Who: Notre Dame at Ohio State
Where: Columbus, Ohio
When: Tuesday, March 25th at 4pm ET (Fox College Sports TV Coverage)
Analysis: In lacrosse, it can take time for a coach to really realize what he has with his team. From that, the coach can then build an identity with those cornerstones. For Notre Dame, the Irish have historically been a team built around a stout defense. Teams know that when they face the Irish, they are facing an elite group of longsticks. That is the identity of the team. That is the cornerstone.
Yet, there are exceptions to the rule.
One of those is the Ohio State Buckeyes, who at 2-5 on the season, are at a crossroads already and are yet to really establish an identity that you can pinpoint as a core of the team.
With Denver bidding adieu to the ECAC and heading to the Big East, all expectations on Ohio State began and ended with "conference champion" and while the Buckeyes are currently tied for the ECAC conference lead (they're 1-0 along with Michigan and Air Force), things are not looking that promising.
The Buckeyes began the season with a heartbreaking 3-Overtime loss to Johns Hopkins, followed by an overtime loss to UMass in the second game of the Moe's Southwest Grill Lacrosse Classic in Jacksonville. Notre Dame beat Jacksonville in the first game. An 11-8 win over Marquette righted the ship but then the Buckeyes dropped three straight games to Penn State, Hofstra and Denver before winning this past week against Bellarmine.
Offensively, Ohio State has ran the gauntlet with personnel. Head Coach Nick Myers has used three different combinations at attack and four different combinations in the midfield, trying to find something that works. On attack, he has built a core around Carter Brown and Turner Evans. Brown (9g, 9a), a lanky Attack from Maryland and Evans (7g, 12a), a Canadian attackman listed as a middie on the Ohio State official roster, make up the centerpiece of the Buckeyes attack unit. Yet, at 7-games in, they only have 16 goals between them. Consider for a second that Matt Kavanagh for Notre Dame, at 5-games in, already has 13 goals by himself. The third attackman appears to have settled with Reegan Comeault (7g, 7a) though both Gordie Koerber (1g, 2a) and Adam Trombley (5g, 0a) have seen starts this season.
At midfield, the Buckeyes sport one of the top midfielders in the country in Jesse King. The 6'3, 200-pound Canadian Junior is Ohio State's goals and points leader. Second on the team in goals is David Planning, the other piece of the Buckeye's first line.
The problem with Ohio State's lack of identity resides in the same issues that they have with their attack unit. Like the attack unit, Ohio State has rotated a third player with Planning and King. Comeault began the season at midfield before moving to attack, and Nick Myers has used Charlie Schnider (1g, 1a) and John Kelly (1g, 2a) as the third member of the first line. King did not play against Bellarmine so Ohio State used the services of J.T. Blubaugh (3g, 0a) on the first line.
Without that consistency, the offensive results have been muted. The Buckeyes have scored no higher than 11 goals on the season and only managed 5 goals apiece in two losses to Denver and Hofstra.
Defensively, the Buckeyes have consistency though. The trio of Robby Haus, Joe Meurer and Luke Howard have started every game. They're not the greatest unit the Irish will face, but they are sound and play well together. Goalie Greg Dutton was a presumed all-american candidate, but is having a rough go of it this season and didn't see any action against Bellarmine, as Freshman Nick Doyle started in his place.
To win, the Irish will have to rely on their strengths, and that begins and ends with Liam O'Connor. The nation-leading faceoff specialist stands to have another really strong outing, as the Buckeyes' best shot at stopping him is either Jake Withers (48-91, .527) or Spencer Matches (6-14, .429) or took the majority of faceoffs against Bellarmine. Either one looks ripe for O'Connor.
After O'Connor gets the faceoff, the Irish will need to create scoring opportunities. If Dutton plays, he is a stalwart veteran, but it still letting in 9-goals per game. The chances will be there. If Doyle plays, the Irish will need to take advantage of the youth in net.
The concern that I have with this game is the Ohio State midfield unit. Unlike many of the top teams in the country (including Notre Dame), Ohio State relies on its midfielders to get the points instead of the attack. Almost every play will run through Jesse King, though again, he didn't play against Bellarmine last week. They are a team that will not run iso-plays and will pass and move well off-ball. With 59 goals and 44 assists total on the season, the team certainly is balanced on offense (in comparison, the Irish have 62 goals and 27 assists).
If King plays, I wouldn't be surprised to see an Irish LSM on him. I'm not sure if I am Irish defensive coach Gerry Byrne that I put O'Hara on King but I certainly would avoid-at-all-costs seeing King matched up with a short-stick. I think the Irish will likely put O'Hara on Evans and Buglione on Brown and utilize LSM's Ryan Smith and Henry Williams to neutralize King if he plays.
Ohio State is a pretty thin team as well. Whereas Kevin Corrigan will play between 25-27 players on average during a game, Myers will only play 22-25 guys for Ohio State. That means three things. One, he is probably relying heavily on his top two lines of middies. Two, he isn't subbing at all on defense or LSM and three, tired legs late in the game.
This again is a game that could go either way. Ohio State is just coming off a crucial and much needed conference win at home. The Irish are fresh off a demolishing of the #5 team in the nation and are well-rested after a long week. If O'Connor gets going in the faceoff circle and the Irish get some quick scores, this could be ugly. But if the Buckeyes are able to take advantage of Notre Dame's suspect-midfield defense, then we could be in for an interesting Tuesday afternoon.