'When you lose, there's damage control': Ohio State and the pressure to beat Michigan (2023)

  • 'When you lose, there's damage control': Ohio State and the pressure to beat Michigan (1)

    Heather Dinich, ESPN Senior WriterJun 19, 2023, 08:00 AM ET


    • College football reporter
    • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
    • Graduate of Indiana University
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A box of Yogi Stress Relief tea sat on Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles' desk, where he watched film repeatedly this offseason to analyze defensive breakdowns in losses to Michigan and Georgia.

The pressure here, he conceded with a smile, is a little different than anywhere else he's ever coached over the past three decades.

"You can't lose a game," he said following his first season with the Buckeyes, an 11-2 finish that included a College Football Playoff semifinal appearance. "You can't lose a game."

Especially The Game. Twice.

Roles have reversed in the Big Ten, in which Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was lambasted in 2019 after dropping to 0-5 in one of the sport's most iconic rivalries following an embarrassing 56-27 home loss to Ohio State. Buckeyes coach Ryan Day hasn't defeated Harbaugh since -- leaving two giant ink stains on Day's Big Ten record that's an otherwise spotless 32-0, including conference championship games. Not only has Michigan won the Big Ten each of the past two seasons, but the Wolverines have also encroached on Ohio State's national spotlight, finishing in the top four in each of the past two seasons and reaching a new level under Harbaugh.

Ohio State is hardly in crisis mode -- the Buckeyes enter this season with what should again be one of the most prolific offenses in the country and legitimate CFP aspirations -- but the layers of NFL draft talent on the two-deep have yet to translate into a national title for Day. Back-to-back losses to Michigan have only compounded the scrutiny as Day enters his fifth season leading one of the wealthiest and most visible programs in the country.

"The expectation here every year is the same," said Day, who is 1-3 in CFP semifinals. "Win the rivalry game, win the Big Ten and win the national championship. We fight like heck to do that and we're right there. You can feel it, you can taste it, and that's motivated the guys this offseason. When you get that close and you don't get there, you didn't get it done. And it certainly does motivate."

And now he's trying to do it without the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft, quarterback C.J. Stroud.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has given no indication Day's job is in jeopardy ("He's my CEO," Smith said in April), but the head coach is well aware the program hasn't met its own expectations, particularly in the past two seasons. If Day loses to Harbaugh again, it will be the first time since 1995-97 that Ohio State lost three straight to Michigan. The goal, though, is consistently larger, and the Buckeyes haven't won the national title since the 2014 season with Urban Meyer.

Day has made multiple hires to boost the brainpower in the building, has considered relinquishing playcalling duties, and had honest discussions with Knowles about how the defense can improve this fall.

"When you lose," Day said, "there's damage control."

THE UNCANNY AND improbable timing of Ohio State's missed field goal against Georgia in the CFP semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl might have etched its place in college football history.

As midnight approached on the East Coast and the New Year's Eve clock in Times Square ticked down the final seconds until 2023, Ohio State kicker Noah Ruggles' 50-yard game-winning attempt simultaneously sailed wide left as the iconic ball dropped and celebrations erupted everywhere. Everywhere but Buckeye Country.

The No. 4 Buckeyes lost 42-41 to the eventual national champions in what was the most entertaining game of last year's CFP. It never comes down to one play, but that's how close Ohio State was to playing TCU for the national title, and with all due respect to the Frogs, probably winning it. It's a narrow twist of fate and football that changed the entire narrative and exacerbated the losses to Michigan.

"We don't have a choice," Day said of winning a national title. "The expectation is that you do. The rivalry game is obviously very important, and when you look at those games, and you see the single plays that really cost us the game, when you're talking about on defense giving up explosive plays, that's very important, that's how games can go sideways. We have to identify that and get that fixed. That hurt us in the Georgia game as well."

Which is why Knowles was back at his desk this spring, zeroing in on 16 plays of at least 20 yards that changed Ohio State's season (six against Michigan and 10 against Georgia). Plays such as Donovan Edwards' two runs of more than 75 yards in the fourth quarter for Michigan or Stetson Bennett's 76-yard pass to Arian Smith in the final quarter for Georgia. It was the most plays of at least 20 yards Ohio State has allowed in any two-game span since 2004, and the 10 in the Georgia loss was the most the Buckeyes have allowed in any game dating back to 2004, when ESPN's Stats & Information began tracking the data.

