If Ohio State head coach Ryan Day had a refrigerator where he could stick the artwork that his team makes for him, last night’s 21-10 win over Notre Dame would be placed front and center, held fast by a magnet shaped like the state of Ohio.
It doesn’t matter that maybe the Buckeyes colored outside of the lines a bit, or the shading is a little off, or that the forced perspective isn’t all that forced.
Held up to the light and viewed with an adoring eye, the picture captures both the heart and the imagination.
“Is this a unicorn?”
“No, that’s just a horse.”
“But isn’t this a horn?”
“No, that’s his ear.”
“Aw, I love it! It’s perfect.”
Perfection sits right behind beauty in the beholder’s line of sight, after all.
Printed out on a basic piece of paper, the box score may not be fridgeworthy. Box scores don’t have nuance. They don’t know they backstory. And they don’t have ears that look like horns.
For Ryan Day, Saturday night’s come-from-behind victory had every component that a coach wants. It had every component that a coach needs.
Ohio State lost their best receiver when Jaxon Smith-Njigba went down early in the game. The Buckeyes trailed 10-7 at the half. The OSU offense never really got going in the first half. Their 149 yards of total offense in the first two quarters was the lowest of the Ryan Day era.
But the new Ohio State defense didn’t care about any of that. They were outstanding throughout. The group that was more maligned last year than the town drunk in a dry county stepped up and shut the Irish down. It was a long time coming for Day and this OSU program.
It was everything he was hoping it would be.
It was a work of art.
“We have to be able to live that way,” Day said after the game. “We do, we have to find ways to win like that, because there’s going to be games certainly in the Big Ten like that. Notre Dame is kind of built like some of the Big Ten teams we play. And so, for the teams that want to run the ball and eat up the clock and keep the offense off the field, we have to run the ball in those moments, and we did. We had to do that. And that was something that we spent a lot of time in the offseason saying, ‘we have to be able to win ugly on offense, we have to stop the run defense.’ And that’s what happened today.”
With the 2002 National Championship team and their head coach Jim Tressel in attendance, the 2022 squad did their best to honor that team by winning in much the same way.
But it was a new kind of win for Ryan Day and it’s one that he’s been focused on all offseason. As he said after the game, people know this team is talented, but they questioned the grit and toughness overall. And if you have any designs on being as tough as necessary, when people question your toughness, there comes a point when you either show up or shut up.
And Saturday night, the Buckeyes showed up.
“It’s been a huge emphasis to win this way,” he said. “It starts with defense. And when you can play really good, strong defense like we played tonight, and we can run the football — we know we’ll be able to throw the ball, we know that — but if we want to go where we need to be and reach our goals, we’re gonna have to do those two things. And tonight we did it.”
They did indeed.
And as Ryan Day stood in front of the assembled horde of art critics on Saturday, pummeled with questions about how the coloring is a little off, or the shapes aren’t all that precise, or there’s no such thing as a dog with six legs, he still had the biggest smile on his face.
“Yeah, but did you see this sweet horse right here? Isn’t it perfect?”
Saturday night’s win over Notre Dame may not have been high art, but that’s okay because it’s the low art that wins the tough games.
And if this one was any indicator of things to come, Ryan Day is gonna need a bigger fridge.