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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Ohio State Buckeyes Week

This week is...somewhat important.

*groaning loudly as I drag myself out of bed to slather some aloe on my arms before heading to my desk to start work*

WOW I haven’t been an idiot and completely ignored my need for sunscreen in A MINUTE — I definitely don’t miss this feeling. This aloe is helping a little, I guess, but that was foolish of me to go to a mid-September game and not bring any sunscreen to protect my fair Irish skin. Woof.

Anyway, hopefully my coworkers won’t be able to tell how red I look on the video call — our laptop cameras are not exactly crystal clear, so that plus some dim Monday lighting might help. I bet they won’t be able to tell at all!

*clicks “Join Call” button*

Happy Monday, you guys! How’s everyone — yep, yeah haha I DID get some sun this weekend, Gary...thanks for noticing and calling it out to everyone!

Yeah I was at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football game on Saturday — forgot to pack sunscreen and didn’t think much of it because it was cool and kind of overcast early in the day, but by kickoff it was in the 70s and the clouds seemed to have parted to give our half of the stadium all the sun we could ever not want.

Ha! Yep, I’ll definitely be investing in some aloe after this call — gonna be a rough next few days over here. Anyway, I think we’ve got everyone on the call that will be joining today, so let’s go ahead and dive in. Can everyone see my screen?

Awesome, so per usual, it’s the typical weekly agenda here for our Project W.I.N. meetings. I think we can flip right through this...

...and also through these next couple, you guys all know what W.I.N. is all about now, you’re W.I.N. EXPERTS!

...aaaaand okay, here we go — let’s talk about last week’s results!

This past week kind of had it all, you guys. The Irish hosted a bad opponent from the MAC, whose starting QB ended up falling ill, and although ND ultimately controlled the game and won convincingly, it wasn’t without at least one half of the game making us all nervous as the Central Michigan Chippewas hung around, made way more plays than we thought they’d make, and cast a bit more doubt on how good this Notre Dame squad might actually be with how much they struggled at times.

Let’s first cover the positives, because I think we can all use a pick-me-up ASAP on this sluggish Monday morning.

First and foremost, Audric Estime has once again given us a top-notch performance, running for a career-best 176 yards while picking up 8.8 yards per carry, scoring a touchdown and hurdling multiple guys throughout his dominating performance. This was all done while the offensive line occasionally struggled to get a push and open running lanes, so that really goes to show how well Estime is playing right now.

Side note: at the game, when the PA announcer said “Audric Estime.” my fiancée thought he said “Baldrick Estevez.” Not only do I LOVE that and think it’s hilarious, but I do think I will at least half of the time now call Estime “Baldrick Estevez” or just “Baldrick” or maybe occasionally just “Baldy.” This is going to be a Bellyman situation all over again, with just me and maybe a few of my close personal friends joining me in assigning a nonsense nickname to an awesome ND RB (shout-out to Bellyman for having an awesome start to his 2nd NFL season, by the way).

Anyway, Sam Hartman also did his normal Sam Hartman things, throwing for 330 yards and 3 touchdowns while still not throwing any picks and not being sacked once, and also running for a score.

He has officially moved into a tie for 7th place all-time in career passing touchdowns in the FBS — more to come on that later. He threw multiple absolute BOMBS on the day, kicking off the scoring for the game with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Tobias Merriweather on the first drive and then hitting Chris Tyree for a 76-yard touchdown later. He also found Rico Flores Jr. and Jayden Thomas for some big plays through the air, really starting to show that vertical ability that ND hasn’t had much of since DeShone Kizer was there.

As mentioned, Merriweather finally had a bit of a breakout game, as the sophomore wideout caught 3 passes for 91 yards on the day, including that big touchdown to get the Irish going:

Tyree’s day was largely just that big TD, as he had 2 catches for 88 yards, fueled by an absolutely perfect pass from Hartman that hit him in-stride on his way to the end zone.

