about its toughness.

“A lot of people took a lot of shots at this team over the last 48 hours, and it really hit home to me,” he said after the Buckeyes rallied to beat the Fighting Irish 17-14 with a rushing touchdown with one second on the clock.

He seemed to be most affected by comments from former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz, who told ESPN radio host Pat McAfee there was a common thread in the six games Ohio State has lost since Day became head coach of the Buckeyes in 2019.

“I coached at Ohio State under Woody Hayes,” said Holtz, the defensive backs coach for the Buckeyes in 1968. “We won the national championship when I was there. I’m proud of that. However, he has lost to Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Michigan twice, and everybody who beats him does so because they are more physical than Ohio State. And I think Notre Dame will take that same approach.”

The Fighting Irish did go right at the Ohio State defense and find success. Five running backs combined to carry the ball 33 times for 177 yards, a 5.4 average.

In the end, though, Kyle McCord moved the Buckeyes into position for Chip Trayanum’s game-winning one-yard touchdown push with one second left, and they left Notre Dame Stadium 4-0.

“I think that says a lot about this team,” Day said. “I’m really upset and what Lou Holtz said publicly about our team and Ohio State and Buckeye Nation. And we’re not gonna stand for that because it’s not even close to true.”

His voice rising, Day conceded the role a 45-27 loss to Michigan in 2021 has played in Holtz and others questioning the heart of his program over the past year-plus.

“We had one bad half a couple years ago in Ann Arbor — we did, in the second half,” Day said. “But every game we play we’re physical. We are. I don’t know where that narrative comes from, but that ends tonight.”

Time will tell if he is correct, but Ohio State indisputably picked up a win over a top 10 team on the road Saturday night.

That figures to be remembered not only for many years to come but when the College Football Playoff Committee begins deliberating next month and releases its first rankings.

If nothing else, the win over the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish could be a nice insurance policy for the Buckeyes if they stumble between now and the end of the season, as was the case a year ago when Ohio State made the final four despite losing to Michigan in the season finale.

If the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines — and everyone else on their schedule, including a Penn State team likely to be in the top 10 when they come to Columbus in October — they won’t have to worry about their playoff resume being good enough.

The result in South Bend provided evidence for and against the likelihood of that happening.

The success on the ground helped Notre Dame control the clock, and quarterback Sam Hartman kept the chains moving by completing 4 of 6 passes for 42 yards on third downs.

However, the Buckeyes also stopped the Irish twice on third down and turned them back twice on fourth down.

The turnovers on downs — and forcing a 47-yard field goal attempt that went wide — were crucial to the final outcome.

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said he liked those, but he was not satisfied overall with his unit’s performance.

“I feel like coming out of this defensively, 14 points is great,” Knowles said. “We made enough stops early on that really kept our team in the game, but I know we can be better.

“To me it’s a great team win all across the board. We’ve got to keep making the defense better.”

In a departure from the norm, the Buckeyes appeared to play a lot of zone defense.

While the roof held up — Notre Dame’s longest play was 25 yards — Hartman did find some holes at times, and Knowles said Notre Dame’s 11 explosive plays (passes of 15 or more yards and runs of at least 10) were too many.

Nonetheless, Knowles rejected the idea his defense was becoming a “bend, don’t break” unit and indicated he views the night as part of a larger journey.

“It’s just a matter of having guys who are tough and willing to fight even when we’re down because I always tell them, ‘Hey, any of the bad plays are on me, all the good plays are on you,’’ Knowles said. “I think they believe that. They keep coming back. They know I’ll take responsibility for any bad plays and keep coming back to make the good ones.”

As for Day’s comments, they made headlines across the country and most likely played well in his locker room, which could be the most important factor as the team goes into its off week looking to grow for the final two thirds of the regular season.

“We’ve got coach Day 100% all the way,” Trayanum said. “He was fired up this week. You know, media was saying stuff, people were saying stuff, but we do a good job of blocking that noise out. Like you’ve seen us with the flag on the field, ‘Ohio against the world,’ we truly believed that inside the Woody (Hayes Athletic Center) and outside the Woody. It’s really everybody against us, but we know at the end of the day, as long as we come to play our ball, it’s always about the Buckeyes.”


Saturday, Oct. 7

Maryland at Ohio State, TBA

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