Ohio State Head Coach Ryan Day is Walking on Thin Ice

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Ryan DayCredit: Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports

Just over a year ago, Ohio State football fans were overcome with joy when the Class of 2022 top overall player, quarterback Quinn Ewers, committed to the Buckeyes. What followed was a bizarre timeline where Ewers decided to forgo his senior season of high school football and enroll a year early at Ohio State. He did this to get his name in the NFL draft sooner and also to profit off his name, image and likeness while playing for the Buckeyes a year early. He was an older class of 2022 player, who was already 18 when he showed up in Columbus before fall camp. However, CJ Stroud had locked himself in as the starter before Ewers even arrived.

Ohio State Football Recruit Quinn Ewers Transfer Portal

The Buckeyes then went on to have an unsuccessful season that saw them lose at home to Oregon and to rival Michigan for the first time in a decade. Meanwhile, Ewers saw only a couple of snaps at the end of the Michigan State game, bringing his total snaps this season for Ohio State to five.

Unsurprisingly, Ewers, along with Spencer Rattler, Adrian Martinez and some other notable college quarterbacks, entered the transfer portal. The highest-ranked recruit to ever grace the sidelines of Ohio Stadium will not play another down for the Buckeyes. It’s somewhat understandable, considering Stroud is a Heisman finalist this year. However, if you take a closer look, which I intend to do in this article, Stroud’s success this season was due mainly to the cast surrounding him. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are first-round NFL locks in the 2022 NFL Draft. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who was the leading receiver this year, will be back next year to help out Stroud, but I expect a steep drop-off from him next year, while also considering the fact that he refuses to pick up yards with his feet, which is a staple of the traditional Ohio State offense.

Now, I won’t crush Day for this. I will for other reasons later, but at some point, you have to realize that he’s the best recruit in this storied program’s history, and he could be a generational talent. Stroud looked great against Michigan State but disastrous against rival Michigan. In Day’s position, he needed to tell Ewers that he would have at least a shot at winning the starting job next year, even if he didn’t in Day’s head. Overall, it’s been a horrible few weeks for Day. He was embarrassed by Jim Harbaugh two weeks ago. In my opinion, it’s not only the Ewers situation, but another involving the transfer portal that haves me thinking Day is walking on very thin ice.

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CJ StroudCredit: Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

CJ Stroud Was the Benefactor of a Great Supporting Cast

CJ Stroud was ESPN’s 104th-ranked prospect in the class of 2020. He came in as a pocket passer, and that showed through his first full season as the Ohio State quarterback. The most successful quarterbacks at Ohio State have been the ones with the ability to run and pass at an elite level. I think it’s safe to presume that Justin Fields is the best quarterback Ohio State has had in nearly a decade. He led them to two playoff appearances and to a National Title appearance. In two years as the starter, Fields threw for 5,373 yards, 69 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. On top of that, he was a constant threat on the ground as well. He rushed the ball 218 times over two years for 867 yards and 15 touchdowns. Now, let’s transition over to Stroud’s rushing impact.

Oh, right, he didn’t have one. This year, he was sacked 13 times and had only 31 “rushing attempts” for a grand total of -30 yards. That is not a typo. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State’s statistical leader in most offensive stats, only had 115 rushing attempts during his sophomore campaign. That was the lowest output for any season of his career while in Columbus. So, it’s clear that Stroud is not the perfect fit for this Ohio State offense, and it gets even worse once you look at how historically great his cast of receivers was.

Chris Olave & Garrett Wilson at the Top Among Elite Company

Prior to the 2021 season, Ohio State wide receivers had a small group that was part of the 1,000-yard club. Meaning they had at least 1,000 yards receiving in one of their years at Ohio State.

That group included Cris Carter, Michael Jenkins, Parris Campbell, David Boston and Terry Glenn. That’s it. Now, that list will have to include at least two more Buckeyes, and probably three. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who has 1,259 receiving yards on the season, with six touchdowns, joins the list. He will likely surpass the 1,000-yard mark next season as well. Garrett Wilson also joins the club after surpassing the 1,000-yard mark against Michigan. Finally, Chris Olave will likely join the club as well, as he is only 64 yards away and will likely surpass it in the Rose Bowl against Utah.

Three 1,000-yard receivers on the same team is absolutely crazy, considering that Ohio State has such rich history and there have never been even two receivers surpass 1,000 yards in the same season. Stroud does deserve some credit, as he had to get the ball there. However, if you watch the season back, that is simply all that Stroud did.

