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Ryan Day hints to "structural" changes following Oregon loss

Day did not shy away from direct conversations with his staff following the Buckeyes' third straight game of poor defensive performance.

Saturday was Ryan Day's 27th as Ohio State's head coach, and his first regular season loss. He won all three games as Urban Meyer's interim in 2018, then booked undefeated regular seasons in 2019 and '20 before falling to Clemson and Alabama in the College Football Playoff. 

Having the opportunity to make actionable, immediate changes immediately after a setback is uncharted territory for Day, but his comments at Tuesday's press conference indicates he knows exactly where into this uncharted territory he wants to charge. 

"What it really does is it allows you to address issues that were already there, and that's what's gone on here," Day said.

The issues are obvious, of course. Day's defense was lit aflame by Oregon in Saturday's 35-28 loss, a game where the Ducks ran for 269 yards and three touchdowns on 7.1 a carry, often using the same play to convert money downs. 

The issues following that game are multiple, both micro and macro. In the micro, Ohio State drew criticism for playing too many players on defense in their opening night win over Minnesota, which continued with the Oregon loss. It's a fine line between developing depth and keeping players fresh, and preventing your own players from getting into the rhythm of the game. 

"Trying to find that balance is where we're at right now," Day said. "Finding the right people in the right spots is part of coaching... If (the starters) are playing at a high level it wouldn't be a question, but certainly because there hasn't been consistency there it's been an issue."

In the macro sense, Ohio State isn't going on one or two games of poor defense. Ohio State has surrendered a total of 118 points in its last three games dating back to the 2020 title game loss to Alabama, the most a Buckeye defense has surrendered over a 3-game stretch since 1891

"It's not just a single game, it's a little bit of a pattern. Took a long, hard look the last 48 hours and certainly going to make some adjustments here -- not only of how we're attacking other offenses, but structurally of how we're doing our day to day operations," Day said.

Beyond the obvious, the most frustrating and confounding issue has been this: their offseason focus on fixing the passing game has cracked the part of their defense that wasn't broken. A defense that limited opponents to 97.6 rushing yards per game and 3.35 a carry last season has been gashed for 472 yards on 5.36 a pop through two games in 2021. Ohio State has dropped from sixth to 123rd in rushing defense. 

All the while, a pass defense that rated 87th last season has, through two games, improved all the way to... 80th. 

"Different issues, but the same outcome," he said.

"You have to look at, what is the issue? Is it the style we're playing, the way we're coaching it, is it the scheme? When you go and make an adjustment (in the offseason) and you think it's right and you're not getting it done, those are some bad assumptions made and bad changes. We've got to own that and move on." 

"You put on the film and if something doesn't get fixed, it needs to get addressed. I have no problem having those type of conversations," he said at another point. "It's pretty simple to see what needs to get fixed."

Day's reference to structural changes led to obvious follow-ups on if those changes imply a shuffling of assignments to the defensive staff, specifically for coordinator Kerry Coombs. 

"When you look at the results over the last couple games and then coming off last season, it's not what we expect here. That's all part of looking at how we need to move forward with this thing," he said.

Ohio State's situation brings to mind an obvious parallel in Oklahoma. Lincoln Riley's shot at a national title in 2017 was undone by a porous defense that, in a Rose Bowl loss to Georgia, was steamrolled for 317 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Riley brought defensive coordinator Mike Stoops back for 2018, only to fire him midseason. Those Sooners eventually made the College Football Playoff, but the opportunity for wholesale changes had been lost, the defense was only marginally improved, and the Sooners were blown out by Alabama. 

Now Day finds himself starting at the same problem he thought could be fixed by an offseason of tinkering brought on by Alabama's 464 passing yards and five touchdowns. 

There's another parallel at play here, one much easier to swallow for Day and the Buckeyes.

Ohio State dropped the second game of the season in 2014, an inexplicable home loss to Virginia Tech in a game no one in scarlet and gray seriously contemplated losing until the game had already been lost. We all know how that season ended. 

"When something goes bad, you find out who people are," Day said. "If we come out of this thing strong, it can make us better. We have to come out of this with strength and build some leadership, and that's what we're going to do."