The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have navigated their way through the first four games of the 2023 season and remained undefeated. Now, the Irish face their biggest challenge of the season when they host the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday night.
Whether or not the Irish were completely focused on Central Michigan last Saturday is open to debate. First-half challenges eventually gave way to a 41-17 victory, though penalties and missed tackles stood out as flaws on the afternoon. Against an opponent the caliber of Ohio State, Notre Dame can’t afford a similar performance.
Running Toward Each Other
To mark the memorable occasion, the Irish will be wearing their green jerseys, a sartorial strategy that’s worked in the past. Of course, how well the players wearing those uniforms perform will be the ultimate litmus test when it comes to stopping the Buckeyes’ outstanding array of talent. Especially in the running back and wide receiver departments.
Audric Estime is the driving force of a Notre Dame running game that’s averaging over 204 yards per game. He’s already gained over 500 yards, scored five times on multiple game-breaking dashes and is averaging an outstanding 8.3 yards per carry. He’s being spelled in quality fashion by players such as Jeremiyah Love and Jadarian Price, depth that’s badly needed this week.
Last year, the Ohio State running game dominated the matchup during the second half against the Irish, leading to a 21-10 win. Many of the same ballcarriers are back, most notably All-America candidate TreVeyon Handerson, who has surpassed 2,000 yards in his collegiate career and averaged 6.3 yards during that span. Joining him will be Deamonte Travanum, who’s averaging seven yards every time he runs the ball. As a whole, the Buckeyes are averaging over 156 yards on the ground this year.
Battling Through the Air
Besides both teams possessing potent running attacks, their receiving options also have gotten plenty of notice. In the case of the Irish, 19 different receivers have caught a pass in 2023, with the passing game averaging over 300 yards. The duo of Jayden Thomas and Jaden Greathouse are thus far the lone players to break double-figures with a combined 22 receptions. Others making key contributions include Tobias Merriweather, converted running back Chris Tyree, Rico Flores and tight end Holden Staes.
Ohio State’s air game has the duo of Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka that have given nightmares to a variety of secondaries. With three touchdowns already in 2023, both are destined for the NFL and rank as arguably the best one-two receiving corps in college football. They’ve provided the bulk of passing yardage that’s averaging 318 yards per game but Notre Dame can’t afford to sleep on two other talents like Julian Fleming and Cade Stover.
The relative dearth of sacks for Notre Dame this year has been dismissed by Marcus Freeman in favor of defensive pass efficiency. In that category, the Irish sit atop all of college football with an average of 84.73. A key reason for Freeman’s attitude about the team’s six sacks is because of the 23 quarterback hurries, 15 pass breakups and five interceptions in four games. The seven forced fumbles by the defense have yet to result in a Notre Dame recovery.
Having not really faced a stiff challenge yet, Ohio State’s numbers for three games are modest in comparison. Still, they rank eighth in the NCAA for defensive pass efficiency, indicating that they’re getting the job done. That’s especially true when noting that the team has allowed just 20 points in three games. The Buckeyes’ five sacks have been supplemented with a mere two quarterback hurries, though 13 pass breakups, three interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries have countered the seeming lack of a pass rush.
On Monday, Freeman indicated that both J.D. Bertrand, Mitchell Evans and D.J. Brown are expected back. He confirmed that on Thursday. Bertrand and Evans were both in concussion protocol, while Brown was rehabbing a hamstring injury. Defensive lineman Gabe Rubio will be available after sustaining a knee injury in the opener against Navy, while tight end Eli Raridon is once again out as he recovers from his second ACL injury.
Ryan Day’s tenure at Ohio State has usually resulted in minimal information on potential injury absences. That same approach is in evidence this week, with any definitive information not likely to come until late Saturday afternoon. Right now, no key injuries are apparent, with free safety Josh Proctor having returned last week after getting injured in the team’s season opener.
This contest will be played at night, but Saturday’s forecast calls for day-long sunshine, followed by comfortable temperatures once the game kicks off. There’s minimal chance of any rain and any wind conditions should be negligible, making for a fair matchup in which the best team wins.