How Ohio State’s Ryan Day expects the expanded playoff to change the regular season

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

COLUMBUS — When will Ohio State football coach Ryan Day know what type of team he has for 2024?

“I think you won’t really get a feel for what the identity of the team is until we get into probably the beginning of October,” Day said Tuesday.

That is a bit of a change from the norm in college football, where the lack of preseason games forces programs to be as ready to go as they can be from the opening kickoff of the first game of the season.

The four-team College Football Playoff introduced more margin for error 10 years ago, but the feel of the regular season was still much different from the pros.

The Super Bowl champion can afford five or six losses as long as it is at its best in January and February, and NFL clubs can undergo major evolutions from start to finish.

NFL teams also have the whole preseason to play around with what they want to be, and in recent years some have seemed to use the first month of the regular season to continue the process.

“I think we all have ideas of how it could go, but now that we’re playing in a playoff format, just like a lot of those NFL teams, sometimes they don’t really quite understand their identity until they get about halfway through the season,” said Day, who spent two seasons as an NFL assistant before coming to Ohio State.

“I don’t think it’ll take that long, but we’re able to play some games and kind of work through some things.”

While the majority of his early teams were known for their passing prowess and defensive struggles, the 2024 Buckeyes could turn the tables completely.

In two seasons under coordinator Jim Knowles, the Ohio State defense has gone from allowing 372.9 yards and 22.8 points per game the year before he arrived to 265.4 and 11.2, respectively, last season.

Opponent completion percentage dipped from 62 to 53, and yards per play were down to 4.2 last season from 5.3 in 2021.

With essentially eight full- or part-time starters returning, there is every reason to believe such success will continue in 2024 for the revitalized Silver Bullets.

The question for Knowles might be more how he wants to stop opponents more so than if his unit will be able to.

The run defense showed some vulnerability late last season, and there is the question of aggression.

How much is too much, and how much is not enough?

Knowles seemed to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other in his first two years, getting burned by blitzing too much against Michigan and Georgia in 2022 only to see his unit die by 1,000 cuts in Ann Arbor last season.

“I think that’s kind of the balance that we’re trying to figure out as we continue to work into the season of what are those things that we need to enhance, and what are the things that we need to have for curveballs and mix up,” Day said. “I think that’s the art of it, and that’s all the stuff that we’re working through now.”

But what about the offense?

The Buckeyes averaged 30.5 points per game last season, almost two touchdowns less than the previous year. Yards per play dipped from 7.3 to 6.4, and the Buckeyes averaged 4.2 yards per rush after never gaining less than 5.3 in Day’s first four seasons at the helm.

For the second time in three years, Ohio State ran more pass plays than rushing plays, and the Buckeyes played at a slower pace, averaging 11 plays less per game than Day’s first season.

With a new starting quarterback set to take the controls this fall and two all-conference running backs (TreVeyon Henderson and Quinshon Judkins), the offense could take on a new look — including more quarterback runs — but only time will tell.

Day has hinted over and over again he wants to get the ground game going after making his name as a passing guru.

“We’ll see as we go, but we know what we need to do to play in the big games. That’s never changed: We have to be able to stop the run, run the football, take care of the ball,” Day said. “There’ll be opportunities to throw the ball. That’ll happen, but we’re going to have to do those things to win close games and play situational football.

“I don’t think our defense is going to change much in terms of what we did last year. I mean, it’s a lot of the same guys back. Could look a little different on offense.”

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