There are only five teams in NCAA history who have had three 1,000-yard receivers on the same squad:

  • Fresno State in 2013 (Davante Adams, Isaiah Burse and Josh Harper)
  • Houston in 2009 (James Cleveland, Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards)
  • Hawaii in 2007 (Ryan Grice-Mullen, Davone Bess and Jason River)
  • Tulsa in 2007 (Brennan Marion, Trae Johnson and Charles Clay)
  • Texas Tech in 2003 (Wes Welker, Carlos Francis and Nehemiah Glover)

I will just come out and say that all five of those scenarios were because of the air raid offense, and in Hawaii’s case, June Jones’ Run N’ Shoot. Wilson, Olave and Smith-Njigba had historical years for Ohio State this season, and the Buckeyes were not able to take advantage. You can blame some of the mistakes on the defense, and some on the pass protection, but overall, CJ Stroud was given probably the best group of receivers in Big Ten history and still managed to lose two games, one being to Michigan. This makes the Ewers situation even harder to wrap your head around. There is a chance that Ewers will turn out to be an average quarterback. But simply just letting the young man walk, without even giving him a chance to prove his ranking, is very troubling for Ohio State.

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Justin FieldsCredit: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Remember Justin Fields? Yeah, Georgia Still Regrets That One

To bring this situation a little closer to full circle, I bring Justin Fields back into the mix. Coming out of high school in 2018, current Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence was being touted as the most gifted passing prospect since Andrew Luck. He had already committed to play for the Clemson Tigers and Dabo Swinney. However, a couple of miles down the road, another quarterback was vying for attention from the major recruiting sites as well. Fields actually ended up being the ESPN 300 class of 2018’s number one overall player, with Lawrence finishing second.

Fields committed to Georgia and things looked good for the Bulldogs. However, during that 2018 season, Georgia’s quarterback, true freshman Jake Fromm, had an outstanding year and led the team to the National Championship, falling short to Alabama. So, when Fields arrived on campus, just like Stroud is at Ohio State, Fromm was embedded as the starter for as long as he wanted to stay in Athens. Fields only got a few opportunities during his freshman season, and they were in garbage time. After the year ended for the Bulldogs, Fields put his name in the transfer portal, and the rest was history. Georgia still hasn’t had a dynamic quarterback in over a decade.

Does that situation feel at all familiar? Oh, right, it’s the same exact situation with Ohio State football, except for the fact that Stroud wasn’t even good enough to help the Buckeyes win a conference title. Obviously, I have a hard stance on this situation, but I understand the people who would back Day. Stroud looked great this year but was inconsistent. Still, there is no arguing his production in 2021, as it was incredible. But, at the end of the day, since the transfer portal became open market, the top recruit in any class should at least get a chance. It’s a mistake that will haunt them years from now.

Ryan DayCredit: Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports

Ice Getting Thinner Below Ohio State Football Head Coach Ryan Day

Even with the news of Quinn Ewers transfer, the good news is that it’s the transfer portal. You can still find great players out there. So, when former LSU standout cornerback Eli Ricks announced he was entering the transfer portal and that Ohio State was the leader in the clubhouse, Day must have been filled with relief. Ricks is a virtual lock to be a top-10 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft after having a fantastic freshman season last year. Injuries limited him to only six games this year, but he’s still a great talent. Not only is Ricks great, but he would be helping a unit that gave up over 365 yards, on average, to opponents this season. However, in a baffling move, the Buckeyes have pulled out of the sweepstakes for Ricks, as (apparently) Ryan Day liked what he saw from the defense last year.

According to multiple reports, Ohio State and Day knew they were the leader in the clubhouse and had arranged to have Ricks visit the campus in the coming days. However, when news of that hit some of the current Ohio State players, it did not go over well. Yesterday, there were reports that if Ricks chose Ohio State, many of the defensive backs currently on the roster would retaliate by entering the transfer portal themselves. Who cares, right? The defensive backfield of Ohio State was ranked 98th out of 130 FBS teams in passing yards allowed.

However, Day once again chose the wrong side. The Ohio State football program has backed out on Ricks, giving into fears that their own players would transfer. Honestly, what in God’s name is Ohio State thinking? Adding one lock-down cornerback like Ricks would completely shut down one side of the field and let many of the players in the box attack the run. It’s a head-scratching move, and on top of the Ewers departure, things could not be going much worse for Ryan Day.

At the End of the Day…

All in all, the transfer portal has changed college football in a way that is really special. Instead of having to wait a year on the bench to play, you can play right away at pretty much any college of your choosing. Letting Ewers walk was dumb, but I don’t think he’ll catch much heat for that. However, the handling of Eli Ricks should be enough to have Day’s chair feeling warm. Missing out on Ricks could prove to be very costly for the Buckeyes next year.

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