Flores reeled in 3 catches for 60 yards, including a nice 42-yarder, and Jayden Thomas returned to being the consistent target we know he can be, catching 4 passes for 63 yards on the afternoon.

Holden Staes also chipped in with a really fun one-handed touchdown reception on the goal line in the fourth quarter.

The offense managed to run for 236 yards at 6.4 yards per carry, and converted on both 4th down attempts they had in this one.

Defensively, it wasn’t always smooth with J.D. Bertrand out with a concussion, but Jack Kiser stepped in as a leader in the middle, wrangling himself 10 tackles to go along with one of the Irish’s two sacks in this game. Thomas Harper had the other one as part of his 4 tackles, showing again that he’s a force to be reckoned with from the nickel spot.

Xavier Watts chipped in a nice game at safety (5 tackles, 1 PD), Donovan Hinish continued to be a surprise productive contributor with 4 tackles, and guys like Jason Onye (3 tackles), Marist Liufau (2 tackles), and Benjamin Morrison (1 tackle, 1 PD) all made some plays as well. The defense as a whole held Central Michigan to just 268 total yards, including 3.9 YPC and 6.9 YPA. They also allowed the Chippewas to only convert on 3 of their 13 third down conversion opportunities.

Special teams continues to look solid, even if not the same game-changing unit it was under Brian Mason last season. Spencer Shrader hit 2 of his 3 field goals (including a 50-yarder), with his lone miss being a 59-yard attempt that honestly was just cool that Marcus Freeman let him try it at all. I think that says a lot about their confidence in his leg.

Punter Bryce McFerson deserves a quick shout-out as well — he hasn’t had to put in too much work through the first third of the season, but in his 10 punts he’s averaged 48.8 yards per punt, which is quietly a top-5 average in the country. He averaged 49 yards per punt on Saturday, with a long of 55 and a punt downed inside the 20-yardline.

Finally, the last positive I want to quickly cover with you should come as no surprise to anyone who was at the game. For anyone who wasn’t, just imagine how the crowd probably was feeling after sitting in the sun for 3 hours and watching the Irish only lead by 7 at halftime against the Chippewas, and although they were never truly in danger of losing, just being frustrating, sloppy, and not super inspiring to watch for most of this game.

Then, when everyone needed a pick-me-up the most, a true hero stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park.

That guy is a current Notre Dame student who I believe is named Obi. It could also be “Obie” and at one point I thought someone said Albie, but the consensus seems to be Obi. Anyway. this fantastic young man decided he was picking up what the in-stadium DJ was puttin’ down, ripping his shirt off while dancing on the jumbotron to a chorus of cheers and awed onlookers alike.

Like any typical media timeout jumbotron dance cam, they eventually moved to other people, but then kept coming back to Obi, as he was crushing it and the crowd responded better and better each time. Eventually, it got to the point where the crowd would boo anyone else shown on the screen, and then go nuts again when they brought Obi back. It was eerily similar to this awesome video, in fact:

Eventually, the stadium emcee interviewed him during a later break to much more applause as he got everyone all rowdy again, and then in his postgame jumbotron interview, Sam Hartman gave him a shout-out before then saying, “Show up, be early, and be rowdy!!!” as his message to Irish fans for next weekend’s game against Ohio State.

Okay, now for the negatives. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a super crisp performance by the Irish — thus we have a handful of negatives we can discuss. ND racked up a bunch more penalties in this one — 8 to be exact, totaling 72 penalty yards — and they now sit tied for 68th in the country in penalties per game (5.8) and 65th in penalty yards per game (50). That will need to be corrected throughout the rest of the year if this team wants a serious shot at making the College Football Playoff.

The offense wasn’t super efficient on 3rd down on the day, converting on just 5 of their 12 tries against a not-very-good Chippewas defense. Furthermore, although Hartman never got sacked in this one and the running game ultimately went for nearly 250 yards and ran for over 6 yards per carry, there were a number of moments and drives where the offensive line struggled to get a push and left the Irish running backs with nowhere to go. Hartman also got hit several times, coming up limping after a couple of them. Some of those could be put on Hartman for standing back there with the ball for too long, but still it wasn’t exactly an inspiring performance by what was supposed to be one of the best offensive lines in the country this season.

