Ryan Day Ohio State Buckeyes

Cotton Bowl Notebook: Coaching Is 90% Having Your Team Motivated

Don’t Forget The Jimmies And Joes

In the offseason between 2022 and 2023, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day talked about a desire to give up play-calling duties in order to allow him to have a larger focus on the day-to-day goings-on with his football team.

With the transfer portal and the new shape of college football, communication is more important than ever, so Day was looking at ways to make time down the road. Giving up play-calling would also allow more time to deal with every in-game decision that comes up from week to week.

As the spring gave way to summer, and then fall camp, it became clear that play-calling was going to stay with Day. As one of the best play-callers in college football, the benefits are clear, but there are also costs involved.

The Ohio State special teams continued to suffer. End-of-half processes, game management, and instant replay attentiveness also had their issues here and there throughout the season. Which begs the question of whether these things would still be issues if Day didn’t have to spend so much time focused on the play-calling.

Perhaps a conversation with an opponent could have an impact on Day in the next month.

The Buckeyes take on Missouri later this month, and Tigers head coach Eli Drinkwitz revealed why he finally decided to give up offensive play-calling after the 2022 season, and what the benefits have been.

“We had a couple of coaches come and talk to our team, and I was picking their brains about them being head coaches. And one of them told me, reminded me, that college football, coaching 18- to 22-year-olds is 90% having your team motivated,” Drinkwitz said.

“And I think for the previous two years, I spent so much time worried about Xs and Os that I forgot about the mindset of our players, making sure that was ready each and every week. So it allowed me to focus more in on what was the mindset of the coaching staff and players at each practice. What was our focus going to be? What was our focus going into the game? What was our plan to win? Not just what’s our plan to get third downs, what’s our plan to win as a staff? And are we going to be able to execute that? What are the attacking spots?”

There was also a benefit for the special teams as well.

“There was a key point in the game this past season where we attempted a fake punt,” Drinkwitz explained. “And our special teams coordinator (Erik Link) deserves all the credit for that design. But as a coach, I was in that moment saying, ‘Okay, let’s do that here.’ I don’t think as a head coach calling the offense I would have been prepared to do that. So I think those kind of things really showed up this season. And it showed up because I was more intentional and focused on managing the game and being more present and being more focused on motivating our players and staff.”

No Pity Party In Dallas

When Missouri’s football logo popped up on a graphic during ESPN’s bowl selection reveal a week ago and the Tigers found out they were going to be playing in the Cotton Bowl against Ohio State, there was an obvious level of excitement.

Missouri had earned a berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game, and they were going to get an opportunity to put an exclamation point on their 2023 season.

“We were fortunate to be the first announcement of the selection show for the New Year’s Six, and, man, when you see your name up against Ohio State, again, that’s a blue-blood, national brand, and to have an opportunity to play them is very special,” Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz said.

“I know for me as the head football coach, in my wildest dreams, I don’t know that I ever thought about being able to coach in the Cotton Bowl versus Ohio State. So it’s something I’m going to be very present in and really enjoy the moment.”

As Ohio State players and coaches saw that same reveal, it was a reminder of their failure to achieve any of their three main team goals — beating Michigan, winning a Big Ten title, and winning a national championship.

The two programs in this game could not be in different moods, but Ryan Day knows the game is happening regardless, so they better get ready.

“No one’s gonna feel sorry for us, so you’ve got to push forward,” he said. “That’s life. And so we’re gonna do that. There’s always a lot of life lessons, and this is another great one for our guys to learn about how you handle yourself during adversity.

“You learn a lot about the guys that are around you, and, as a dad, as a husband, as a brother, as a teammate, you have to handle yourself the right way and move forward. Not that it’s easy – we’re not just going to move on like it’s just another game. It’s not. But you know, the world is not stopping for us, so we got to keep moving, and that’s we’re going to do.”

Preparing For A Mystery

Even before Ohio State starting quarterback Kyle McCord entered the transfer portal last Monday, it was very unlikely that the Buckeye football team everybody saw against Michigan would be the same team that takes the field on December 29 in the Cotton Bowl.

Opting out of bowl games has become normalized for many players leaving for the NFL, and the Buckeyes have a number of significant players who will have that decision to make.

Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz was asked about preparing for the Buckeyes when you don’t quite know who is actually going to be playing in the game.

“No, you don’t worry about it,” he said. “Coaches talk about controlling the things that they can control. We have no real control over how that’s going to play out. Each individual student-athlete has to do what’s in their own best interest. And I think we’re all recognizing that in this game, these players have a business side to it, too. So I think as coaches, we respect that. I know as players, they respect it.

“But as far as our preparation, we’re preparing to play a very good opponent. And the thing about playing a team like Ohio State is if they have a player opt out, there’s multiple players behind them that are very talented that are ready to step up.”

In other words, the overall talent and scheme are a handful in and of themselves.

“So I don’t necessarily think you can worry so much about who is playing,” he said. “You’ve got to worry and prepare for the scheme. They have tremendous coaches. Jim Knowles is one of the best defensive coordinators in college football. Coach [Ryan] Day and Coach [Brian] Hartline do a tremendous job on the offensive side of the ball. So we’re going to have our hands full with the scheme as well as the combination of players.”

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