Ohio State and Clemson hold a remarkable place in each other’s history, given the fact that they’ve only met four times before.
The most legendary coach in the Buckeyes’ history coached his last game against the Tigers. Woody Hayes was fired after punching Clemson LB Charlie Baumann in the closing moments of the 1978 Gator Bowl.
Ohio State has scored 35 points or more 342 times in program history. Their record in those games is 340-1-1. The only loss came in the 2014 Orange Bowl against Clemson, 40-35.
The teams’ next meeting came in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, a semifinal game in the College Football Playoff. It was another night filled with the bad kind of history for the Buckeyes. Clemson won, 31-0. It was the first time Ohio State was held scoreless in 17 years, and the first time they were shut out in a bowl game since 1921.
But that game also directly led to the team’s current run of success. After watching his offense put up a measly 215 yards on the night, including exactly 3.8 yards per rush and 3.8 yards per pass. They were 3-for-17 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down.
It was a stunning humiliation for Urban Meyer, the first any of time his teams had been shut out in his head coaching career. After the game, Meyer made it clear that changes were on the way.
“I’m not used to it. We’re not used it. It’s not going to happen again,” Meyer said after the game.
Three days later, co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck departed for a coordinator position at Texas. A week after that, offensive coordinator Ed Warinner announced a face-saving move to Minnesota as their new offensive line coach.
The same day that Beck packed his bags for Austin, Meyer announced his replacement. It was a little-known former FCS quarterback and NFL position coach named Ryan Day. He had no ties to the midwest, let alone the state of Ohio. The closest he had lived to Columbus was Philadelphia, where he had been an assistant for Temple, and also the NFL’s Eagles.
“I was with the 49ers at the time and had a few conversations with Coach (Meyer) and jumped at the opportunity to come to Ohio State, not knowing exactly what was in store,” Day said earlier this week.
The impact on the Buckeyes’ offense was immediate and obvious. The team had scored 17, 17, and 0 in its previous three games. Since Day’s arrival, they have scored 20+ points in 47 of their 48 games, with just the second game of his time in Columbus (2017 vs. Oklahoma) the only exception.
The Buckeyes had averaged 35.7 points per game in 2015 and 39.4 per game in 2016.
After Day’s arrival, those numbers have continued to climb, from 41.1 to 42.4 to 46.9 in 2019. This year, without non-conference patsies to pad the numbers, it trailed off slightly to 42.5 per game, but even that was better than either of the Beck/Warinner seasons.
But Day ascended on the Buckeyes’ organizational chart even more quickly than his offenses moved up the statistical rankings.
Just under 19 months after he was introduced as Ohio State’s new quarterbacks coach, Day was named the program’s interim head coach when Urban Meyer was placed on administrative leave.
Then, four months later, Meyer announced his retirement and OSU introduced Day as its new Head-Coach-In-Waiting.
One day shy of two years after he was officially hired, Day removed the “in-waiting” from his job title and officially became the 24th head coach in Ohio State history.
“Certainly didn’t in my wildest dreams think I would be sitting where I am right now, but I guess that’s college football,” Day said this week.
“Sometimes I wake up and just have to pinch yourself a little bit because it wasn’t that long ago that we never would have thought of being in a situation like this.”
Day is 22-1 as the Buckeyes’ head coach. The only loss came against, who else? Clemson in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl.
Now, one day shy of two years after he took over the head coaching position, Day has another chance to win his first College Football Playoff game. It will come against the program indirectly responsible for his arrival in Columbus in the first place.
Of course, it will come against Clemson. For the Buckeyes, for some reason it always does.