"We had some matchup issues, which I blame myself," Knowles said. "Got put into positions where the matchup was not in our favor. That's my job to fix that and look out for that. We had some times where we lost our eyes and we didn't execute. I call it eye violations. When the moments get big, our vision has to get smaller and more condensed. At times we had guys who were doing too much and not focused on their assignment. That goes back to me. Nobody wants to make the critical mistake, they don't want to give up the critical play. That's not how our guys are built. So then I have to look at my teaching and the environment."

The environment features one of the most prolific offenses in the country at every practice. Knowles said he talks to his players about going against "the best receiver in the country" in Marvin Harrison Jr., who caught 77 passes for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore and is a projected first-round NFL draft pick.

"I went through it at Oklahoma State," said Knowles, who was hired from the Cowboys following the 2021 season. "When you go into a place where the offense is just fantastic and off the charts, I feel like the defense, particularly in the back end, gets used to not winning in practice. I think it is a tough habit to break.

"It's not OK to lose to Marvin," he said. "That's who we have to beat if we're going to win the national championship, so we're learning to compete against our offense and doing our fair share of winning."

Winning was all Ohio State did last fall through its first 11 games, when Ohio State's defense allowed an average of 16.9 points, compared to 43.5 against Michigan and Georgia. The Buckeyes held their first 11 opponents to 4.5 yards per play, while the last two averaged 8.9.

"You have to be willing to change if necessary," Knowles said. "That's part of growth. You have to be restless, uncomfortable. Nothing is nonnegotiable with me. I've worked my way to get here. I'm not going to fall on the sword and say, 'This is the way we do it.' No, look at everything. Break it down. It doesn't matter if I've done it for 20 years. If something doesn't work in those crucial situations, then I really need to look at myself."

The problem went deeper than a few big plays, particularly against the Wolverines, who plowed their way to 252 rushing yards and 7.2 yards per carry. Michigan's Edwards had nine carries for 170 yards and two touchdowns -- in the fourth quarter -- and 114 of those yards came before contact. It was the second straight year the Wolverines outgained and outmuscled Ohio State up front, as they ran for 297 yards to Ohio State's 64 in 2021.

The disparity prompted former Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis to question the Buckeyes' toughness two days after the 2021 game.

"They're a finesse team; they're not a tough team," Gattis said at the time, according to the Detroit News. "And we knew that going into the game that we can out-physical them, we can out-tough and that was gonna be the key to the game, and that's what we prepared for all year long."

Former Buckeyes' star James Laurinaitis joined the program in January as a graduate assistant working with the defense, and Day hired former Nebraska assistant Mike Dawson as a defensive analyst. Day said the defensive staff is a "very veteran group," but at the end of the day, "I'm the head coach, and I've got to make sure that it's the way that we want it."

Ohio State returns its leading tackler from last season, linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, along with defensive tackle Michael Hall Jr., who tied for the team lead in sacks last season. Defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau, who enters his junior season with 15 tackles for loss and six sacks, should be one of the best linemen in the country. Tuimoloau, who was the No. 5 player in the 2021 ESPN 300, had one of the best performances ever by an Ohio State defensive lineman in the Buckeyes' 44-31 win at Penn State last season. He had a career-high six tackles, three TFLs, including two sacks, two interceptions, one pass breakup, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He helped Ohio State force four takeaways that directly led to 21 points, capped by Tuimoloau's fourth-quarter pick-six to seal the win. Tuimoloau said the defense trusts in Knowles, and the Buckeyes are motivated to be better this fall.

"We've got to continue to grow in all aspects of the game," Tuimoloau said, "Go to our offense, ask them questions. They coach us, we coach them, just continue to drive each other to be the team we know we should be."

Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord, who is competing with Devin Brown for the starting job, said the Buckeyes will be "a very tough team" this fall.

"I think that everybody feels like we have something to prove," he said. "After last year, how close we were, I think we still have a little bit of a sour taste in our mouth, so we're coming out motivated."

ASIDE FROM GETTING the extra push up front, Ohio State's offense hasn't been a problem. In fact, it's been one of the best in the country. Since Day joined Ohio State's staff as co-offensive coordinator in 2017, the Buckeyes are the only FBS team to average 40 points per game in each of those six seasons. In spite of that success, Day has tinkered with the idea of handing over the playcalling duties to recently promoted offensive coordinator Brian Hartline, who also coaches the receivers, and Hartline called plays during the spring game.

Day also hired former NFL head coach Joe Philbin as an offensive analyst, and even with a new starting quarterback and three new starting offensive linemen this fall, the Buckeyes should find ways to generate eye-popping statistics. Including Harrison, Ohio State returns 10 of the 11 players who had at least 100 yards from scrimmage last year, with Stroud being the lone exception.

