No. 2 In a thrilling season opener, Ohio State overcame subpar performance and an injury to one of their key players, fought back, and ultimately defeated No. 5 Notre Dame 21-10. The Ohio State offence pulled together its finest drive of the game late in the game as star quarterback C.J. Stroud completed 24 of 34 passes for 223 yards and two scores. The Buckeyes were down at the half and into the third quarter.
The 10-play, 70-yard drive that culminated in a Xavier Johnson to Stroud 24-yard touchdown throw seemed to rouse the Buckeyes and the 100,000 spectators at Ohio Stadium. They had one last chance to applaud, though, as Ohio State immediately launched an even greater drive that covered 95 yards in only 14 plays and effectively ended the game.
The Ohio State Buckeyes struggled to find an offensive rhythm after losing top receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba to a leg injury in the first quarter, but Emeka Egbuka and running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams stepped up to cover the hole.
The Fighting Irish offence had a promising opening play of the game, gaining 54 yards, but it only gained 199 yards for the remainder of the contest. Although Tyler Buchner (177 passing yards, 18 running yards) made some plays, Notre Dame was never able to maintain consistency against an Ohio State defence that played with fury.
Mike Hall added another sack and two tackles for loss, and Tommy Eichenberg ended with two sacks for Ohio State. The Buckeyes were able to avoid being the first top two team to lose its season opener since No. 1 Miami lost to BYU to start the 1990 season thanks to their second-half comeback.
Let’s examine the main lessons learned from Ohio State’s significant Week 1 victory over Notre Dame.
Ohio State’s defense won the game
There were concerns over Ohio State’s performance in Jim Knowles’ inaugural contest as the defensive coordinator. Early results are quite encouraging. The only reason the Buckeyes were able to win with relative ease was because their defence repeatedly stopped a woeful offence. The Buckeyes prevented Notre Dame from stringing together substantial drives, despite the fact that the Irish sometimes made a spectacular play through the air. It appeared to be an entirely different squad from the one that enabled opponents to take the ball down the field in important situations much too frequently last season.
The pressure was the biggest difference. Knowles tossed Buchner, who was inexperienced, a variety of masks. All of it, including blitzes, tricks, and pass-rushers diving into coverage like Zach Harrison, was done to make Buchner uncertain of where to take the ball, and it mostly succeeded. The Buckeyes limited Notre Dame to 5.3 yards per play by finishing with six tackles for loss and three sacks. More significantly, it kept the Irish in third-and-long situations the whole night, allowing them to convert only 3 of 13 third downs. This prevented the Irish from continuing drives and gave the Buckeyes offence more time to adjust.
Ohio State’s wide receiver depth is an issue
Who would have imagined we would be saying that? The top receiving group in the nation is supposed to be at Ohio State, but Smith-Njigba missed the rest of the game after suffering an unknown leg injury during the team’s opening series. Already injured was Julian Fleming. The fact that the Buckeyes were forced to play with so many inexperienced receivers was evident. The scheduling with Stroud was off, and there was a misunderstanding about where they were intended to be on the routes.
Even though, the second half saw an improvement, with Egbuka emerging as the most dependable target. In total, Egbuka had nine catches for 90 yards and a score. Johnson only caught two receptions, but his 24-yard touchdown reception from Marvin Harrison Jr. sealed the victory. Harrison Jr. grabbed five catches for 56 yards. In the end, Stroud completed passes to six receivers that night, with the exception of Smith-Njigba (two receptions, 3 yards).