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Also, it might be because Baldrick Estevez was cookin’ and/or because the offensive line wasn’t always getting a great push, but the involvement of the rest of the running backs was not very prevalent, with Jadarian Price and Gi’Bran Payne and Jeremiyah Love all each getting just 3 carries. Price especially feels like a weapon they need to involve more often, even if it’s more so in the passing game — these running backs are weapons Gerad Parker needs to incorporate more against better defenses over the next month or so.

On the other side of the ball, the defensive line did NOT look very good for the most part. Rylie Mills is STILL making us wait for him to actually show up in a real way, and the Irish pass rush continues to not get home to the quarterback, with the only sacks on the day coming from a linebacker in Kiser and a nickel in Harper.

Again, I know pass rushes can still cause a lot of chaos and get the job done without getting sacks, but ND should still be sacking the likes of CMU, Tennessee State, and Navy more than they have, and although it might be acceptable against super mobile QBs, the Irish will NEED to actually get to some of the better passers they face down the stretch here.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Notre Dame at NC State Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Central Michigan was able to run for almost 4 yards per carry on the day, which isn’t wildly good but also isn’t too shabby, and their two running backs combined to run for 115 yards and a touchdown on 5.5 YPC. That same effort will lead to the Ohio State or USC running backs running ROUGHSHOD over this defense — it needs to be tightened up.

Part of that tightening up is just going to be getting J.D. Bertrand back from concussion protocol, as his absence was a major negative last week. No matter if you think he’s a great linebacker or not, he’s one of and maybe THE best ND has and he’s crucial to getting the defense aligned and executing as they should be.

Okay folks, now let’s quickly check out some fun charts and graphs to tell the story of this last week in a more fun-to-look-at fashion.

First, I just want us to check in on how good ole Baldy Estevez is doing when compared to his peers nationally, and the results are STRONG.

He’s currently second in the country in yards per game and is tied for 12th in yards per carry, which is REALLY impressive when you see that he’s absolutely crushing everyone else in the top 20 in number of rushing attempts. That alone is obviously mostly just a product of Estime having played one more game than most these guys, but the fact he’s averaging nearly the same yards-per-rush as guys who’ve had half his volume of carries just speaks to how great he’s been with the ball in his hands so far this season — only Damien Martinez of Oregon State even comes CLOSE to sniffing his level of production, and he’s still had 23 fewer carries.

While we’re talking Estime, I wanted to bring up the pace he’s currently on for single-season rushing yards.

Yes, I realize his first four games included 3 cupcakes, so it’s unlikely he can maintain this pace for the entire season. But just for fun, I took his current per-game average and extrapolated it out to 13 games, and if that were to happen, Estime would shatter Vagas Ferguson’s single-season ND rushing record by more than 250 yards. That, of course, means that Estime’s average even coming back to earth a bit against better defenses might still allow him to compete for the record, considering how he’s already more than 33% there. This dude is special and we need to cherish the next 8-10 games of him in an Irish uniform.

While we’re on the subject of all-time records, I figured it would be fun to once again see how our boy Sam is doing in his push up the leaderboard on FBS all-time passing stats.

As you can see, his 3 touchdowns on Saturday have pushed him into a tie for 7th place all-time in passing touchdowns with Landry Jones, whom you may remember as the QB who threw the pick that Manti caught as his “Heisman moment” in 2012. With 9 more, Hartman will be able to leapfrog Baker Mayfield, Colt Brennan, and Rakeem Cato into 4th place, and 12 more will put him in 3rd, hopping Graham Harrell and leaving just Kellen Moore and Case Keenum ahead of him.

When it comes to total passing yards, Hartman is currently 11th all-time, but should almost certainly pass Cato to move into the top 10 this Saturday. From there, it seems likely Hartman will work his way past Brennan, Luke Falk, Mayfield, Moore, and Detmer to make the top 5, and I’d say he has a shot to move past Harrell and maybe even Jones before the season is complete. The dude is just one of the most accomplished and productive QBs EVER, and it’s so awesome he’s spending his final ride in a gold helmet.

