Day's play calls keep defensive dogs at bay

Staff Writer
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins celebrates after throwing a 24-yard touchdown pass to K.J. Hill during the third quarter. Haskins, aided by acting head coach Ryan Day's mix of play calls, passed for 344 yards and two TDs. [Joshua A. Bickel]

ARLINGTON, Texas — Urban who?

I kid. Lighten up.

Seriously, Ohio State acting head coach Ryan Day isn’t going to make anyone forgot the Buckeyes’ real coach. Not yet, anyway. But Day did a dead ringer of an Urban Meyer impersonation over the past three games, especially Saturday’s 40-28 comeback win against TCU.

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It was quite a showing by Day, especially considering that until traveling deep into the heart of Texas, the biggest in-game decision he had to make was when to call off the dogs.

The Buckeyes blew out Oregon State 77-31 and Rutgers 52-3. Impressive, but an English Pointer could have aimed the offense in the right direction against those mixed breeds.

Then came No. 15 TCU. Time to see if Day’s barking of orders contained the same bite against a top-level team.

Verdict? Woof-woof. Day called an excellent game and made strong decisions, mixing in throws to running backs, calling an inside screen for Parris Cambell that went for a 63-yard touchdown and having Dwayne Haskins Jr. throw deep to keep TCU’s defense from stuffing the run. My favorite? A Haskins keeper for a touchdown that capped the win.

Haskins was asked to grade Day's performance as acting coach.

"Is there an A-plus-plus in the gradebook?" the quarterback said.

There will be some second-guessing — why keep Austin Mack in the game when the receiver could not catch the ball early. And perhaps some will question Day for failing to play shifty quarterback Tate Martell, if only for a series, to give the Horned Frogs a different look.

Overall, however, Day did well in a close game where every decision is magnified. The Buckeyes have executed well offensively without Meyer, who returns from his three-game suspension on Saturday against Tulane. That’s not to suggest Meyer’s value to the program is overrated — the man has won three national championships at two different schools — only that Day, and by extension the scarlet and gray, have been playing at an extremely high level.

 >> See 100 photos from Ohio State's win over TCU

No doubt, Meyer has a presence on the sideline. Bent over, hands on knees, everyone knows he is the boss. But what I have liked about the way Day has done his job is the play-calling has come directly through him, shedding a layer of management in the process. Day hears from Kevin Wilson, who shares offensive coordinator duties, but Day has the final say. Consider how it works with Meyer on the field. Day and Wilson still call the offense, but Meyer has veto power.

Meyer allows his assistants to coach, reserving the right to change a play but mostly establishing a general tone of how he wants the game to go. He might want the tailbacks to get more carries, for instance. Or perhaps order a few more quarterback runs? You can see how his shadow could affect an offensive coordinator’s decision-making.

Under Day, the offensive mix has enjoyed a well-paced rhythm; almost NFL-like, which makes sense since he coached in the NFL (and explains why the NFL still has its eye on him.)

The tempo was thumbs up again against the Horned Frogs, but as in any game between teams with similar talent — or at least more evenly matched than what Rutgers and Oregon State brought to the table — it is the little things a coach has limited control over that determine the outcome.

Like Mack dropping three passes, including one in the end zone. Like the defense giving up a 93-yard touchdown run, which was the longest score from scrimmage against the Buckeyes in history. And like an injury to defensive end Nick Bosa ending his night early in the third quarter. OK, those are belches more than hiccups. The point is that Day can’t game plan for them.

What he can do is control his end of things, which he did against TCU.

“My job is not to replace coach Meyer,” Day has said on multiple occasions. “My job is to just keep this place until he gets back. Just want to keep this thing going in the right direction.”

He did. Future courters surely have noticed.