'There are some scars there.' Ryan Day counting on Ohio State to learn from 2021 setbacks
INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time in Ryan Day's tenure as Ohio State coach, the Buckeyes did not come to Big Ten media days as defending league champions.
Michigan wears that crown, and the Buckeyes are determined to reassert themselves as the conference's king.
“I think the thing that's unique about Ohio State is every year, we're expected to win the whole thing,” Day said Wednesday. “That's part of the deal here. A lot of times you go 11-2 and win the Rose Bowl, you say that's one heck of a season. Well, not around here. Our goal every year is to beat the Team Up North and win the Big Ten championship and win the national championship, and we didn't get those things last year.”
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Day is entering his fourth year as Buckeyes coach. Each season has had major challenges. Last year, Ohio State was breaking in a new quarterback, C.J. Stroud, who'd never thrown a collegiate pass, and a defense that was inexperienced at most spots. He knew growing pains would be inevitable. The team's weaknesses, particularly on defense, were exposed in losses to Oregon and Michigan and in the first half of the Rose Bowl victory over Utah. Day hired Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to fix that side of the ball.
"The expectations don't change year-in and year-out at Ohio State," Day said. "We all know that. So is it different this year? No. The team is different, though. We have more experience than we had last year. We have a veteran quarterback coming back, a lot more guys on defense who are veterans and a new scheme on defense."
In other words, there will be no excuses this year. Ohio State's offense was statistically the best in the country in scoring and yardage, and it returns stars such as receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and running back TreVeyon Henderson in addition to Stroud, a Heisman Trophy finalist.
“Last year, we were so young that we didn't know what we didn't know,” Day said. “This year, we know what it's like to lose a game. We know what it's like to lose that rivalry game. And that was not good. And so there are some scars there, which is a good thing.”
Ohio State football season begins with Notre Dame
Stroud said the Michigan loss is something that sticks in the Buckeyes' minds.
"But you've got to be able to move on and learn from it," the redshirt sophomore said. "I feel like every failure that you don't learn from is an 'L,' but every failure that you do learn from is a 'W.' "
Ohio State opens its season against Notre Dame on Sept. 3. That showdown will give the Buckeyes extra incentive during training camp, which starts Aug. 4.
“It amplifies the preseason, for sure,” Day said. “You know you have to play your best football right then and there. You can't take a game or two to find your footing, so that game is going to be amped up. It's going to be kind of a frenzy, and we know that, so preseason is going to be very important.”
The Buckeyes play a loaded schedule. In addition to Michigan and Notre Dame, Ohio State faces tough tests from Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan State and Penn State.
“Every time you play, you put it on the field,” Day said. “That's what's at stake, and you have to make sure you understand that when you show up every week. The thing that we're focused on this year is competitive stamina, being able to bring it week-in and week-out and play our best football at the end of the season.”
Last year's regular-season finale, of course, was the disaster in Ann Arbor. It's a feeling they can't wait to exorcise.
"Talking with C.J., it feels like I haven't really won anything, honestly, and we're looking to change that," Smith-Njigba said. "That's not the standard that was put there before us, and we feel like we came up short.
"We've got a lot of competitors on our team that love to play and want to be legends and have our name in the building forever. That's something that we're reaching towards, and we'll get there."
Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @brdispatch.