Finally, the last chart I want to show is the below, which plots out how both teams performed from the 8:36 mark onward after Obi did his dancing on the jumbotron and galvanized Irish nation.

As you can see, Obi’s shirtless groovin’ drove the Irish to outgain the Chippewas 104-7 down the stretch, with ND scoring a touchdown on a one-handed catch while CMU failed to even pick up a first down, let alone score any cool touchdowns.

With all the above said, let’s take the time to recognize our Team Members of the Week:

Congratulations are very much deserved and in order for Baldrick, Tobias, Chris, Rico, Jayden, Sam, Jack, Spencer, Bryce, Thomas, Xavier, Donovan, and Jason — you all truly executed the plan this week and very much earned the Dunkin gift cards we’ll email to your inboxes right after this call.

Oh, and one other special shout-out we’d like to give...

Obi has won the True GOAT of the Week award, for taking a bored, frustrated, bad-vibes crowd and whipping them into a frenzy with nothing but his bare chest, some shades, and a whole lotta natural charisma.

That kid truly put the game away for the Irish, stepping on CMU’s throats with the best moves anyone in the stadium had to offer.

Alrighty, final thing to cover before we move forward to look at this week — it’s time for Pat Rick’s Live Journal!!!

I was on-site for this one, you guys, so I have tons of thoughts I dumped onto the slide that I refuse to fully present on with you right now.

However, I just want to call out that I really hate traffic and construction, love dark beer season and tailgating with my entire family, wish I had never met the sun, want to know way more about the Bubba Duck tattoo, am enjoying the DJ and his music choices at ND Stadium, miss the Officer Tim McCarthy announcements, think Obi is a star and should be given a full scholarship, and kind of miss eating at North Dining Hall.

Okay, now let’s take a quick look at our Project Timeline to see where we are in the plan, then start to look ahead to this week’s competition.

That’s right y’all, it’s finally here — OHIO STATE WEEK BAYBEEEEE!!!

College Gameday has already announced they’re coming to South Bend to see the #6 Ohio State Buckeyes take on the #9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the second battle in this back-to-back-years home-and-home that saw the Buckeyes win 21-10 last year in Marcus Freeman’s first regular season game as head coach.

So, what should we all know about the Buckeyes as we prepare for this absolutely massive test?

I won’t read this whole overview for ya, but do have a few points I want to riff on for a bit:

  • Ryan Day’s little yearbook quote there — I tried looking it up and can’t find it anywhere, nor can I figure out who Jackson Daniels is. I thought it might be a riff off of Jack Daniels whiskey and still think that might be it, but why “Jackson”???
  • “Education for Citizenship” as your school motto is essentially meaningless, in my opinion
  • Brutus Buckeye is a terrifying abomination and is up there with Purdue Pete, the Providence Friar, and a few other mascots who’d be the scariest to make a slasher killer movie about
  • OSU can’t handle the Ivy League!!!
  • Because of their massive student body, the Buckeyes have an enormous list of notable alumni/attendees that includes just some incredible characters. You’ve got R.L. Stine, the wealthiest woman in China, the man credited for coining the term “Rock and Roll,” Patricia Heaton, the creator of Doug, Jeffrey Dahmer, Bo Schembechler, and many more.
  • I have a few personal favorites to mention, though:

— Reuben Klamer, who not only created Milton-Bradley’s The Game of Life, but also created Busy Blocks, those Fisher-Price training roller skates we all had as kids in the ‘90s, “Gaylord the Walking Dog,” and something called the Art Linkletter Spin-A-Hoop, which sounds like something Patton Oswalt’s character in Parks and Rec would love

— Henry W. Hofstetter, noted on Wikipedia as a member of the National Optometry Hall of Fame...I am now obsessed with learning more about how they vote people into that

