Loss to Oregon leaves Ohio State looking for answers to familiar questions

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Ryan Day assesses Ohio State defense and coordinator Kerry Coombs

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

COLUMBUS -- “There’s enough blame to go around,” Ohio State football coach Ryan Day said in assessing his team’s upset loss to Oregon.

Nonetheless, many wanted to assign most of the blame to the defense which was picked apart in a 35-28 loss to Oregon at Ohio Stadium.

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That is in no small part because the Buckeyes have struggled on that side of the ball more often than not since Kerry Coombs became the defensive coordinator last year.

Minnesota gashed the Buckeyes repeatedly in a season-opening 45-31 victory for Ohio State, and Oregon looked unstoppable for long stretches of game two.

That came on the heels of a historically bad performance against a historically good Alabama team in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in January.

The Crimson Tide, whose 621 yards were the second-most Ohio State has ever allowed in a game, blew up most defenses they faced last season, but Ohio State also gave up more than 400 yards passing to Indiana and Clemson last year.

Those games left many to wonder if Day had made the right choice in maintaining the defensive structure — four down linemen, one deep safety in the middle of the field and a lot of man coverage in the secondary — and choosing Coombs to coordinate it.

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The same questions surfaced Saturday.

“Everybody on our staff works really really hard,” Day said. “We all make decisions together as a group. Ultimately, it comes back to me. I’m the head coach. We will go back and we will watch the film and we’ll figure out where to go this next week. But ultimately it comes back on me because I’m the head coach.”

That is not just coach-speak or Day trying to deflect criticism of Coombs. Day chose the style of defense and brought in Coombs to coordinate it even though Coombs was not well-versed in that specific scheme and had not been a coordinator previously.

Coombs, a state champion high school coach who successfully transitioned to coaching defensive backs at the college level a little more than a decade ago and spent 2018 and ‘19 in the NFL, did not duck reporters after the game.

He also did not offer much in terms of specific answers.

“I think that the defensive structure that has been in place has been a successful one and one that a lot of folks are really comfortable with,” Coombs said. “And so again I think we have to execute. We have to prepare. We have to do a good job of having our kids in the right places to make the right plays. I will own all of it.

“That’s my responsibility to make sure that they see and diagnose the plays and are able to play with the proper leverage and the proper technique to handle those situations. So without getting into specifics, that’s my job.”

Day also acknowledged a need to figure out what is wrong and make any necessary adjustments — as he did in January.

“I think anytime you run into that situation, you have to ask yourself is it the personnel, is it the scheme or is it the coaching?” Day said. “We have to get back to the film and figure out exactly what that is.

“If it’s the scheme, we’ve got to get it fixed. If it’s the coaching, we’ve got to do it better. If it’s the personnel, we’ve got to make some changes.”

Day’s attempts to make the offense somewhat culpable for the loss were not without merit, either.

The Buckeyes moved the ball all day, but they had a hard time finishing drives.

They gained over 600 total yards but turned the ball over on downs at the Oregon 31 and then punted from the Ducks’ 34 on their first two drives.

The Buckeyes turned it over again on downs at the Oregon 8 when facing a 14-point deficit in the third quarter.

“Anytime you don’t convert on those fourth downs, it hurts,” Day said. “We could have gone for (a field goal), but I felt like it was a back and forth game and we needed the touchdown. We’ll go back to work and do a better job of executing.”

As much as the defense struggled for three-and-a-half quarters, it still gave the offense two chances to tie the game without being rewarded.

“The offense has got to do their part in this thing as well,” Day said. “I don’t think we established the run. Then when the defense did give the offense the ball back, we didn’t do anything with it. We had two opportunities that we did not score upon.

“There is enough blame to go around here.”

Next up is a visit from Tulsa at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The Golden Hurricane finished 39th in SP+ rankings from ESPN.com last season and projected to be the No. 55 team in the country this year by the same measure, but Tulsa is 0-2 after losses to UC-Davis and Oklahoma State to open the season.

For Ohio State, any regular-season loss is jarring.

The Buckeyes had not suffered one in Day’s first 23 games as head coach, and their most-recent home loss was to Oklahoma in September 2017 under Urban Meyer.

But senior defensive tackle Haskell Garrett got up in front of the team to make sure they understood the 2021 campaign is far from over.

“We’re going to get on the film tomorrow, make the proper correction and put it behind us and go play the next game,” he said before evoking Ohio State’s last national championship team.

Those Buckeyes lost their second game of the season at home to Virginia Tech before going undefeated the rest of the way.

“They did it in ‘14,” Garrett said. “We can do it in 2021.”

His head coach likely approved of that message.

“You’re going to find out who the leaders are and who’s with you because at times like this there is a lot of finger pointing that goes on,” Day said. “When things are going well, it’s easy to lead, but when things aren’t going well, you have to show resolve and leadership. That’s going to be a lesson for our guys coming out of this game.

“This is not fatal, but it certainly hurts. It’s unacceptable, and we’ve got to get it fixed.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Tulsa at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m., FS1, 1410