Congratulations Ohio State, you’ve found the golden ticket! At face value, you might associate that with being a good thing, right? I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that we’ve all seen the 1971 hit Gene Wilder movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Perhaps your recollection of the movie is different than mine but getting that golden ticket, for 80% of the holders, was at worst a death sentence, and at best, horrible disfigurement. It was a curse not unlike being subjected to the 2005 remake.
The discourse centered around this game is that Ohio State is the beneficiary of an easy ranked win, at the time of writing this they are a 17.5 point favorite. How might the lowly Irish of Notre Dame stay on the field with the mighty Buckeyes? Have you seen their wide receiver room? CJ Stroud is the odds on Heisman favorite. Throw in TreVeyon Henderson and Ohio State is coming into this game with 3 Heisman candidates, that’s the narrative anyway. If only it were that simple, poor Charlie Weis would have not been let go after the 2009 season. Charlie Bucket’s grandpa, that rat bastard, may as well stay in bed for this one given all the talk leading up to this game.
ND finds their ticket
So what leads me to believe Notre Dame is going not only keep this game close but pull off the upset? Simple, I don’t fully buy into the hype. Did I watch a different Ohio State team than all the pundits did last year? Did they not lose two games with two first round picks at the wide receiver position? Was their defense not so mediocre that Ryan Day decided to sack the entire staff on that side of the ball in the offseason? The pundits are ballooning up CJ Stroud like Violet Beauregarde, in part because he threw for 6TDs and 450 yards against a Michigan State secondary that ranked DEAD LAST in college football last year.
Notre Dame on Offense
Notre Dame is going to need to rush for over 200 yards in this game. Five of Ohio State’s last eight losses have come in games where they have surrendered 200+. There were four games last year where the Buckeyes struggled. In the opener against a Minnesota team that lost to Bowling Green, the Golden Gophers lead for a majority of the game. Things were looking good for the Gophers until midway through the 3rd quarter when Garrett Wilson caught a 56 yard pass for a TD to put the Buckeyes up and the following position the Buckeyes returned a fumble for a TD, leading to the flood gates opening up. In the game the Gophers rushed for 203 yards. The next week, CJ Verdell ran for 161 of Oregon’s 269 total rushing yards enroute to a 35-28 defeat of the Buckeyes. Against Michigan, Ohio State saw Wolverines have their way with them on the ground to the tune of 297 yards and were run out of Ann Arbor 45-27. Finally in the bowl game, the Buckeyes held on 48-45 but not before surrendering 226 to the Utes of Utah. All this is to say Notre Dame is going to need to slow the game down like Augustus Gloop getting stuck in the chocolate pipe.
There is very little we have been given from the staff as far as what the Notre Dame offense plans to do this season. The two things that we know is that the offensive line is going to be the best that it has been since the 2017 season and the other is that the running backs, complemented by Buchner’s rushing ability, should be able to run on just about anyone this season. This bodes very well for Notre Dame’s ability to hit that 200 yard mark. We all know that “defensive guru” Jim Knowles has taken over duties as the defensive coordinator, which means they should have a better defense, what does that mean for the opener though? Okie State had the 112th ranked total defense his first year, 82nd his second, 44th his 3rd and 4th in his 4th. This new system SHOULD take time to implement, at the very least it won’t be in game one.
Notre Dame on Defense
Offensively there shouldn’t be much to say, Ohio State is like a trip to the bathroom after Taco Bell fourth meal, explosive and dangerous. That said, they still lost two games last season and failed to eclipse 30 points in both affairs. The point total is important to note because Ohio State is 170-2 this century in games where they have scored 30+ and have lost just four times total since 1906. In fact, if the Buckeyes scored 35 points, they have never, in their programs history, lost the game. Justin Frye takes over duties as their new offensive line coach and Paris Johnson Jr will be making his first collegiate start left tackle, as are both guards.
A lot is made of the receivers who took up the mantel for Garett Wilson and Chris Olave, who skipped the bowl game. While on it’s face, Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s 347yd performance against Utah should be lauded, it bears mention that Utah was starting their backup running back(not a typo) Micah Bernard at cornerback, who was torched like a witch at the stake. I’m not suggesting Notre Dame is going to shut down Jaxon Smith-Njigba or Ohio State’s stable of wide receivers, they are going to get what is there's. The key is keeping things between the 20s and forcing Ohio State to convert on third down and in the red zone. There were three contests last year that Ohio State failed to reach the thirty point mark; Oregon, Nebraska and Michigan. It’s no coincidence that those games were the three highest number of third down attempts the Buckeyes had all season. It’s also of note that the Buckeye receivers DID get there’s in those games as well. Jaxon Smith-Njigba went for 240yds receiving in a game they scored 26 against Nebraska, three receivers went for over 100 in the Oregon game and Olave was just 12 yds short of repeating the three for 100 against Michigan. There’s a formula, it exists, and I think the Irish have the tools to do it. I’m looking to Isaiah Foskey vs Paris Johnson Jr on third down. I’m looking to Jayson Ademilola, Howard Cross and JD Bertrand to test those new Ohio State guards on short yardage carries. Shrink the field and limit their receivers ability to make splash plays.
I’ve outlined the things Notre Dame is going to need to do to win this game. Run the ball and keep the Ohio State offense between the 20s. Those are the things that Notre Dame is going to need to do to keep the game close. To win, Tyler Buchner is going to need to announce his arrival to the world of college football. Will Tyler rise to the challenge to answer an Ohio State score? He’s the biggest unknown going into this game and I believe this is by design. I think the staff is supremely confident is what they have in Buchner and that’s why things have been kept so close to the vest. With weapons like Michael Mayer, Lorenzo Styles and Braden Lenzy, Buchner is going to shock the world. Accented by the rushing talents of Audric Estime and Chris Tyree, I expect the Notre Dame offense to be efficient in the red zone and the defense is going to hold steady and force multiple field goals from the Buckeyes. I hope Ohio State enjoyed the chocolate that came with their golden ticket because their reward on Saturday night won’t be as sweet. Notre Dame 31 - Ohio State 27.