Notre Dame Ohio State Football History

Despite close proximity, the Notre Dame Ohio State football history is not extensive with just six matchups all time.

Story Highlights
  • College Football’s First “Game of the Century”
  • Woody Hayes, Ara, and Ohio's Catholics
  • Buckeyes Sweep 1995/96 Home and Home
  • Notre Dame & Ohio State meet in Fiesta Bowl following Charlie Weis's first season
  • Another Fiesta Bowl, Another Similar Result for Notre Dame
  • Ohio State vs Notre Dame Football Scores

Ohio State and Notre Dame are two of the most storied programs in college football history, but the two have played a mere six times, including bowl game. It’s perplexing given the schools’ prominence and domicile in contiguous states, but still the Irish and Buckeyes haven’t squared off often. The two will, however, add to the series history in 2022 and 2023 with one of the more highly anticipated home and home series across all of college football.

While the Notre Dame Ohio State football history isn’t extensive, it did open with a bang. It was a strange time for Notre Dame, during the interregnum between Rockne and Leahy. Fielding Yost, in his vendetta against Notre Dame and the now deceased Rockne, who specialized in demeaning and aggravating Yost, had salted the fields in the Western Conference. Teams were loath to incur the wrath of the druids in Ann Arbor by scheduling Notre Dame. But, Ohio State, which had not yet won a national championship (its first would come in ’42) was amenable to play the Irish.

College Football’s First “Game of the Century”

The first game was in 1935, in Columbus, hard by the banks of the Olentangy River, in what was then truly a horseshoe—shaped stadium . Ohio State was a strong 4-0 under coach Francis X. Schmidt, having won every tilt by 14 or more points.

The denizens of Columbus awaited the first visit of Notre Dame, arriving with the ghosts of Rockne, The Four Horsemen and the Gipper. The game was set for November 2, 1935.

Elmer Layden was the coach of the Irish, and they too came in unbeaten at 4-0, but without the dazzling margin of victory and “style points” (a phrase not yet coined in 1935) which Ohio State had garnered.

The game had national interest, and a nationwide radio audience. They tuned in, and given the drama of the game, never tuned out.

One of Notre Dame’s players, Wayne Milner, who scored Notre Dame’s final touchdown, later wrote an article for his then employer, the Albert Richard Coal Company. Milner wrote:

Passing, rushing and receiving, Andy Pilney (‘36) did it all in Notre Dame’s win over Ohio State. His senior season was cut short by a significant leg injury, but the final play of the halfback’s Irish career was a 36-yard run, helping to set up the winning touchdown against the Buckeyes.

Layden passed to Pilney, Pilney passed to Fromhart, and then to Layden again and we had a second touchdown, to trail, 13 to 12. When Fromhart missed the tying point from placement, with less than two minutes to play, it appeared again that it was not Notre Dame’s day.

We tried an on-side kick on the kickoff, but Ohio State recovered the ball. Then Dick Beltz drove off his right tackle for a good gain. Larry Danbom, who had replaced Miller at fullback, checked him, and [Notre Dame’s] Pilney, who had been running, passing, and kicking like a demon, came up from the deep secondary to hit Beltz like a pile driver, forcing him to fumble. Henry Pojman, our center, recovered on the Ohio State 49-yard line.

Then Pilney turned in the climax play of the day, the play that was to engrave his name forever in the annals of football as the man who turned in probably the best single day’s play of any man in history. He faked a pass, raced through a hole at center, dodged eight separate Ohio State men, and was finally pinned on the 19-yard line by the remaining three Buckeyes, after a run of 30 yards which included every trick of ball-carrying, perfectly executed. Pilney was hurt on the play so seriously that he did not see action in the remaining three games.