"I always say if you play quarterback here, you have the keys to the Ferrari," McCord said. "... The list goes on and on of talent I have around me, and it definitely helps. Whether you're with the ones or the twos this spring getting reps, there are future NFL receivers around you. If you don't throw a perfect ball, they'll still go up and get it for you."

Harrison was one of the Buckeyes' highlights in the losses, as he snagged seven catches for 120 yards and one touchdown against Michigan and had five receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia before leaving the game in the third quarter under the concussion protocol -- yet another controversial game-changing play that wasn't flagged for targeting.

"Not being able to play the fourth quarter and seeing your team struggle offensively, definitely tough," Harrison said. "We're one play away -- a couple plays away -- from it being a completely different outcome."

Ohio State didn't have to beat Michigan last season to earn the selection committee's No. 4 spot and its shot against Georgia. The season-opening win against Notre Dame coupled with the Oct. 29 road win at Penn State -- plus an elite offense that scored at least 40 points in all but two wins -- was enough.

It could be again.

Ohio State has a similar schedule, including a Sept. 23 trip to Notre Dame. If the Buckeyes can beat the Irish on their home turf, and Notre Dame finishes as a top-25 CFP team, that win will again boost Ohio State's résumé through Selection Day. If the Buckeyes finish with one loss or better, they would likely be considered for a semifinal, and all but guaranteed a spot with a Big Ten title.

Day said the pressure he feels now is no different than his first day on the job, when he took over for Urban Meyer. It's been the same, he said, for the previous coaches who came before him, from Woody Hayes to Meyer and everyone in between.

Hayes won five national titles, elevating the program to unprecedented heights. In seven seasons as head coach of Ohio State, Meyer won one national title -- but he never lost to Michigan (7-0). Jim Tressel won the national title in his second season and went 9-1 against Michigan. John Cooper was 2-10-1 against Michigan. He was fired, but any comparisons between Day and Cooper are unfair and frankly unreasonable. Cooper was fired following concerns about discipline, competitiveness and academics.

The only common thread is the expectation to beat Michigan.

"It's more than just a football game," McCord said. "It's something you live 365 days a year if you come here. It was a surprise when we lost to them my freshman year, and I think it woke a lot of people up. Last year we were confident going into the game. I think we had a good game plan. We knew what we wanted to do in terms of offensive scheme and where we wanted to attack them on defense. To come up short again really makes you take a step back and say, 'We've got to change our approach and some of the things we're doing.'

"I think everybody had a clear vision of what it's going to take to win, because obviously the last two years we haven't done enough to do that," he said. "I can say with confidence, I think that's the No. 1 goal in every person's mind in the building every single day we walk in is to beat them."

Which is why it's magnified when they don't.


Why Ohio State lost? ›

Instead, a spate of injuries and poor execution overshadowed a brilliant game from quarterback C.J. Stroud. Ohio State lost 42-41 to Georgia after Noah Ruggles' 50-yard field goal attempt was wide left. It was a frustrating loss for everybody involved, but one that encapsulates the 2022 Ohio State season.

How did Ohio State lose to Georgia? ›

Bennett threw a 10-yard pass to Adonai Mitchell with 54 seconds left, leading the Bulldogs to an improbable 42-41 comeback victory over Ohio State on Saturday in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl and a spot in the national title game against TCU on Jan. 9.

What is Ohio State record? ›

With 924 wins in over 130 seasons of football, Ohio State ranks Second among all programs in terms of total wins and is First all-time in Winning percentage in the NCAA.

Is Ohio State in the playoffs? ›

4 Ohio State (11-1) will play No. 1 Georgia (13-0) on Dec. 31, 2022 in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff Semifinals.

How bad did Ohio State lose? ›

But the Ohio State defense once again caved, and a 14-point fourth-quarter lead was lost in a 42-41 loss College Football Playoff loss to Georgia.

Has Ohio State ever lost to another Ohio team? ›

The 14 points allowed came in Ohio State's only losses. The Buckeyes' 1921 loss to Oberlin remains their last loss to a team from the state of Ohio.

Who is more likely to win Georgia or Ohio State? ›

FPI prediction: Georgia has the 57.5 percent chance to win the game, compared with Ohio State at 42.5 percent, according to the Football Power Index computer prediction model that picks winners by simulating teams' seasons 20,000 times.

Who is Georgia state biggest rival? ›

The Georgia Southern–Georgia State rivalry, also known as Modern Day Hate, is a college athletics rivalry between the Georgia Southern Eagles and Georgia State Panthers.

