Saturday night was one of the most heart-breaking losses in Notre Dame Stadium history for the Fighting Irish. In a mistake-filled contest featuring one of the biggest coaching blunders in program history, Notre Dame snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Amid all the anguish and frustration, however, quite a few positives from the contest bode well for Notre Dame for the rest of the season.
1. Notre Dame’s Freshmen playmakers can ball
Remember when the narrative was Notre Dame didn’t play freshman skill position players? Yeah, that is definitely a thing of the past. Notre Dame is giving some freshmen prominent roles in the offense this year, and they are showing why every week. Freshmen receivers Rico Flores and Jaden Greathouse and running back Jeremiyah Love all made plays on Saturday night against the Buckeyes.
Love carried the ball 8 times for 57 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and ran with authority, gaining tough yards at the end of runs. Love was thought to be more of a speed back and change of pace as a frosh, but he’s already shown the ability to gain tough yards between the tackles.
Rico Flores played the second-most snaps of any receiver on the team and recorded his first career touchdown. He had 3 catches for 20 yards on the night, including what was a go-ahead score in the fourth, and was the 2nd highest-rated player on offense per PFF. Jaden Greathouse had 2 receptions for 40 yards.
The future is very bright with these youngsters on offense – especially when you consider that Braylon James and Kaleb Smith are still developing as well.
2. Javontae Jean-Baptiste showing out against his former team
Everyone thought JBB would have a big game against his former team, and the Ohio State transfer did not disappoint. He tied for the team lead in tackles with 8 (JD Bertrand also had 8) and had three total pressures on the night – 2 hits and 1 hurry. In a game in which the pass rush still didn’t quite get home, Jean-Baptiste was one of the few players who was getting to Kyle McCord at times. Bertrand was the only other Notre Dame player to hit McCord twice.
Over the summer, there was a lot of talk that the big end spot would be more of a timeshare between JBB and Nana Osafo Mensah, but it’s clear that Jean-Baptiste is the staff’s top option. Osafo Mensah recorded just 5 snaps on the night. The scouting report on Jean-Baptiste was that he wasn’t strong against the run, but he was again Notre Dame’s highest-rated run defender on the night per PFF.
3. The offensive line holding up
Notre Dame’s offense line couldn’t open up any holes for the Irish rushing attack last year in Columbus, and Tyler Buchner was under siege all night. Neither of those two things happened on Saturday night against an Ohio State defensive front that is much better than the one they faced a year ago.
Notre Dame ran for 176 yards on 39 carries as a team. Irish running backs specifically averaged 5.3 yards per carry on the night, and most of those yards were consistent pickups – the average wasn’t inflated by any big gainers. Sam Hartamn wasn’t sacked once on the night.
I was worried coming into the game that the interior of the offensive line wouldn’t be able to hold up, given how they started the season, but Rocco Spindler and Pat Coogan held their own. Spindler specifically played well, considering he had a pretty rough outing against Central Michigan a week ago. The line was not perfect, but in a big game against one of the best defenses the Irish will face all year, the line played well enough for Notre Dame to win.
4. Benjamin Morrison locking up Marvin Harrison Jr.
All week long, there were questions about whether or not Notre Dame could contain Marvis Harrison Jr. Benjamin Morrison answered those questions emphatically and likely caught the eyes of even more NFL scouts in the process. Harrison caught just 3 passes for 32 yards on the night.
Morrison got called for one pass interference, where he got there just a hair early, but otherwise, he was a blanket on Harrison Jr. all night. He allowed an NFL passer rating of just 57.2 with 2 pass breakups when tested by Ohio State on the night. McCord was just 4 of 9 when throwing Morrison’s way on the night for 39 yards.
5. Mitchell Evans showing he’s more than just a blocker
Notre Dame’s highest-graded player on the night on either side of the ball was tight end Mitchell Evans at 87.1 per PFF. That rating was the second-best rating for any tight end in all of college football this weekend. Evans led all Notre Dame receivers with 7 receptions for 75 yards on the night, including this acrobatic, one-handed, highlight-reel-worthy grab early in the contest.
TE Mitchell Evans ONE-HANDED CATCH! 🤯— Notre Dame Fighting Irish (@Insidetheirish) September 23, 2023
(🎥: NBC) pic.twitter.com/DfJRY6NwH2
Evans had just 5 total receptions for 63 yards on the season before Saturday night. Heck, he only had 10 career receptions coming into the game. Five of those seven catches resulted in first downs for Notre Dame. The Irish only had 12 passing first downs on the night.
Evans showed the world that he is much more than just a pass blocking threat at tight end and that he can continue the Tight End U tradition at Notre Dame.
Bonus: Notre Dame fans showing out
There was A LOT of worry about an Ohio State takeover of the stadium similar to what Georgia did in 2017, but in the end it was nothing even remotely close to what Georgia fans pulled off. Despite having a much easier commute to the stadium than UGA fans, Ohio State fans just didn’t show up in the same numbers. Credit the Notre Dame ticketing department for putting in measures in place from the lessons of past takeovers and Notre Dame fans for not selling their tickets when ticket prices were bonkers. The stadium was full of green and despite some smatterings of red outside of the Ohio State section, there was not takeover.