The last time Ryan Day stood in front of the press, he was angry –– and for good reason.
The first-year head coach was minutes removed from a gut-wrenching first loss –– a game that may have been a turned ankle, a careless penalty or an overturned call from keeping the Buckeyes undefeated and sending them to the national championship.
“You get that knot in your stomach and can’t eat for a couple days or sleep,” Day said. “And you just keep thinking about every call and everything that went wrong in that game.”
But now that the dust has settled on another college football season, and he can take some small solace in his former pupil Joe Burrow dethroning Clemson, Day and the Buckeyes are turning a new page –– even if it becomes a key footnote in the start of the next.
“I think you do have to move on with your life, but at the same time –– we talked to the team –– we’re not just going to flush this,” Day said. “This is going to be here for a long time. And it’s the way it should be. We felt like we had a chance to go win the whole thing. We didn’t do it. So it’s going to stay fresh in our minds.”
Day wasn’t the only one perturbed by the loss, though.
The head coach said he made his team and coaches watch the National Championship Game in its entirety and think about the sacrifices they are willing to make to get back to that stage next season.
“Wish I was suiting up with my boys tonight,” junior running back J.K. Dobbins wrote on Twitter before Monday’s National Championship Game.
Junior cornerback Jeff Okudah responded to Dobbins’ post by asserting that an unspecified “they” didn’t want to see Ohio State in the game.
While Dobbins’ and Okudah’s Buckeye careers ended in Arizona, many others who were instrumental in the Buckeyes’ ultimate success and failure this season will return to the fold with a battery in their back.
Day said sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave, who admittedly made the mistake that led to the game-ending interception against Clemson, didn’t eat solid food for three or four days following the loss.
“He was crushed,” Day said.
But Olave said after the game that the mistake will only make him work harder in pursuit of becoming the best receiver in the country.
Olave was the breakout star in a cast of experienced Buckeye receivers this season, but with the loss of seniors Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor and redshirt senior K.J. Hill, he’ll be the leading man in 2020.
On the other side of the ball, the possibility of stepping into a leading role likely helped entice redshirt sophomore cornerback Shaun Wade to surprise many with his decision to return for another year at Ohio State.
“I’m still kinda mad about the Fiesta Bowl,” Wade said during his announcement Jan. 4.
Wade’s final memory of the season involves the targeting call that ejected him in the first half against Clemson, which swung the momentum of a 16-0 game.
He’ll have the chance to leave a different impression in his fourth year with the program, as Day said Wade will hopefully become a first round draft pick and Thorpe Award finalist after he moves to outside corner full time next season.
Wade will be the only returning starter in the Buckeye secondary, and several new faces won’t be the only different aspect of the Ohio State defense.
Day said the defense will “diversify” its schemes next year, including playing some double-high safety looks, which were almost never employed in 2019.
A new coach will be in charge of that secondary next season, and despite rumors that former Ohio State defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs will return from the NFL ranks, Day said he wouldn’t discuss his list of candidates.
One hire Day did discuss at length Wednesday was new quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis –– Urban Meyer’s son-in-law who was promoted from senior quality control coach to replace Texas-bound Mike Yurcich.
“I wanted continuity. So I knew Corey is invested here for a while,” Day said. “That was certainly important. But I think when you’re dealing with a quarterback, for me, it has to be done the way that we’ve done it here.”
Dennis will have his second year with sophomore quarterback Justin Fields, who continues to rehab a sprained MCL that Day said limited his practice time and the full arsenal of the offense at the end of the season.
Fields’ injury was just one more frustration in the season finale, but like emotional wounds Ohio State suffered in the loss itself, it may take more time to heal as the Buckeyes re-up for next year.