— Erden Eruc, who was the first person to do a solo, human-powered circumnavigation of the Earth and has multiple Guinness world records for rowing a little boat across the ocean

— Ross Patterson, an actor who’s appeared as a bit character in various films, including Accepted, which will once again enable me to post an Accepted clip in my article:

— James Howard Snook, whose Wikipedia description is an absolute roller coaster: he graduated from the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and invented a surgical instrument called the “snook hook,” won a gold medal at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, and then 10 years later he was executed for murder

— Scoonie Penn, a basketball player whose name is just amazing and who was a favorite of mine back in his playing days

— John Donkin, who was the producer of a 2007 Academy Award-nominated animated short called “No Time for Nuts,” which is awesome, but who I mostly included because he reminds me of this great message I once got from an Uber driver picking me up at Dunkin:

Okay you guys, now let’s get into the important details. What are the best names this Buckeyes roster has to offer the world???

Yep, that’s a damn good list — Ryan Day and his staff clearly know what they’re doing on the Name Recruiting Trail. Steele Chambers is an all-time linebacker name, Tywone Malone is maybe the most fun name to say in the country, and then guys named Zen, Joop, Hero, Ja’Had, Inky, and Lathan Ransom are all just sensational additions.

Also, shout-out to all the ND-related names on the Ohio State roster:

  • Lorenzo Styles Jr., CB and thus Sonny Styles, S (former ND player and his brother)
  • Reid Carrico, LB (brother of former ND DL Brad Carrico)
  • Cody Simon, LB (brother of former ND LB Shayne Simon)
  • Tommy Eichenberg, LB (brother of former ND OT Liam Eichenberg)
  • Sam Hart, TE (he’s just a “man” away from being an ND QB, y’all)

Cool, now let’s turn our attention to what kinds of competitive insights we can glean from the stats and figures of the Buckeyes’ season to-date...

You guys will never believe this, but the 6th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes are a really good football team with lots of talent up and down their roster.

Yes, they lost plenty of top talent from the 2022 squad that took the Georgia Bulldogs down to the wire in the CFP semifinal, including QB C.J. Stroud (1st round pick), WR Jaxson Smith-Njigba (1st round pick), OT Paris Johnson Jr. (1st round pick), DE Zach Harrison (3rd round pick), OT Dawand Jones (4th round pick), C Luke Wypler (6th round pick), and several other key guys like DT Taron Vincent, S Ronnie Hickman, S Tanner McCallister, DT Jerron Cage, and some guy named Javontae Jean-Baptiste.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Bill Connelly had them ranked 48th in the country in returning production back in February, with 67% returning overall (57% on offense — 97th in the country — and 77% on defense, which was 20th in the country). So clearly, they’ve been replacing a lot more on offense in 2023, but considering their recruiting efforts of late and some transfer portaling (LT Josh Simmons from SDSU, CB Davison Igbinosun from Ole Miss, S Ja’Had Carter from Syracuse, etc.), they’ve reloaded to put together yet another CFP contender.

At 3-0 on the year, the Buckeyes have outscored Indiana, Youngstown State, and Western Kentucky 121-20 so far, with much of that driven by a 63-10 beatdown of the Hilltoppers last weekend. They’re ranked 1st in the latest SP+ rankings* (4th on offense, 5th on defense, 61st on special teams), and so even with some questions as to whether the massive holes have actually been filled for this year after they lost all that talent, it’s clear the Irish will be going up against a really good team.

*Pat Rick Note: Notre Dame is currently ranked 4th in SP+ (6th on offense, 7th on defense, 97th on special teams), which is the highest I can ever remember those ratings having an ND team. Not sure if the 2020, 2018, or 2017 teams ever rated that high in their best of times, but that was fun to see — this team is taking care of business so far, even if against bad competition.

