With Urban Meyer’s return near, Ryan Day has a chance to prove he can lead Ohio State
When Oklahoma plays TCU this weekend, Ohio State's interim coach takes center stage
Last summer, one of college football's all-time great coaches suddenly retired while still at the top of his game and was replaced by a 33-year-old, first-year head coach. The Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley hand off at Oklahoma took place seamlessly and without hesitation from the administration. Inside the building, Riley's star-power was already evident.
Though Oklahoma was losing one of the great college football coaches of all time, I felt at the time that the program would be fine with Riley at the helm. Sixteen games into his tenure, 'fine' appears to be a significant understatement. As good as Stoops was, Riley has taken the program to new heights on the recruiting trail, and it feels like there is a new standard on the field as well.
Ohio State transitioned into the Ryan Day tenure under much more uncomfortable circumstances. Although Day's success is limited by the 'interim' tag, there are a lot of similarities to Riley.
For one, the decision to tap Day for the interim role appeared to be an obvious move for the Ohio State administration despite several other highly qualified coaches on staff with more seniority and experience. Day got the nod at only 39-years old and without any head coaching experience.
He's universally respected in both the college and the NFL game. He was reportedly a primary target for Mike Vrabel's offensive coordinator spot at the Tennessee Titans, but opted to stay in Columbus after being given more control over the Buckeyes' offensive unit.
Like Stoops, Meyer was at the top of his game. Unlike Stoops, his leave of absence was involuntary and the circumstances surrounding it are likely to leave some level of tarnish to his legacy and perhaps even his recruiting prowess. Like Stoops, his predecessor is thriving in his absence.
Offensively, Ohio State has looked magnificent under Day. It has scored on 18 of its 24 offensive possessions. As a team, the Buckeyes are No. 1 in the country in completion percentage through two games, connecting on 82 percent of their pass attempts. They are seventh in the country in yards per play and have scored 77 and 52 points in two wins.
It's an offense that looks evolved from previous seasons in Columbus. The downfield passing game is finally coming alive and there is a willingness to threaten defenses vertically in addition to horizontally.
Of course, the new offensive feel may be more of a product of the quarterback than the coordinator and head coach. Dwayne Haskins has looked as good as any offensive player in college football through two weeks, and he's provided the downfield competency that Ohio State has been lacking. That he's not seen the field in any significant capacity until this season falls in Meyer's lap -- a loyalty over productivity compulsion that is starting to catch up to him.
But all of that brings us to this weekend when we get to find out just how real the Day phenomenon is. In TCU, Ohio State gets its first legitimate test. Day will square off with a top 10 defense nationally, coached by one of the best defensive minds in the game in Gary Patterson.
Regardless of what happens on Saturday, Meyer will be back on the sidelines at Ohio State and it too will be 'fine.' But if Day orchestrates another dominant outing, we may all be left wanting more and waiting for his next opportunity to see if he might have in fact been Ohio State's own version of Lincoln Riley.
1. How many NFL players will be on the field on Saturday when Alabama heads to Oxford to play Ole Miss? Too many to count. So let's narrow it down to one position group. How about we just look at how many NFL pass-catchers will be on the field? That seems more manageable. By my count, there are no less than nine future NFL receivers who will be on the field combined and I'm trying to be conservative.
Everyone knows about Ole Miss' duo of AJ Brown and DK Metcalf, but people around the Ole Miss program contend that Damarkus Lodge may be the most pure receiver of the three. Meanwhile, Dawson Knox is perhaps the best all-around athlete on the entire team and a lock to be an NFL draft pick whether he comes out this spring or next.
On the Alabama side, sophomores Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Devonta Smith are emerging as rare talents while freshman Jaylen Waddle delivers undeniable juice to the offense, and Irv Smith headlines a bushel of talented tight ends.
With NFL talents Tua Tagovailoa and Jordan Ta'amu throwing them the football, this is as loaded as I remember seeing two competing wide receiver units.
2. Just how good was Kellen Mond on Saturday against Clemson. It might be Jimbo Fisher's best work to date. Mond was a four-star talent at quarterback coming out of high school, but he was far from a finished product and it wasn't his accuracy that caught the attention of scouts. It was his athleticism, his frame and his upside. He was a 55 percent passer at IMG Academy as a senior. He was a 51 percent passer as a true freshman last year and at times he looked like he was totally in over his head.
So while it's not surprising that Mond was able to piece together a competitive showing on a big stage, the way he did it speaks volumes. Mond was comfortable in the pocket, looked like he had a clear grasp of his reads and progressions and was accurate. On the season, Mond has thrown five touchdowns and zero interceptions after an 8-to-6 ratio a year ago.
If this is the Mond we are going to see all season long, it's time for a dramatic recalibration of what to expect from this Texas A&M team in 2018.
3. The cute game that you only passively care about should be higher on your priority list this weekend. Boise State is good. Boise State is really good. Boise State has scored on 16 of its 22 offensive possessions this season (excluding end of halves or games). It missed one field goal, which means that the Broncos have had scoring opportunities on 77 percent of their offensive series this season.
Boise State has the fifth most efficient quarterback in the country through two weeks in Brett Rypien, and it's not dink and dunk stuff. The Broncos have four wide receivers averaging more than 18 yards per catch. Only Toledo is doing similar things in the passing game.
The Oklahoma State offense looks as explosive as ever. Taylor Cornelius looks like a next man up plug-and-play quarterback for Mike Gundy and he's got a receiver room that is one of the best in the country with Tylan Wallace and Tyron Johnson taking big steps forward early in the season. He's also got running backs in Justice Hill and LD Brown averaging 8.1 and 12.4 yards per carry respectively.
Defensively, Boise State returns 10 starters off of an 11-3 team. Oklahoma State is eighth in the country in yards per play allowed and has given up 237 yards of offense per game. Oklahoma State looks like a Big 12 contender again, but we'll know for sure how seriously we can take it after Saturday. Meanwhile, a win for Boise State puts it squarely in the New Years Six discussion and a UCF-style national championship comes into vision.
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