Ohio State Football: Ryan Day explains why the Buckeyes are not making big changes this year

After using 15 spring practices to evaluate what his team does well and who is best suited to do it in 2021, Ohio State coach Ryan Day explained why he felt no big changes were in order because of the way the 2020 season ended.

Rather than focus on what went wrong when Alabama dominated the Buckeyes in the National Championship Game, Day has chosen to emphasize what his team had to do to get to that point.

Tearing up the blueprints and starting over, especially on defense, after that 52-24 loss might have been tempting, but ultimately Day decided against it.

“I think first off this year was a little bit of an anomaly,” said Day, whose team went 5-0 in an abbreviated regular season then beat Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game and topped Clemson in the Sugar Bowl before running into the Crimson Tide buzzsaw.

Like everyone else in the FBS, the Buckeyes had most of spring practice wiped out last year and returned to voluntary organized voluntary workouts in early summer.

They started preseason as scheduled, but had the rug pulled out from under them when the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors voted to “postpone” fall sports in early August and indicated none of the league’s teams would be in action again before 2021.

The Tigers, meanwhile, took the field for the first time Sept. 12 and the Tide followed suit two weeks later.

“In the month of September, we weren’t having a season, so some guys were in California, some guys were in Florida,” Day said Friday. “Some guys weren’t working out. Some guys were. The season was over. And then we find out that there might be a season, we kind of get everybody back together, and then we get a few weeks to get ready for the season.”

The Big Ten season was reinstated, but it hardly went off without a hitch.

Hopes of playing nine games in nine weeks were quickly dashed as multiple teams underwent practice pauses because of COVID-19 outbreaks or attempts to shut them down before they got out of hand.

The Buckeyes started 3-0 before the cancelations started to hit them.

They were able to play only twice in the last five weeks before facing Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game.

A workmanlike 22-10 victory over the Wildcats launched them into the College Football Playoff, where they knocked off Clemson 49-28 in the Sugar Bowl.

That result of that contest surprised many pundits then — and the coach of the Buckeyes now.

“Coming back and having to play a really good Clemson team and to play the way we did was amazing, and I don’t really know to this day how we got that done because we weren’t really prepared to play in the postseason the way that we would like to normally,” Day said.

Quarterback Justin Fields had arguably his best game against the Tigers (22 for 28 passing for 385 yards and six touchdowns), but it came at a cost.

The effects of a nasty hit to the back slowed him in preparations for the National Championship Game against Alabama and limited how much his legs would be part of the game plan.

Whatever plans Ohio State might have had were also harder to put in place as a rising number of COVID-19 positive tests raised questions on the outside of whether or not the game would be played.

“We had one padded practice leading up to the game,” Day said. “Some days leading up to that game, we weren’t allowed to practice because we had to meet virtually because we had an outbreak of COVID on the team. Yet we still were going to play in the game against an opponent that really hadn’t broken stride all year. So it was a very, very difficult situation, and we never made excuses. We were going to play in the game. I would love to have played the game under different circumstances in a different moment, but chalk that up to COVID, and it’s a learning experience.”

If the glimpses at the Buckeyes this spring are any indication, they are sticking with their overall design on both sides of the ball.

There will be tweaks and alterations, but that is not unusual.

“To make changes because of that would be foolish,” Day said, “because the things that were accomplished this year were amazing.”

Rather than lament what went wrong, Day chose to praise the job his coaches did and the leaderships his players displayed through an unprecedented situation.

“I think guys need to be commended for what they did because this was really, really hard,” he said. “And unless you were really in it, you don’t get it.

“I’m not trying to be overdramatic, but it was real. And I’m sure we’ll be talking about this for 20 years down the road. So I’m proud of what we did. Certainly every year you want to make adjustments, and you’ve got to get back to that game, and we’ve got to win that game. That’s part of our job here at Ohio State, That’s the expectation. We know that. We’re not going to run from it. So we’re always going to make adjustments year in and year out, but I just think that things that were done this year were awesome. And we’re gonna keep building on it and move forward.”

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