Anyway, let’s start with the Buckeyes offense, which obviously had to replace a top-2 pick at QB, a first round receiver and offensive tackle, and two other NFL-caliber offensive linemen. It’s hard to know for sure with the teams they’ve played so far, but the offense looks only a little less lethal than it has the last couple years — OSU is T-20th in the country in scoring at 40.3 PPG, 24th in total offense at 474.7 YPG, and 12th in yards per play at 7.61. These guys can still move the ball downfield fast and they can score in bunches.

Kyle McCord won a QB battle over the spring/summer against Devin Brown, and so far he’s been very strong as the starter: 815 yards passing on 70% completion with 6 touchdown passes, 1 interception, and only having been sacked one time.

He’s definitely not Stroud back there, but he’s pretty accurate and has a good arm, and of course has a wildly good cast of skill players to toss to. Losing Smith-Njigba was big for OSU, but also not really, because Marvin Harrison Jr. is one of the better receivers we’ve seen at this level over the last decade or so.

The son of the Hall of Fame Indianapolis Colts wideout was a preseason 1st Team AP All-American along with his running mate Emeka Egbuka, and the two of them have impressed so far in limited action. Harrison has 14 catches for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Egbuka has 12 receptions for 167 yards and 3 scores.

After those two, OSU has several other former 5-star/top-100 guys at receiver and tight end, just in case you thought they were the only ones to worry about. WR Julian Fleming has 11 catches for 100 yards so far this season, and true freshman Carnell Tate — whom the Irish wanted badly — has flashed already in his first 3 collegiate games, reeling in 4 passes for 75 yards and a TD. TE Cade Stover is a very good college tight end as well, with 10 catches for 188 yards so far this year.

Like I mentioned above, the Buckeyes offensive line has largely done a great job protecting McCord so far. Losing Johnson, Jones, and Wypler was tough heading into this year, but both of the Buckeyes’ offensive guards (Donovan Jackson and Matt Jones) were named to preseason All-American teams, and the guys who stepped into the tackle and center spots are all either former blue-chip recruits (C Carson Hinzman, RT Josh Fryar) or experienced veteran transfers (LT Josh Simmons).

Against some admittedly not strong defenses in IU, Youngstown State, and Western Kentucky, those five have OSU sitting tied for 20th in the country in sacks allowed and tied for 12th in tackles for loss allowed, meaning no one has yet to figure out how to get consistent pressure against these guys.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

That protection, combined with McCord’s talent and the receivers he’s throwing to, have led to OSU so far ranking 17th in the nation in passing offense (318 YPG), T-18th in yards per attempt (9.9), 24th in passer rating, and T-37th in completion percentage.

That success through the air has been the major driver of OSU’s ability to pick up lots of first downs (T-36th with 23 per game) and put up some big plays (T-25th in the nation in plays of 40+ yards with 5 through 3 games), but interestingly enough they haven’t been able to translate that to consistent success on 3rd down or in the red zone. The Buckeyes are tied for 94th in the country in 3rd down conversion percentage at 36.4% — they’ve converted on a shockingly low 12 of their 33 third down opportunities — and are T-48th in red zone scoring percentage at 88.9%.

A lot of that can probably be attributed somewhat to their inability to consistently pick up gains of 10+ yards, as they rank T-63rd in that stat despite their very strong ability to put up some big plays. It also probably traces somewhat — at least in 3rd-and-short situations — to their reluctance to run the ball. Despite having several talented ball carriers all with solid YPC averages (TreVeyon Henderson has 191 yds on 6.4 YPC and 4 TDs, while backup Chip Trayanum has 133 yds and 1 TD on 7 YPC and Miyan Williams has 73 yds and 2 TDs on 4.1 YPC), Ohio State is currently T-70th in the country in rushing offense (156.7 YPG) and T-109th in rush attempts per game (30.33).

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes have been absolutely dominant against some really bad competition. Thus, it’s hard to say for sure they’re THIS good, but as of now they’re 2nd in the country in scoring (6.7 PPG), 3rd in total defense (223.7 YPG), and 2nd in yards per play allowed (3.63). They’ve only given up 2 touchdowns through 3 games, which sounds very similar to the Irish defense this year through their first 3 games.