What is the biggest bass caught in Ohio? ›

On November 3, 2022, Gregg Gallagher of Fremont, Ohio, caught the 10.15-pound smallmouth bass while fishing in Ontario provincial waters of Lake Erie. That fish was larger than the previous Ontario record, a 9.84-pound bass caught in 1984, and larger than Ohio's current smallmouth bass record, a 9.5-pound fish.

Who has more wins all time Ohio State or Michigan? ›


Is Ohio State top 4? ›

Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Ohio State make the 2022 College Football Playoff. The top four teams of the 2022 College Football Playoff rankings are set with No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Michigan, No.

Who are the top 4 in college football? ›

College Football Playoff Rankings
21 more rows

Will Michigan make the playoffs? ›

Michigan will be returning to the College Football Playoff next month, no matter what happens against Purdue in the Big Ten Championship Game. The game is still important.

Has Ohio State ever won a national championship? ›

Ohio State — 8. Ohio State officially formed a football team in 1890, but the Buckeyes wouldn't win a national championship until 1942.

Did Ohio State have 12 men on field? ›

Ohio State did have 12 men on the field for the fake punt, and the officials missed that. There's no evidence if there had been no timeout that officials would have had time to review it. The Buckeyes got away with a false start on a third-and-2, the final play of the first quarter.

What did Georgia say about Ohio State? ›

My heart goes out to those guys,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of Ohio State. “They played well enough to win. We played well enough to win, too.

What did Ohio State get in trouble for? ›

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith acknowledged Pryor, Herron, Posey, Adams and Thomas committed NCAA violations by selling memorabilia and received discounted services at Fine Line Ink tattoo parlor.

Who is Ohio State's biggest rival? ›

Since around the turn of the century, Ohio State has dominated Michigan in The Game, college football's most marketable and arguably most intense rivalry.

What teams has Ohio State never beaten? ›

Football Bowl Subdivision Teams Ohio State Has Played And Never Beaten
  • Clemson (0-4) ...
  • Florida State (0-3) ...
  • Florida (0-2) ...
  • South Carolina (0-2) ...
  • Auburn (0-1-1) ...
  • Air Force (0-1) ...
  • Georgia (0-1) ...
  • Tennessee (0-1)

Who was the last in-state team to beat Ohio State? ›

Of all teams, the Oberlin College Yeomen were the last group of men to defeat Ohio State, and this occurred nearly a century ago. This fact alone displays the greatness of that 1921 Oberlin football team, who were also expected to lose that game against Ohio State. How did Oberlin do it?

Who is the favorite Ohio State or Michigan? ›

DraftKings has already listed the line for the 2023 Ohio State-Michigan game, with the Wolverines 2.5-point favorites at home. Still, Ohio State actually has the third-shortest odds to win the National Championship at +650, with Michigan one spot behind at +900.

Who is favored Ohio or Georgia? ›

Based on recent trends, the winning team model predicts Georgia will win this game with 71.5% confidence.

What are the odds for Ohio State to win? ›

Draft Kings and FanDuel sportsbooks have Ohio State solely in third place, coming into the 2023 season with +800 and +700 odds, respectively, to win the national championship.

What is the oldest in state college football rivalry? ›

The Yale-Princeton rivalry is the oldest in college football, dating back to 1873.

Who is Michigan State biggest rivalry? ›

The Michigan–Michigan State football rivalry is an American college football rivalry between the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State University Spartans. The teams first played in 1898 and have met 114 times.

Who is Michigan State main rival? ›

Michigan State Spartans football
RivalriesNotre Dame (rivalry) Indiana (rivalry) Michigan (rivalry) Penn State (rivalry)
Consensus All-Americans33
Current uniform
ColorsGreen and white
22 more rows

What is the largest fish caught in Ohio? ›

Chinook (King) Salmon — 29 lbs 8 oz

The Ohio state record is 29 pounds and 8 ounces, held by Walter Shumaker since 1989, catching the fish in Lake Erie.

What state has largest bass? ›

Georgia, home of George Perry's famous world-record largemouth (22 pounds, 4 ounces), is the spiritual Mecca of the bassin' world. It has to share some world-class waters, like Lake Eufala with Alabama, and Clark's Hill with South Carolina.

What is the fattest bass caught? ›

1. George Perry: 22 Pounds, 4 Ounces. The 22-pound, 4-ounce behemoth that currently holds the world record was caught some 89 years ago by George Perry on June 2, 1932, from Montgomery Lake in Georgia. A haze of folklore surrounds this fish and that day.