As they carried [Pilney] off the field on a stretcher, Bill Shakespeare tossed a long pass to me which I was able to catch without breaking stride. Notre Dame had won, 18 to 13. The pass play called for a shift to the left. The ball came back to Mazziotti who had replaced Layden for the kickoff, he spun and handed it to Shakespeare, who faded deep and to his right. McKenna, quarterback who was sent in to call the play; Danbom, and Mazziotti blocked. Marty Peters, right end, cut to his left, drawing the secondary over. I ran straight ahead and then cut hard to my right.

We had been overcome by Ohio State’s reputation and the fatigue of a hard season, but Andy Pilney gave us all the fight and confidence it took to win one of the greatest games ever played.

Right from a hero’s mouth! Millner, in true Notre Dame fashion, attempted to share the credit, but he became a hero, along with (you can’t write this stuff) Bill Shakespeare, who joined Johnny “One Play” O’Brien as special late game heroes.

The game had lived up to its billing and all the adrenaline surging through the Buckeye fans. And it was named “The Game of the Century.” It was Notre Dame’s first, and of course, the Irish would play “Games of the Century” again against Army in ’46 (0-0), Michigan State in ‘66 (10-10), Alabama in ’73 (ND 24-Bear Bryant 23) Miami in ’88 (ND 31-Miami 30) and Florida State in ’93 (ND 31-Bowden, Charlie Ward and the ‘Noles 24).

This football commemorates Notre Dame’s win in the “Game of the Century” and is currently on display at the Joyce Center.

The teams met again in South Bend in 1936, but both teams came in with a loss. The Irish won a hard fought 7-2 battle, albeit without the sturm and drang of the ’35 epic.,

After 1936, there existed good will between the two schools, but they did not play again until 1995.

Woody Hayes, Ara, and Ohio’s Catholics

Once upon a time, Woody Hayes was the coach at Denison University in Denison, Ohio .  He then moved to coach at Miami (OH) in ‘49 and ‘50 and recruited an assistant coach who was a young firebrand from Akron, a former star at Miami under Sid Gillman (a forefather of the West Coast Offense).  The young coah was named Ara Raoul Parseghian. Ara had had spent two years with the Cleveland Browns, where he was coached by the legendary Paul Brown, one of the great technicians and teaching coaches of all time.

Hayes knew of Parsehgian’s prowess as an Akron schoolboy, as a star at Miami and figured Ara had picked up a coaching tip or two from Sid Gillman and Paul Brown.

After two solid years in Oxford, Hayes got a call from Columbus, and with apologies to the good folks at Miami’s Cradle of Coaches, Woody  headed to the state capital.  He coached there for 28 years.

Woody Hayes was fond of Ara, but he was even fonder of his vice-like control over the loyalty of the Ohio fans to Wayne Woodrow Hayes, Scarlet, Gray and the Buckeyes.  It was an urban legend that Woody never  referred to the “University of Michigan” but rather to “that school up north.” The apocryphal, unverified story was that Woody’s car once ran out of gas on a recruiting trip in Michigan, but that he pushed it over the nearby Ohio State line so he wouldn’t have to buy gas in the Wolverine State.

Woody was keenly aware that there were hundreds of thousands of Catholics in Ohio,  He felt that playing Notre Dame would divide the loyalties in the state, that many Catholics would root for Our Lady’s University and that Hayes and the Buckeyes would be left with the protestants, agnostics, atheists, Buddhists (not many in Ohio) and Muslims (even fewer).   Woody wouldn’t have that, And he did control the schedule.  So Notre Dame and Ohio State did not meet so long as Woody Hayes had anything to do with it.

Rumor has it that if a Catholic schoolboy was considering Ann Arbor, Woody would turn papist and talk glowingly about what a great place Notre Dame was for a Catholic kid from Ohio.

Thus, a nearly 60 year gap.

Buckeyes Sweep 1995/96 Home and Home

OhIo State and Notre Dame did play twice in the mid 90’s in a conventional home and home. At that time John Cooper, a great aggregator of talent, coached Ohio State.  Cooper’s team were noted for choking against Michigan and the Bowl opponent.  Cooper finished  2-10-1 against Michigan and 3-8_ in bowl games.  But it was considered dangerous to play Ohio State in September, before the glistening roster succumbed to Cooper’s coaching and his gagging on the pressure against Michigan in November and in the bowl season.