They’re pretty balanced as well, showing a propensity for stopping both the run and the pass. They’re T-9th in the country in yards per pass attempt allowed (4.9), 8th in passer rating allowed, 33rd in completion percentage allowed, and 7th in total pass defense.

The secondary has multiple very talented cornerbacks, including Denzel Burke, who looks like he could be the next really good OSU cover

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

corner in the NFL — he’s got 4 PD, 1 INT, and 1 FF already this year. Ole Miss transfer Davison Igbinosun has been stuffing the state sheet so far in his first year with the program, picking up 14 tackles, 1 PD, and a fumble recovery. Jordan Hancock is also a really good corner (11 tackles, 1 PD, 1 FF), and so that trio should be a tough challenge for the ND receivers.

At safety, Lathan Ransom is probably the best the Buckeyes have — he was on some preseason All-American teams and has 7 tackles and a forced fumble so far this season at the “Bandit” position for Jim Knowles’ defense. Add in “Adjusters” Josh Proctor (9 tackles, 3 PD) and Ja’Had Carter and nickel Sonny Styles (8 tackles), and there’s plentiful talent in the back end for OSU. Sam Hartman’s night won’t be easy.

The good news for Hartman is that although the Buckeyes have plenty of raw talent in the front seven, Ohio State has not been very good at getting pressure/penetration yet this year, even with the bad opposition they’ve had. OSU is T-93rd in the country in sacks with just 1.67 per game, and T-73rd in tackles for loss with 5.67 per game.

DEs Jack Sawyer (10 tackles) and JT Tuimoloau (AP 2nd team preseason All-American, 7 tackles) are the names to know coming off the edge, but neither has gotten a sack yet this year.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Instead, it’s been the DT position that’s provided the stronger pressure, with Tyleik Williams (17 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR TD) and Michael Hall Jr. (4 tackles, 1 sack) standing out, and Hero Kanu contributing 5 tackles and a sack from the nose tackle spot as well. Ty Hamilton, Jaden McKenzie, and Caden Curry have all been involved in the rotation up front, too.

The Buckeyes front seven hasn’t been tested too much yet considering their opponents and how much they’ve led against them for most of those games (opponents are averaging just 33 rushing attempts per game against them), but when they have they’ve done a pretty stout job — they’re currently T-20th in the country in total rushing defense (83.33 YPG allowed) and 16th in yards per carry allowed, giving up just 2.53 yards per rush.

That effort has been led by OSU’s really talented group of linebackers, spearheaded by AP 1st team preseason All-American Tommy Eichenberg. Liam’s little brother already has 20 tackles, 1 sack, and a forced fumble this year and is excellent in run support along with Steele Chambers (19 tackles, 1 PD, 1 INT). Add in Shayne Simon’s little brother Cody (9 tackles), and the middle of the OSU defense is pretty damn good.

Syndication: Notre Dame Insider Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

OSU has thrived so far this year in preventing big plays (3rd in the country in plays of 10+ yards allowed, T-5th in plays of 20+, T-13th in plays of 30+, and T-1st in plays of 40+ with 0) and in not allowing opponents to move the chains (T-4th in first downs allowed per game at 12.3 and T-37th in 3rd down conversion % allowed at 32.6%), stifling opponents and doing a good job of taking the ball away when they can (T-12th in forced fumbles, T-30th in turnover margin, T-43rd in interceptions).

However, one area to note that OSU hasn’t been great so far this year — red zone scoring % allowed, as their opponents have scored on 100% of red zone possessions, ranking OSU T-109th in that stat. Of course, Buckeyes opponents have only made it into the red zone 3 times, but they’ve managed to score 2 TDs and 1 FG in those three trips.

Finally, OSU’s special teams seems fine but nothing to write home about. K Jayden Fielding is in his first season kicking for the Buckeyes and has made 16-of-16 extra points and all 3 of his field goal attempts, but two of those were from 20-29 yards and the long was from 40 yards. P Jesse Mirco is averaging 43.7 yards per punt with a long of 56 on the year, so he’s competent but not exactly a game-changer there.

