It’s officially a top 5 showdown in Columbus between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Ohio State Buckeyes. The heavily favored Buckeyes return one of the Heisman favorites and projected top 5 pick with quarterback CJ Stroud. Marcus Freeman’s defense will face a significant challenge on the road and will need a complete team effort from the secondary and especially the front seven to knock off the #2 team in the country.
Notre Dame adds Brandon Joseph
The Irish secondary lost a once-in-a-generation player in Kyle Hamilton to the Baltimore Ravens. However, Marcus Freeman was able to add perhaps the best returning safety in the country, Brandon Joseph. The former Northwestern Wildcat is already a pre-season All-American and has had success against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game.
Although the Notre Dame Defense does add Joseph, they will be burdened with slowing down Ryan Day’s passing attack. Even when Oregon and Michigan beat the Buckeyes last year, they did not stop the passing attack, but the teams were able to hold Ohio State to under 30 points.
Notre Dame Projected Secondary
Cam Hart and Clarence Lewis are the anticipated starting cornerbacks. While DJ Brown, Houston Griffith, and Ramon Henderson are battling for the other safety position alongside Brandon Joseph. Unfortunately, the Irish did not fare well in their last outing in the Fiesta Bowl. Without superstar Kyle Hamilton, the defense surrendered 371 passing yards, four touchdowns, and 0 interceptions to a previously mediocre Spencer Sanders.
But for most of the season, the secondary played well against quality teams like Purdue, Wisconsin, USC, and even Cincinnati (the Irish Defense was not the reason for the loss to the Bearcats).
This group will face perhaps the best passing attack in the country in week one. They must force Ohio State to have methodical drives down the field. If the Irish secondary gives up big plays early, it could turn into a Michigan State type game that we saw in Columbus last fall, where the Spartans got torched.
Ohio State Passing Attack
Heisman candidate CJ Stroud leads the Buckeye passing game. Last fall, in only his first season as the starting quarterback, Stroud went 317 for 441 (72%) with 4,435 passing yards, 44 passing touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. In the final two games of the year, the Ohio State Quarterback had 394 passing yards against Michigan and 573 yards in a Rose Bowl victory over Utah.
CJ Stroud is known for his passing, and he is not an elite running quarterback. Last year, he had 32 attempts for -20 rushing yards and no rushing touchdowns (the 13 sacks he took last year are included). But Ohio State has the most talented wide receivers in the country, and staying in the pocket helps to create high-yardage plays for the Buckeyes.
Notre Dame must limit the “one-play” touchdown drives. It sounds obvious, but with the question marks on the offensive side of the football, the Irish must turn this into a physical game. Are the odds against the Irish? Yes, but there is no reason Notre Dame cannot pull off the upset.
Last year, Michigan State beat Michigan on October 30th, and three weeks later, they lost to Ohio State by 49 points. The same Ohio State Buckeye team that destroyed the Spartans ended up losing on the road to Michigan just a week after by 15-points. Long story short, anything can happen in college football.
Now, this does not insinuate I am projecting a Notre Dame victory, and the Fighting Irish will not be playing at Notre Dame Stadium. But if Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines can pull off the upset, then there is no reason Marcus Freeman’s group does not have an opportunity in week one.