Lou Holtz had lost both Vinny Cerrato to the NFL and a few tilts to the administration and the most malodorous Canadian import this side of Justin Bieber and Black Velvet, Mike Wadsworth. Lou had lost only 9 games from ’88-93, but lost 11 in his final 3 years. The bloom was off the rose.

Ohio State won 45-26 in Columbus behind the unstoppable Heisman Winner, Eddie George. Ohio State’s win in South Bend was an even more dominating 29-16 in South Bend as an Ohio State tackle who was a worthy successor to the legacy of Jim Parker and John Hicks, one Orlando Pace, just blew up the Notre Dame defensive line that was starting to atrophy without Cerrato filling the pipeline, undeterred by the administration. The game seemed eerie and hollow as the upper deck expansion was not yet ready for occupancy, so the upper deck was vacant for the game.

Ohio State had evened the series at 2-2.

You can’t fix stupid – or Charlie Weis

So there was this Notre Dame coach who had lost two games by mid-October of his first year but was rewarded for poor home-field performance with an absurd, profligate reckless extension. The University and alumni of a particular ilk were so relieved to be rid of Tyrone Willingham that they celebrated their Moses.

Charlie Weis demonstrated equal stupidity and arrogance both before and after the opening whistle in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, which followed the 2005 season. First, he crowed in the press conferences about his Super Bowl rings and demeaned, by statement and implication, the outstanding achievements of Jim Tressel, the Ohio State Coach.

Tressel would not take the bait. He knew that people who are insecure and incompetent find their milieu in a press conference. Tressel preferred to compete on the field of honor.

Weis’ hubris continued in the first quarter. With the game tied 7-7, Ohio State’s Troy Smith fumbled at the Buckeye 15. After 3 unsuccessful plays, Weis eschewed the field goal, tried a pass play, and A.J. Hawk sacked his future brother-in-law, Brady Quinn. Instead of 10-7 Notre Dame, it remained 7-7. It remained that way for 2:16 before Ted Ginn rushed 68 yards for the go-ahead touchdown making it OSU 14-ND 7.

The embarrassment had begun, and Weis’ defense “held” Ohio State and the obviously schematically disadvantaged Jim Tressel to 617 yards as Ohio State triumphed 34-20. The outcome may have been different if Anthony Gonzales’s clear fumble that Tom Zbikowski recovered and returned for a touchdown hadn’t been overturned, but alas the zebras overturned Zibby’s scoop and score and Notre Dame remained down two scores the rest of the game.

Weis had talked the talk, and Tressel had walked the walk.

Different Fiesta Bowl, Same Story for Notre Dame Versus Ohio State

Much like the last time Notre Dame and Ohio State met in the Fiesta Bowl, the Buckeyes jumped on the Irish who weren’t able to recover. The Buckeyes led 28-7 in the first half at one point and while the Irish were able to cut the lead to seven in the third quarter, Ohio State dominated the rest of the second half.

nick watkins return
Nick Watkins in his most extensive action in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. Photo: © Joe Camporeale // USA TODAY Sports

Much like the Fiesta Bowl matchup a decade earlier, Notre Dame couldn’t keep Ohio State out of the endzone as Brian Vangorder was severely overmatch, as he often was as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator.

Aside for the 2016 Fiesta Bowl being another in a line of Notre Dame bowl losses, the game is best remembered for the gruesome injury suffered by Jaylon Smith after getting shoved at the end of a play by Ohio State OT Taylor Decker. Smith shredded his knee and went from top-10 pick to 2nd round selection.

Multiple Notre Dame connections at Ohio State for 2016 Fiesta Bowl

Notre Dame and Ohio State met in another Fiesta Bowl following the 2015 season. The Buckeyes staff and admin had numerous connections to Notre Dame. Gene Smith, Ohio State Athletic Director, was on the ’73 championship squad at ND and is a ’77 graduate of Notre Dame du lac.

