COLUMBUS -- After another loss to Michigan that was as humiliating as it was shocking, no one on the Ohio State side seemed to have any answers in regards to what happened or what is next.
“Yeah, I thought we had a great week,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I thought emotionally we came into this thing swinging, but we came up short so I’ve just got to get my mind wrapped around why that happened today. And how in the end, we didn’t finish this thing the right way.”
Ohio State led 20-17 at halftime but was outscored 28-3 in the second half.
The Wolverines put together two long, efficient scoring drives before tacking on a pair of long touchdown runs that turned the game from a taut rivalry renewal into a laugher complete with Michigan players dancing and taunting Ohio State fans at midfield when it was over.
Day’s big tasks in the offseason were to balance the offense and fix the defense.
In the end, neither was accomplished.
The running game remained unreliable for much of the season. Injuries to the top two backs played a role in that, but Michigan’s offense managed to thrive against Ohio State without its biggest star, Blake Corum, who played only one series because of a knee injury.
That was both an accomplishment by the Wolverines and an indictment of the defense new coordinator Jim Knowles was supposed to fix for just under $2 million per year.
After Michigan pounded out 297 yards on the ground in its 42-27 win in Ann Arbor last year, the Wolverines ran up 252 more this time out and added 278 yards through the air.
They had 13 explosive plays in The Game last season, but only one went longer than 40 yards.
This time, the Wolverines had nine explosive plays, but five were touchdowns of 45 yards or more.
“When they go for touchdowns they become a different story,” Knowles said. “Typically over the course of my career, you preach if you have a chance to get the guy on the ground then you can recover, but when they go for touchdowns certainly that’s something that falls on me.”
Knowles gambled at times with heavy blitzes and got burned, including a pair of big pass plays in the first half that accounted for nearly all of Michigan’s yardage.
“Of course,” Knowles replied when he was asked if there were any calls he would like to have back. “I haven’t watched the film, but any call that goes for an explosive you have to look at and take responsibility for. You can’t sit there as a coach and say, ‘Well, you know, we we’re in the right place and this guy just did that or he just did that.’ You got to look at it conceptually and evaluate it. You’ve got to evaluate the call from top to bottom and the game plan, and the whole deal — that falls on my shoulders.”
The coaches should have plenty of time to dissect their latest big-game flop during another lost December with no Big Ten championship to play for.
Barring an upset or two this Saturday, the Buckeyes will be preparing for another trip to the Rose Bowl, which has shifted from the pinnacle of the sport to a spot to get a first look at next year’s team because many players who have eyes on the NFL have stopped playing in non-playoff bowl games.
There will also be a recruiting class to nail down.
Ohio State has the No. 6 recruiting class in the country per 247Sports.com composite rankings. That is down a couple of spots after a couple of recent de-commitments.
The class is high on defensive backs (six) and receivers (five) and low on linemen (seven combined from each side of the ball) with one linebacker and no running backs or tight ends, but it figures to undergo plenty of change between now and the beginning of the early signing period Dec. 21.
“I don’t know what’s next, but that’s life at Ohio State,” Day said. “I certainly know what this game means to everybody at Ohio State. When you lose, it all comes back to me. I’m the head coach, and that’s what probably hurts the most.”