Trailing Wisconsin 14-0 midway through the second quarter and faced with a fourth-and-nine from their own 26-yard line, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day sent punter Drue Chrisman out onto the field, presumably to send the ball back to the Badgers, and possibly allowing them to add to their already-double-digit lead.
Rather than punt it away, however, Chrisman took the snap from long-snapper Liam McCullough and threw the ball to tight end Luke Farrell, who caught it with a defender closing in on him, picking up 21 yards and the first down.
The play sparked the Buckeyes, who ended up driving the ball down to the Wisconsin 7-yard line before quarterback Justin Fields fumbled it away on third-and-goal.
Ohio State didn’t score on the play, but it woke the team up a bit and let them know that their head coach wasn’t going to just sit back and watch the Big Ten Championship leave with Badgers.
For that reason alone, it was a good call.
But it was also a good call for another reason.
“Because it worked,” Day laughed. “If it didn’t work, it wasn’t a good call. I just felt like we needed a spark. [Special teams coordinator] Matt Barnes had come up to me earlier in the week and said, ‘we might have something here,’ kind of showed why on film, and I thought it was well-thought-out, and at that point we needed a little something.
“Although it didn’t turn into points, I thought it gave us a little jolt in that game, and also the feeling, ‘hey, listen, I know we’re on a big stage but we’re going to be aggressive.’ You can’t be afraid to be bold. I told the guys to be bold in that game, and that was an example of it.”
Being bold is a message that the players love.
Having an aggressive attitude at a critical moment in a game shows the one thing every player wants from his coach.
“I feel like he trusts us,” said receiver KJ Hill. “At that time we were down and we really needed that. It shows he’s got a lot of balls. We can get behind him because we know he’s going to lead us the right way. He’s not timid. None of that. We love a coach like that.”
Even though Hill is a fan of the aggression, it still caught him off guard.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know about it,” he said. “I sat down and we were talking about what just happened on the offensive side, then we heard the crowd yelling and then it was ‘Offense, let’s go!’ So I really didn’t get to see it. Me and Ben [Victor] were talking about what coverage we were in. There wasn’t even any time to watch the replay. I didn’t even get to see it.”
One player who did get to see it — while he wasn’t praying — is fellow receiver Austin Mack, who was in on the play as a gunner.
“Oh man, that was sweet,” Mack said of Chrisman’s throw. “I was actually nervous as hell. I was the gunner on the other side. I was praying to God that it was going to be open.”
Hill wasn’t the only player caught off guard. Quarterback Justin Fields didn’t even know it was in the playbook.
“I’ve never seen that,” Fields said. “I’ve never seen that throw in practice. I’ve never seen that play in practice. I was sitting on the bench and I saw that, that was crazy.”
What does it say about a coach who will dial up a play like that in such a critical moment?
“He’s got balls,” Fields said. “He’s definitely got faith in our team, so that shows you how much trust he has in the players.”
Talking about the play after the game, Mack was as adamant as his teammates that Day made the right call and that it meant a lot to them that he trusted them to make it happen.
“In a situation like that, we just need a spark,” Mack said. “We need momentum. I’m just glad he has the confidence in us to be able to execute. It was sweet.”