Notre Dame went into Columbus on Saturday night, and for 45 minutes, it looked like the Irish might just pull off a massive upset. But instead, the 2nd ranked Buckeyes dominated the fourth quarter en route to a 21-10 victory over the Irish. For Notre Dame, there was plenty to build on, but at the same time, the Irish made enough mistakes in a game they led late into the third quarter that this is one they could look back and regret an opportunity lost.
Here are some not-so-immediate overreactions I knocked out today after traveling home from a long family vacation that wrapped up late last night.
Notre Dame had multiple chances to win the game.
Notre Dame had every opportunity to pull off the biggest upset in years on Saturday night but ultimately fell short as the offense stalled in the second half. Deep into the third quarter, the Irish held a 10-7 lead over the 17.5-point favorite Buckeyes before Ohio State pulled away in the 4th by asserting their will on Notre Dame – what many Irish fans hoped Notre Dame would do.
While the game was technically lost in the 4th, it was really lost in the 3rd quarter when the Irish offense failed to capitalize on a pair of drives that could have extended their lead and put more pressure on the home team. On one of the drives, Notre Dame punted from the Ohio State 35-yard line. Shortly after that punt, Ohio State marched down the field and took the lead for good.
Who knows how the rest of the game would unfold if Notre Dame put up points on those drives? Ohio State wore down the Irish defense by the 4th. What would have happened if the Irish extended their lead to 10 instead of punting from the stinking opponent’s 35-yard line?
There are no moral victories at a place like Notre Dame, but one big positive in this game was the fact that the Irish led the game deep into the 3rd. How often did a Brian Kelly-coached team at Notre Dame do that against a more talented team that was favored by more than two touchdowns?
There is still work to be done by Marcus Freeman and this stuff, but the embarrassing performance that many in the media predicted didn’t happen.
The offensive line took a step back – can it step forward?
The biggest reason the Notre Dame offense couldn’t sustain drives was because the offensive line took a step back instead of a step forward from last year. Playing without All-American Jarrett Patterson, the interior of the Notre Dame offensive line was beyond shaky. Sith year senior Josh Lugg spent a good portion of the night on skates, and Ohio State kept the Irish ground game from ever really clicking outside of one second-quarter drive.
The Buckeye pass rush harassed Tyler Buchner all night, even without the aid of additional blitzers at times. It was very reminiscent of the beginning of the 2021 season when the Irish offensive line looked lost for the first five weeks. Last year they ultimately figured it out. After last night, they’ll need to do the same this year, or last night won’t be the only game the Irish drop this year.
Since Patterson didn’t play last night, it’s hard to envision him on the field until October with two cupcakes and one easier Power 5 opponent on tap the next three weeks. In the interim, can Lugg get his footing at guard, or will the Irish need to make changes as they did a year ago to solidify things?
Tommy Rees’s playcalling felt much to “play not to lose” to pull off an upset
While the offensive line did not allow Tommy Rees to do a whole lot at times, it’s also hard to wrap your head around some of the decisions Rees made last night. How many times can you call a quarterback run on 3rd and long and expect to convert?
Then there was the fourth quarter drive where the Irish reached Ohio State territory only to be thrown back by an offensive pass interference penalty. Rees essentially gave up on that drive with three straight runs followed by a punt.
Tommy Rees’s name gets mentioned as an up-and-coming offensive mind quite often, but last night he did not do much to scheme open his players or create mismatches. The entire game plan felt way too “playing not to lose” for the occasion.
Rees will get a couple more opportunities in marquee games this year, but he started the season with a relative stinker of a game plan.
Notre Dame’s defense had a few hiccups but was otherwise stout against an explosive offense
Many Notre Dame fans were hard on the Irish defense for Ohio State’s 4th quarter dominance, but you are only going to hold down an offense like Ohio State’s for so long when your offense is basically ineffective for most of the night. Holding Ohio State to 21 points – their lowest output in four years, is an accomplishment for this defense.
Sure, I’d have liked to see a turnover and a much better pass rush from Notre Dame’s defense line (which was non-existent after Howard Cross’s early sack). Oh, and don’t get me started on Al Golden’s double safety blitz on 3rd on long that resulted in a Buckeye touchdown. Seriously, when has that play ever worked for Notre Dame? Overall though, if you told me, or any Notre Dame fan, that the Irish would hold Ohio State to 21 points, we all would have thought the Irish won the game.
There are a few things to get cleaned up still. Cam Hart had a rough start to the game, and tackling in the second half left a lot to be desired. Notre Dame’s defensive line barely generated any pressure after the first drive, with quiet nights from both Jayson Ademilola and Isaiah Foskey. That can’t happen again for Notre Dame in another one of the big games.
Overall, though, the defense played more than well enough to win that game.
Running back rotation was revealing.
The rise of Audric Estime was not overstated this summer. Estime led the Irish running backs with nine attempts on the night – three more than Chris Tyree and five more than Logan Diggs. Buchner ran the ball more than Estime, but that was mainly because he was running all night. Estime only managed 21 yards on those nine attempts since there was nowhere to go, but the fact that he led the Irish in rushing attempts reveals how the staff views their running back room.
There will be many more games this year where there is more running room for all the backs – all of them potentially – and if Estime ends up leading the team in carries each week, he’s going to have quite the season.
Wide Receiver concerns were validated
There’s been concern at wide receiver for the last few years due to the recruiting misses at the position in three of the last four recruiting cycles, and those concerns were on display Saturday night. Lorenzo Styles had 2 targets all night. Braden Lenzy had four. Matt Salerno and Jayden Thomas had one a piece. Add it all up, and that’s eight total targets to wide receivers. Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr of Ohio State had 11 targets each.
Notre Dame doesn’t have the same level of talent at receiver at Ohio State, but we all knew that. The Irish HAVE to get more production from the wide receiver position this year, however, to keep the streak of double-digit wins alive.
Lorenzo Styles ripped off a 54-yard play on the first play from scrimmage and then had just one more target the entire game. So Tommy Rees has to find a way to get him more involved.
We may have to have a conversation about the kick-return units
Notre Dame’s special teams were largely good on Saturday night. Blake Grupe connected on his only field goal, and Jon Sot turned in a solid night after a very rough start. The big concern on special teams were both kick and punt return teams.
The fair catch by default strategy seemed to have carried over from Brian Polian on Saturday night. Brandon Joseph had a couple of opportunities for punt returns but signaled fair catch with no defenders within 10 yards of him.
Chris Tyree had nowhere to go on the kick return attempts he had Saturday night with Ohio State stuffing Tyree inside the 20 multiple times. Brian Mason might need to rethink some of his return schemes if that happens again.