Notre Dame went into this game against the #2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes as 17 point underdogs and lost by 11. While I’m not much of a moral victory type of guy at this point with Notre Dame, those general numbers would normally suggest that the better team won, and Notre Dame put up a valiant fight.
But did they?
Notre Dame had a lead late in the 3rd quarter, but in similar fashion as to what happened in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State — the Irish offense did next to nothing to push to win the game.
Much was expected of the freshman quarterback in his first-ever start, and while he didn’t blow the stat sheet up, he had some very good moments. At one point, Tyler Buchner was 8-8 for 128 yards. He followed that up with 5 straight incompletions and a final stat line of 10-18 for 177 yards. Buchner was 2-8 passing the ball in the second half. That’s a horrible half; but the lack of protection along the offensive line, an anemic run game, and questionable play-calling didn’t do the numbers any favors.
I will say this though... Tyler Buchner didn’t flinch. He didn’t commit any turnovers and played hard and (mostly) smart throughout the game. This is Notre Dame’s quarterback, and he will be allowed to develop from this game until he meets another good defense in Clemson. How much he improves from now to then will determine what kind of season Notre Dame has this year.
There was a general understanding before the game was played that the Irish should use the running game to play ball control and help keep the powerful Buckeye offense on the sideline. It’s a solid gameplan, and oddly enough, it was working for Notre Dame for about two quarters.
The thing is though... at some point you have to get a little more creative. Notre Dame was 3-13 on 3rd down, and as bad as that stat is, it’s not as bad as 21 plays for 88 yards total in the second half (10:20 TOP). Quarterback draws on 3rd and 18 and running into a wall three straight plays doesn’t get the job done against anyone. Ohio State’s defense was incredibly fast, but the playcalling as a whole was pure vanilla ice cream.
Notre Dame never changed gears, and because they couldn’t manufacture a few more first downs, there was never any flow to the playcalling.
It worked until it didn’t — and by then it was too late.
The big play was all that Notre Dame had in this game. Of the 177 passing yards, 156 of them came on plays of 15+ yards. The Irish even averaged 17.7 yards per completion. Their inability to use the middle of the field to help keep the chains moving was a huge problem.
Jon Sot had a couple of short punts that got semi-friendly bounces, but overall he had a good night. Sot averaged 46.2 yards a punt with 8 chances.
He was fine.
SOLID DEFENSIVE EFFORT
Ohio State was supposed to be the best offense in college football this year, and maybe they still are after tonight. Notre Dame gave up two long drives in the second half that resulted in Buckeye TD’s — but this was not the greatest show on turf out on display. Notre Dame’s physicality helped knock out Jaxon Smith-Njigba, which led to a lot of confusion by the Buckeye offense and C.J. Stroud throughout the game.
Al Golden shouldn’t have called the double safety blitz in the redzone that led to the 3rd quarter TD, but ultimately, the defense didn’t get enough help from its offense. This led to the final dagger with the third Buckeye TD drive as the OSU running game was pouring it on with physical runs up the gut.
OFFENSIVE LINE WOES
What ultimately hurt Notre Dame the most in this game was what was supposed to be one of the team’s biggest strengths. The offensive line was battered inside, and even though a lot of that was due to the loss of Jarrett Patterson to injury, the results were brutal for the interior players. It caused pressure on Buchner passing, and killed Notre Dame’s attempt to establish a consistent running game. 30 rushing attempts for 76 yards (96 sack adjusted) just isn’t going to get the job done in a game like this — unless you are passing for close to 300 yards (which they did not).
HATS OFF TO THE SECONDARY
Cam Hart took a few lumps early on in the game, but overall I thought Notre Dame’s cornerbacks and safety Brandon Joseph played quite well. TaRiq Bracy was feisty in the secondary, and freshman Benjamin Morrison played surprisingly well with 3 tackles and a pass break-up. Everyone’s favorite scapegoat, Clarence Lewis, led the team with 7 tackles and also had a pass breakup.
A LOT MORE
There’s a lot more to discuss about this game, but because of just how conservative it was played, it’s actually quite difficult. Is this really the Notre Dame team we will see come November, or are we just scratching the surface? There are no easy answers — if there are any answers at all. Still... we will try and do our best to find some answers (or at least some reasons) over the next few days.