What do Michigan fans call Ohio State? ›

Michigan-Ohio State is called “The Game” for a reason: The Wolverines and Buckeyes have one of the longest, most-intense rivalries in all of sports, let alone football.

What is the biggest rivalry in college football? ›

Here are the top rivalries in college football:
  • Pittsburgh-West Virginia. (Photo: Michael Longo, USA TODAY Sports) ...
  • Oklahoma-Oklahoma State. (Photo: Parker Thune, 247Sports) ...
  • USC-UCLA. (Photo: Gary A. ...
  • Clemson-South Carolina. ...
  • Ole Miss-Mississippi State. ...
  • Georgia-Florida. ...
  • USC-Notre Dame. ...
  • Oklahoma-Texas.
Nov 23, 2022

When's the last time Michigan beat Ohio State two years in a row? ›

It hasn't happened this century, as it was in 1999 and 2000 the last time Michigan knocked off Ohio State in back-to-back years. In 1999 it was a 24–17 win at The Big House in Ann Arbor, and the following year in 2000 it was a 38–26 victory in The Horseshoe in Columbus.

What is Ohio State ranked now? ›

The Ohio State University's ranking in the 2022-2023 edition of Best Colleges is National Universities, #49.

Has Ohio State ever been ranked number 1? ›

The ranking was based on total poll appearances, number of times ranked No. 1 and AP national championships. Ohio State has been ranked in the AP Top 25 poll more than any other school – 852 weeks – and the Buckeyes also have the most weeks ranked as the No. 1 school in the nation: 105.

When was the last time Ohio State was ranked number 1? ›

The last time Ohio State was No. 1 was the final regular season poll of 2007.

What happened to Ohio State 2023? ›

Despite two touchdown passes to Carnell Tate and Noah Rogers late in the fourth quarter, Ohio State's defense prevailed with a 40-31 win against the offense in the Buckeyes' 2023 spring game.

Why wasn t the hit on Harrison targeting? ›

A flag was thrown on impact, but it was later ruled that targeting had not happened. But Harrison was done for the night with concussion symptoms. “I was told that it was not targeting,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “And that he (Harrison) did not take a shot to the head, which is hard.

Has Ohio State ever gone undefeated? ›

Notre Dame has the most undefeated seasons with six, followed by Nebraska and Alabama with five each, then Oklahoma and Ohio State with four each.

What happened with Ohio State and Michigan? ›

Michigan beat Ohio State 45-23 after an electric fourth quarter in Columbus.

What is the Ohio State academic scandal? ›

Following an independent 2019 investigation which found that Richard Strauss had sexually abused at least 177 students from 1979 to 1997, Ohio State University agreed to pay $40.9 million to settle the lawsuits of 162 men who alleged sexual abuse during the former university team doctor's tenure.

What did JJ McCarthy say about Ohio State? ›


"I was always a Big Ten fan. Growing up in Chicago, the (Michigan-Ohio State game) was always on, and for the longest time, I was on the other side. So, I felt gravitated toward the rivalry. As things went on in recruiting and I got to see both schools, I was like, 'You know what?

Will Ohio State ever build a new stadium? ›

Design for the new playing surface to be installed in Ohio State's Ohio Stadium and indoors at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in the spring and summer of 2022.

Has Ohio State ever lost to an Ohio team? ›

Ohio State is 173-48-15 in its history against opponents from the state of Ohio. Ohio State has not lost to an Ohio opponent since 1921, falling to Oberlin 7-6.

When was the last time Ohio State was an underdog? ›

Ohio State had been favored in 25 straight games before this matchup, most recently an underdog when it lost to Alabama in the 2020 CFP Championship game.

What did Marvin Harrison Jr say about the hit? ›

After the game, Harrison called Bullard's hit "just a football hit" in a "physical game." "I'm OK," Harrison said after the Peach Bowl loss.

What time did Ohio State miss the field goal? ›

The ball was snapped four seconds to midnight, and when it hit the ground well left of the goal posts, midnight struck.

Who knocked Marvin Harrison out of the game? ›

In Ohio State's 42-41 loss to the Bulldogs, Harrison absorbed a hit from Georgia safety Javon Bullard while trying to pull in a reception in the back of the end zone. Harrison, Ohio State coach Ryan Day disclosed, was knocked unconscious on the hit and was evaluated for a concussion.

Who has more wins all-time Ohio State or Michigan? ›

Michigan leads the all-time series in wins, 59-51-6 including a 32-24-4 record in Ann Arbor. The series is tied in Columbus: 27-27-2. Ohio State has won eight consecutive games over Michigan at Ohio Stadium, dating to a 38-26 Wolverine win in 2000.


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