Ohio State football: Lots of time to reflect after sudden end to season

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- “It’s gonna leave a mark for a while.”

That is how Ohio State football coach Ryan Day described the Buckeyes’ 42-27 loss at Michigan on Saturday.

While the Wolverines are moving on to the Big Ten Championship Game against Iowa, Ohio State will be home for the first weekend of December for the first time in five years.

The last time they were denied a trip to Indianapolis, the Buckeyes were still invited to the College Football Playoff in 2016.

That looks extremely unlikely to happen this year with Ohio State having lost two games, so what is next?

“You don’t plan for this type of thing,” said Day, whose team will get a bowl invite next weekend. “We’ll have to get on the bus, head back to Columbus and figure out what’s next. I have not had time to process all of that.”

His third Buckeye squad did a lot of good things.

They won a share of the division title for the 10th straight year and notched double-digit wins for the ninth time in 10 years (They went 7-1 in the pandemic-shortened season of 2020).

With the regular season complete, Ohio State leads the nation in total offense (551.4 yards per game) and scoring (45.5 points per game) while ranking fifth in passing yards (364.9), but the Buckeyes also had some significant issues that lasted most or all of the season.

A defense shredded early in the season by Oregon and late in the season by Michigan ranks 17th in the nation against the run (118.5 yards allowed per game) but 25th in scoring (20.9 points per game), 40th in passing efficiency defense and 97th in passing yards allowed per game (246.9). They also ranked 97th in the nation in third down defense, 73rd in red zone defense and 56th in tackles for loss.

Penalties were also a problem much of the season for the Buckeyes, who ranked 12th in the Big Ten in both flags accepted (78) and penalty yards (700).

“When you play clean and don’t have penalties, you give yourself a chance,” Day said. “When you run the ball and stop the run, you give yourself a chance. Not all those things happened today.”

Projecting returning starters is a less exact science than it used to be in the age of the transfer portal, but Ohio State should return a strong nucleus on offense next season.

That includes quarterback C.J. Stroud, running back TreVeyon Henderson and at least three offensive linemen.

Receiver Chris Olave is a senior, and Garrett Wilson may leave early for the NFL, but sophomores Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming and freshmen Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. are all due back.

“At the end of the day, whatever happens, happens,” Stroud said. “Just know that I love this team. I love Ohio State. I love Buckeye Nation — and know every single day I’m gonna keep grinding just to get this win back.”

There are more questions on defense, where a disappointing unit likely will have to rebuild the front seven again but leading tackler Ronnie Hickman, cornerback Denzel Burke and linebacker Steele Chambers are among those who should be back.

“I think especially for the younger guys who have played a lot this year, there is a lot to be learned from this,” Day said. “We’re not there right now. This thing is still fresh and it hurts. We’ll figure out what’s next.”

Day also will have some decisions to make regarding his coaching staff.

After consecutive years of struggles on the defensive side of the ball, big changes could be in order there.

On that side of the ball, linebackers coach Al Washington signed a new two-year contract last winter, but the two-year term of every other member of the staff is up.

On offense, running backs coach Tony Alford is already under contract for next season, though he could be a candidate to become a head coach elsewhere.

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