The brutal 14-3 loss to Missouri in The Cotton Bowl on December 29th, 2023, was a painful conclusion to the 2023 Ohio State football season. For a football program that had won eleven games leading up to the bowl game loss, the end result was that Ohio State head coach Ryan Day will begin 2024 confronting more questions than answers.
As someone who is old enough to remember how all of those aforementioned seasons concluded, I would like to add another painful, historical tidbit...The 1990 Liberty Bowl.
For those of you who do not remember it, or if you are like me, and would prefer to block it from memory, a quick synopsis ~ Ohio State lost to Michigan 16-13 at home in Ohio Stadium, on a last-second field goal. The field goal had been set up by an ill-conceived option play that allowed Michigan to win the game, and knock Ohio State out of a trip to The Rose Bowl.
Ohio State then tumbled down the bowl game food chain to The Liberty Bowl. On a cold, rainy night, Ohio State fans witnessed the Buckeyes play uninspiring football, losing 23-11 to Air Force. It would be fair to say that it was probably the lowest moment of John Cooper's Ohio State career at that point, which had just concluded its third season.
Now that I have thoroughly depressed all of you, here is to the dawn of 2024, and positive thoughts about what could happen for Ohio State football over the coming months, before the Buckeyes take the field again versus Akron on August 31st, 2024. In the spirit of New Year's resolutions, below is the first of 3 New Year's Resolutions For 2024 Ohio State Football that I can only hope Ryan Day will be implementing...
1. New Staff Members
The Ohio State coaching staff is in dire need of a new jolt of energy. The Cotton Bowl loss demonstrated that the special teams units, offensive line, and quarterbacks were woefully unprepared and in need of new coaching.
Special Teams Coordinator Parker Fleming has long been under scrutiny, and deservedly so, for his special teams units playing poorly. As Fleming is a full-time staff member, that means Ohio State is at its quota of ten assistant coaches on the staff who are allowed to leave campus for recruiting purposes.
An easy solution is to go back to how former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel used to run his staff, and that was to have the various position group coaches all assist with special teams responsibilities, and that could open up a spot on the staff for legendary Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis to ascend to a now-vacant linebackers coach position.
With Laurinaitis on staff, he would be allowed to leave campus for recruiting, and that could only help to invigorate the recruiting efforts across the board. It would also help Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who could then focus more on the entire defensive strategy, as Knowles has been coaching the linebacker position for the Buckeyes.
As I wrote above, special teams are not the only area that was poor for Ohio State in 2023. The performance of the Ohio State offensive line versus Missouri in the Cotton Bowl was glaring, thus putting Ohio State offensive line coach/run game coordinator Justin Frye clearly under the microscope.
Frye was added to the Ohio State staff in 2022, replacing Greg Studrawa. It would be fair to say that Frye inherited an offensive line room that suffered from a lack of quality depth, as the 2023 season reflected the makeshift efforts Frye used to try to develop a cohesive offensive line.
Heading into Frye's third season, the roster will begin to show more and more of Frye's influence. Ohio State relies upon not only Justin Frye but graduate assistant Mike Sollenne for coaching assistance. Perhaps another senior analyst should be in the mix even more than he was in 2023 - Joe Philbin, the former offensive line coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Rumors are swirling that Philbin may be in line for the now-vacant Iowa offensive coordinator position, but if Philbin does stay, he could only help to solidify the offensive line unit.
Both Devin Brown and Lincoln Kienholz looked overwhelmed against Missouri, and that leads me to the quarterback coaching. Ryan Day has always been heavily involved with his first-string quarterbacks during his time in Columbus while relying upon his quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis to get the backups prepared. Based on how Brown and Keinholz struggled, it may be time for Ryan Day to look for someone else to manage this crucial position for quarterback development.
While Larry Johnson is not going anywhere soon, Ryan Day needs to develop and communicate a succession plan for the venerable defensive line coach. Ohio State nearly lost incoming defensive end Eddrick Houston due to rumors of Johnson's retirement, and other schools have not been shy about using Johnson's age to scare other players away from considering Ohio State.
While Ohio State cannot add another defensive line coach (see up above on the staff quota number of ten), it would make sense for Ryan Day to hire another defensive line coach as an analyst to work alongside Johnson, making it well-known to recruits that this individual would be next in line for whenever Larry Johnson decides to call it a career.
As I wrote above, this is the first of 3 New Year's Resolutions For 2024 Ohio State Football that I am proposing to Ryan Day for the 2024 season. Look for the second resolution in my next article, when I propose improving the game repetitions for the backup players on the roster.