Suspension hands Day his first big challenge

Rob Oller
The suspension of star defensive end Chase Young gives Ohio State coach Ryan Day an opportunity to drive home his message to the team about needing to improve as players and people. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

Chase Young will miss Saturday’s game against Maryland as Ohio State investigates a possible NCAA violation involving the Buckeyes’ nationally touted defensive end. And just like that a grenade gets tossed into Ryan Day’s foxhole.

It was bound to happen. Maybe not something this potentially explosive, but it was just a matter of time before controversy came across Day’s desk. Things have been going so smoothly for the Buckeyes’ first-year football coach.

>>Read more: Chase Young releases statement on possible NCAA violation

Too smoothly, as it turns out. Perfection is never possible, and when dealing with 85 scholarship players imperfection is guaranteed.

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That doesn’t mean a coach should shrug and “Oh well” it. Day won’t. Just last week he gave an impassioned speech to the team exhorting players to look in the mirror, acknowledge what looks good but also own up to what still needs work. The message centered on continuous improvement, both on and off the field.

That was before the news broke on Friday morning. Young tweeted an explanation and apology that addressed the NCAA eligibility issue, writing that he accepted a loan from a family friend last year that he repaid in full last summer.

Now Day must deal with the fallout — which is what? Best-case scenario for the Buckeyes: Young sits against Maryland and returns next week against Rutgers. Next-to-best case: Young misses Maryland and Rutgers, which Ohio State should win without him anyway; the silver lining is Young would enjoy two weeks to rest up for a stretch run that includes Penn State, Michigan and potentially a Big Ten championship game and playoff appearance.

Worst-case scenario: The investigation turns up violations so severe that Ohio State must forfeit wins in games in which Young participated.

I won’t over-speculate, but a moderate view suggests a likely outcome might include a two-game suspension, with three or more in the mix if OSU opts to bargain with the NCAA to reach a compromise that avoids season-killing sanctions.

Regardless, my curiosity runs toward how Day contains it. He has shown himself adept at winning games when seas are smooth. And there is evidence he can handle choppy waters — recall that he filled in nicely for Urban Meyer last season during Meyer’s three-game suspension. But he also was not officially in charge of the program, A to Z. This is his ship, now. Let’s see how he captains it through this storm.

As for Young, his already thin shot at becoming the first strictly defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy just disappeared. No player who missed one game has won the award since Charlie Ward in 1993.

Ohio State fans can be forgiven for feeling snake-bit, at least pertaining to exceptional defensive ends. Last season, Nick Bosa was injured in the third game of the season and never played another down, choosing to begin training for the NFL draft instead of possibly returning for Michigan or the bowl game. It is impossible to quantify how Bosa’s absence impacted the Buckeyes, but we know the defense set an inglorious season record for points allowed (25.5 per game).

What can be concluded from Young’s suspension is hindered by not knowing its duration, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility that as a projected top-five draft pick he pulls a Bosa and leaves the team if the suspension runs long, for instance through the regular season.

Buckeye Nation would prefer more optimism, so here goes: The unexpected drama awakens and galvanizes a team that might otherwise go sleepwalking through the next two games. Day turns adversity into opportunity by cementing his point about the Buckeyes needing to improve as players and people. Ohio State circles the wagons and wins it all.

If that is how it goes, the grenade tossed his way will have been a dud. Until more details emerge, however, everyone can only stare at the bomb, wondering whether and how badly it will hurt.


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