Ryan Day needed only 53 seconds to turn himself into a social media meme and simultaneously make Lou Holtz relevant again. That’s some trick.
I’ve talked to a lot of people and read a lot of comments about what happened after Saturday’s 17-14 win against Notre Dame in South Bend, when Day dropped the hammer on Holtz and Ohio State “haters” during his on-field interview (and again in the postgame press conference).
Reactions to his outrage range from backing the Ohio State coach 100% to blistering him for an over-the-top calling out of Holtz for questioning the Buckeyes' physicality.
“I already liked Day, but he showed me he’s a true Buckeye with those comments,” one Buckeyes fan posted on Facebook.
“It was cringeworthy,” came another response from another fan. “That’s not the Ryan Day I know, or want.”
Somewhat lost in the reactionary conversations with fans was whether Holtz might have been correct with his most critical comment, made Friday on the Pat McAfee Show.
“(Day) has lost to Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Michigan twice," Holtz said. "And everybody (that) beats him, does so because they are more physical than Ohio State. And I think Notre Dame will take that same approach.”
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Day got emotional after the game while pushing back against Holtz and the rest of the world, which supposedly is against Ohio.
“I'd like to know where Lou Holtz is right now. What he said about our team? ... . This is a tough team right here. Everybody’s questioning these kids all the time. We had one bad half the last couple years. That’s it,” Day said, referencing the second half meltdown against Michigan in 2021.
So who is right? And who is wrong? Let’s break it down.
What Lou Holtz got right about Ohio State
Fact: Ohio State lost to the teams Holtz mentioned: Alabama (52-24 in the title game of the 2020 season), Georgia (42-41 in last year's semifinal), Clemson (29-23 in a semifinal in 2019) and Michigan (42-27 in 2021 and 45-23 in 2022).
Holtz also is correct that the Buckeyes got outmuscled in some of those losses, primarily in 2021 at Michigan, when Ohio State was manhandled on both sides of the ball. But the 86-year-old’s observation would have been more valid if he had said “tougher” instead of “more physical.”
Physical applies to muscle. Toughness can be muscle and mental, which manifests in emotional intensity and want-to, or in some cases with the Buckeyes, the lack thereof.
Ohio State absolutely got out-toughed mentally in the 2019 loss to Clemson, allowing the Tigers to climb back from a 16-0 deficit with seven minutes left in the first half, then looking helpless defensively as Clemson drove 94 yards in the final 3:07 to reclaim the lead before holding on to win when Justin Fields threw an interception in the end zone in the closing seconds.
What Lou Holtz got wrong about Ohio State
Did Ohio State lose to Alabama because it wasn’t physical enough? I don’t think so. The Buckeyes got drummed by one of the best offenses in history. Case closed.
What about Georgia? The Buckeyes played the Bulldogs closer than any opponent all season, losing in the closing seconds on a missed 50-yard field goal attempt. So if Ohio State was soft, that means Oregon, No. 11 when it played Georgia in the ’22 season opener, No. 2 Tennessee and No. 11 LSU were even softer. Put it this way, if the Buckeyes were less physical than the Dawgs, 131 other FBS teams would have been, too. No shame in that.
It should be noted the Buckeyes blew two-touchdown leads in both halves against Georgia, so one could argue they lacked emotional toughness, but, again, Holtz was specific about Ohio State lacking physicality, not toughness.
The one place where Holtz really got it wrong, as did Day during his postgame performance – which likely was aimed more at impressing recruits than defending “Ohio against the world” – was in failing to remember Ohio State’s 35-28 loss to Oregon in Week 2 of the 2021 season.
Simply put, the Ducks owned the Buckeyes at the line of scrimmage 10 weeks before the second-half collapse in Ann Arbor.
Recalling that lack of physicality and toughness against Oregon in the Horseshoe pokes a huge hole in Day’s assertion that Ohio State only had “one bad half” the past couple of years.
Failing to put up their dukes against the Ducks was embarrassing, and really poured the foundation for the whole “soft” narrative, even if it did not harden until Michigan.
I wrote that day: “The ignominy is not that Ohio State got punched in the mouth, but that Oregon delivered the blow. Alabama? OK. Clemson? All right. Even Penn State occasionally connects with a roundhouse. But Oregon? A team with a more extensive wardrobe than Cher?”
Sure, much of the Oregon debacle can be pinned on a poor defensive scheme designed by then defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, but OSU also failed the toughness test on offense.
To summarize, Holtz was right and wrong.
Right, because Ohio State has at times failed to fight ferociously, and not just against Michigan and playoff opponents. Against Notre Dame, even Day expressed being “sick over those short yardages we didn’t finish,” referencing multiple failures on third- and fourth-and-short. (The Buckeyes were 2 of 5 on power rushes when needed two yards or fewer for a first down or touchdown.)
The winning 1-yard touchdown dive by Chip Trayanam broke the spell, but the Fighting Irish also had only 10 players on the field.
But Holtz was wrong to paint with too broad of a brush. He tossed out an opinion without checking the specifics. He cast a caustic line too casually.
That Day took the bait, perhaps happy to gulp it and turn into a motivational ploy, hints at a coach feeling the need to defend his players – and himself – and also sheds light on an octogenarian ex-coach doing what he always has done: awaken the echoes by shocking them to life with hot takes and wild words.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Lou Holtz ripped Ohio State, Ryan Day. Was much of what he said right?