The Notre Dame Fighting Irish began their 2022 season against the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, falling short by a score of 21-10 on Saturday night. Trying to steal a win in a hostile environment was always seen as a stiff challenge for the Irish, who managed to put up an inspired effort for much of the contest.
The loss leaves new head coach Marcus Freeman still in search of his first win after the Irish also dropped his debut in last year’s Fiesta Bowl.
Some of the key aspects of Saturday’s defeat are noted below:
Fourth Quarter Blues
Technically, Notre Dame’s final quarter woes began on Ohio State’s final drive of the third quarter, when a near-sack on the first play was converted into a 16-yard first down. That began a 10-play, 70-yard drive that concluded with the go-ahead score in the final minute of the period. Yet, things got worse for the remainder of the game.
A promising drive for the Irish began with a 32-yard toss to Braden Lenzy to end the third, followed by a 14-yard run from Chris Tyree. Then, Matt Salerno was flagged for offensive pass interference, which killed the momentum of that drive. Ohio State answered with a soul-crushing 95-yard drive that ate up seven minutes and boosted the Buckeyes’ lead to the final of 21-10.
The level of domination by Ohio State in the fourth quarter can be seen in the numbers over those final 15 minutes. The Buckeyes gained 120 net yards, compared to just 12 for the Irish. The bulk of that came on the ground for Ohio State, while Notre Dame was blanked in the passing department.
Ready for Battle
Despite entering the game as 17-point underdogs, Notre Dame showed plenty of fight during the first half. On the Irish’s first play from scrimmage, Tyler Buchner hooked up with Lorenzo Styles on a 54-yard pass play. In addition, 15 yards were then tacked on at the end of a play on a roughing the passer call on Ohio State. The drive ended with a 33-yard Blake Grupe field goal.
Throughout the first half, aggressive play on the part of the Irish helped keep the Buckeyes in check. Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph delivered a stiff hit on Ohio State wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba that helped send him to the sidelines. In addition, the strong play of Howard Cross up front included a sack and a clutch third-down stop.
Digging Out of Holes
One major issue throughout the contest for Notre Dame was their frequently poor field position. On six different occasions, they were forced to start drives from their own 15 or less, In two instances during the first half, the Irish found themselves getting things started at their own five.
Being pinned back so deep usually meant a more conservative play-calling approach by Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. That might not have mattered had the Irish been more effective on the ground, but they finished the evening with just 76 yards on the night.
Trying to Play Keep Away
One simple way to contain an explosive offense like Ohio State is to keep them out of the end zone and their defense on the field. During the first half, the Buckeyes scored just one touchdown on five drives. On their last two drives before the half, they ran a total of 17 plays and were held scoreless.
The Buckeyes’ efforts at going deep were largely held in check during the game. However, their offense began to chew up more clock in the second half, especially in the fateful fourth quarter. During the final two periods, Ohio State was able to keep possession for over 19 minutes, with nearly 12 of those coming on their two touchdown drives.
Flaws to Fix
While it will be a while before the Irish face a team of Ohio State’s caliber again, two areas of concern in the defeat deserve a closer look. The 76 rushing yards for Notre Dame came on 30 carries for an average of just over 2.5 yards per carry. Also, converting on third down was an issue all night, with the Irish successful on just three of their 13 tries. Among the runners, Chris Tyree led with 28 yards, though a good portion of sophomore Audric Estime’s 21 yards made a positive impression.
For the first time ever, the Marshall Thundering Herd will be Notre Dame’s opponent on the football field as they take part in the Irish home opener. Following their win on Saturday, the Herd will actually enter this contest with a better record after easily winning their opener, 55-3 over Norfolk State. However, playing before the Notre Dame faithful has been the perfect elixir for the Irish over the previous five seasons, with just two home losses in their last 33 games.