Okay folks, I know we’re coming up on time here and several of you have a hard stop, so let’s quickly fly through What’s Important Now as we all prep for potentially the biggest game of the 2023 season for our beloved Fighting Irish.

Some of these may sound like a broken record and some may seem obvious or even too simplistic, but these are the 6 things I believe the Irish need to focus on if they want to score this massive September victory:

1. Start fast and set the tone RIGHT AWAY. The first quarter of this one needs to be like Clemson last year, with the Irish coming out physical and making a big play or two to get the home crowd going and to keep the OSU crowd tame. The beginnings of NC State and Central Michigan CANNOT be the baseline for this team when they play opponents like this. Punch them in the mouth and control this one from start to finish.

2. Feed Estime and don’t be afraid to give Price and Love some touches too. The offensive line needs to bring it way more than they have been for this game, but if they do, this stable of running backs led by Estime is BUILT to crush a team like this with fresh legs, broken tackles, etc. Just remember what Michigan has done to the Buckeyes two years in a row with guys like Corum and Edwards. The Irish can do that too — Estime is the Prince Who Was Promised when it comes to Jerome Bettis heirs apparent and thus he should be the bell cow getting 20-25 carries, but Jadarian and Jeremiyah bring something a little different and have the wiggle/speed to potentially rip off some major gains to drive success.

3. Take a few shots deep, especially in the first half. Gerad Parker will want to stretch the defense and keep them from selling out to stop the run, so Merriweather and Tyree and maybe Greathouse all should be sent deep a few times to soften things up up front. This is a talented OSU secondary so Hartman needs to be careful, but they also haven’t been tested this year, their defensive line hasn’t shown a particular tendency to get a great pass rush, and Hartman has shown the ability to toss some beautiful deep balls. Give it a go, hit on one or two of these early, and reap the rewards the rest of the game.

4. Bring the heat and actually get some hits on Kyle McCord. He’s not a running QB and his WRs WILL get open with enough time (and sometimes even without much time — Harrison and Egbuka are sensational wideouts, y’all), no matter how well B-Mo and Hart and co. are covering. Botelho, JJB, Burnham, etc. HAVE to get to the QB, and it would be nice if Rylie Mills finally arrived. This is maybe my biggest worry for this game, because the ND d-line needs to take their game to another level and play like madmen if they intend on slowing this offense down.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 09 Notre Dame at NC State Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

5. Keep the Buckeye skill guys in front of you and don’t miss tackles. OSU has blue chip talent and excellent speed all over their depth chart, and can crush you quickly if allowed to burn you for big plays. Corral them in space with sure-tackling and swarming team efforts and make them earn every drive and every score. The Irish have been a bit sloppy recently, but hopefully they will come into this one more focused and pumped-up to execute than they were against a bad Central Michigan squad.

6. Have your mind right from wire-to-wire. The penalties and other mental mistakes need to be flushed from the system after a couple sloppy weeks, and the team needs to come in jacked-up but focused and ready to execute, and able to respond to adversity by keeping it together and rising to the occasion rather than having it snowball and collapsing in their first big game of the season. ND can win this game, no doubt, but will need to have the right mindset to do so.

Oh, and one more thing...

BONUS THING THAT IS IMPORTANT NOW: MORE SHIRTLESS OBI, BAYBEE!!!! His dancing is now the stuff of legend, and his ability to get the crowd going is unmatched. Make some early plays, show Obi on the jumbotron, and watch the stadium explode as the Irish take off for a massive win over Marcus Freeman’s alma mater.

It. Doesn’t. Have. To. Be. Close.

Any questions?!?

I figured as much. Well folks, per usual, please check your emails after the call, as I will be sending the link to this deck. Otherwise, have a great rest of your week and let’s go beat those damn Buckeyes this weekend, y’all!

*clicks “End Call” button*

Cool, now I have 4.5 days of pretending to work while just reading message boards and sports news articles — no better time of year!!!