Well that was a start to the 2022 season.
The Buckeyes ended up defeating the Irish 21-10 in the Week 1 season opener for both squads. Expectations were all over the place in the lead-up to Saturday night’s game and I feel comfortable saying that everyone walked away with much more conservative takes about the performance during the game as well as what the season may look like for each team through the remainder of their seasons.
The conservatism that’s running through a lot of the takes (the ones that are at least somewhat based in reality) was initially surprising to me. After sitting with it all, though, I realized that most of that surprise was not necessarily into the fan/media coverage but mostly the 17.5-point spread. Notre Dame covered that spread (something that a big number of folks are undoubtedly crying about over there Sunday morning coffee) and I think that everybody can come to consensus that we could and should’ve taken those odds less seriously. Despite all of the historical hoopla about ND football being overrated, particularly going into big games and this year’s AP preseason rankings in particular, there were a lot of valid reasons that the anticipated performance gap between the two top 5 ranked teams was slightly exaggerated.
What the game ultimately turned out to be was what should be expected from two high quality teams meeting each other for season openers. The play on the field wasn’t as explosive as some of Week 1’s other contests (most of which had much more apparent matchup holes). For ND fans, I’d say that was welcome because a particularly exciting game likely wouldn’t have bode well for our nerves, furniture, walls, etc. I’m sure that OSU fans went in expecting more fireworks but aren’t mad that they ended up getting exchanged for a season opener upset. What both fan bases and the media did get, though, was some really solid looks at the two team’s strengths, weaknesses and potential going into what’s almost undoubtedly going to be a great college football season.
We got a chance to see what Marcus Freeman and the 2022 model of the ND football program is made of and I’d say there’s a lot to be excited about. And to my nerdy joy, we’ve finally got some real data to work with.
Bright Spots: Defense and Special Teams
Throughout the game, the defense shone. The unit displayed a level discipline and technicality in the areas of coverage and tackling that a lot of younger ND fans haven’t been used to. It was really nice to see Buckeyes still get taken down consistently in open field, 1:1 tackles even late into the fourth quarter.
Special teams also reliably delivered, with the punt team in particular dropping deep kicks and causing the Ohio State offense to work for the points that it did earn. Turnovers were a non-factor for both squads although penalties did cause some setbacks, with Ohio State taking the brunt of the penalty yardage hits.
Mixed Bag: Offense
The offensive unit looked a lot like it was their first game of the season. Throughout the matchup, the Irish offensive line struggled with communications and containing the Buckeye defense.
Tyler Buckner was on the receiving end of seventy-five percent of the game’s total sacks. The ND rushing attack, with Buchner playing a notable role, pulled together a pretty decent enough game even with those struggles considered.
The biggest challenge for ND on the offensive side turned out to be moving the ball through the air. During the early part of the game, Buchner was lights out passing. At one point he was 8-8, even though those completions didn’t result in a bunch of yards. During the second half the incompletions started to tally up and the air attack all but stalled out.
The Irish’s inability to put up points via the run or passing games, coupled with the turnover drought were some of the main factors that resulted in Ohio State being able to exert its will a bit more running the ball and ultimately securing the win. The Buckeyes delivered two touchdown drives late in the game with the 95 yard, seven minute drive in the 4th quarter standing out a lot.
There’s a lot more being said and left to be said but I’m feeling very optimistic about the stability of the team, if nothing else. While all the cylinders weren’t consistently firing, there wasn’t any particular aspect or unit that completely fell apart. Given the tough matchup, an away season opener in front of 106,000 fans and a coaching staff that’s still trying to figure itself out, I’m content. This Sunday morning didn’t turn out to be quite the celebration I had started to envision going into halftime but I can’t help but find some solace in the fact that the Irish haven’t provided be a ton of ammo to yell about going into Labor Day.