Then Ohio State coach, Urban Meyer-assistant at Notre Dame from ’96-2000. Meyer’s staff was littered with former Notre Dame assistants as well. OC Ed Warinner, TE coach Tim Hinton, and RB coach Tony Alford, all served as Notre Dame assistants under Brian Kelly.

Mickey Marotti was Notre Dame’s head of strength and conditioning before being shunned by Weis. Meyer immediately snapped up Mariotti and has kept him at his side ever since. Marotti has been the strength coach of three national championship teams.

Ohio State Notre Dame 2022

Notre Dame and Ohio State meet in the 2022 season opener in what will also be the first regular season game of the Marcus Freeman era at Notre Dame. Freeman, an Ohio State alum, has not endeared himself with his alma mater leading up to the contest following a couple of misconstrued quotes from the first time head coach.

The game is getting ESPN College Gameday treatment as the marquee game of the first full weekend of college football this season.

Ohio State vs Notre Dame Football Scores

DateResultSiteND CoachOpp CoachScore
2016-01-01LFiesta BowlBrian KellyUrban Meyer28-44
2006-01-02LFiesta BowlCharlie WeisJim Tressel20-34
1996-09-28LHomeLou HoltzJohn Cooper16-29
1995-09-30LAwayLou HoltzJohn Cooper26-45
1936-10-31WHomeElmer LaydenFrancis Schmidt7-2
1935-11-02WAwayElmer LaydenFrancis Schmidt18-13

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  1. Notre Dame and Ohio St. didn’t play all those years because of ANTI-Catholism…The article about the first time Notre Dame went to Ohio didn’t mention it…it was a pretty vanilla painting of the experience ND had. The team was met with anti catholic chants.

    Oh…and Urban Meyer didn’t spurn Notre Dame…Notre Dame did not offer him a job…One of his demands during the interview was 7 passes on admissions per year….That would be 25% of the team….Notre dame wouldn’t have that.

  2. Was never bothersome to me for their jerseys to have names for bowl games. Earned? But I have to admit, really encouraging the players made this decision. Their team, putting it before the individual. Hoping that sentiment remains/grows. Further proof program heading in great direction. Have to appreciate everyone involved for their efforts and accomplishments. Thanks.

  3. Team 127, speaking through its representatives, has requested that the individual player names
    NOT be sewn on to the backs of the jerseys.

    Not all teams are equally “team.” But this team? They’re my guys, even though a couple make me grit my teeth. I don’t mean to go all Travis and Sam Houston on this, but there’s a line drawn in the dirt.

    Which side are you on?

  4. Duranko,

    I do agree about the Weis 10 year extension. Kevin White was so paranoid Weis was going to leave for the NFL he gave him an obscene extension (after a loss no less). Weis would have done us a favor in retrospect had he left.

    I can forgive the initial hire. I mean, we were left holding the bag when Urban Meyer spurned the Irish. And Weis came in with a lot of promise and yes 3 Superbowl rings. As a ND fan, I really did hope he could bring ND back. I probably held out hope longer than logic would allow because I really hoped he would right the ship.

    I did get aggravated when people who knew nothing said stupid things like “ND got rid of Willingham for Weis and look how that turned out”. Um, no, they thought they had an inside track to Urban Meyer. Weis was not even mentioned until Meyer had moved on to Florida.

  5. It is troubling the path and damage some can cause. The greed, stubbornness and lack of foresight. Selfishly & merely to “Justify Their own Existence”. Another insightful and informative article Duranko. Explaining why the two schools seldom met. It was bewildering to me at least. Hayes was a breed of his own. Thanks.

  6. Well, Damian, I could go on.

    He looted the Notre Dame Treasury

    He brought in “troubled” assistants like Haywood and Brown ( I prefer the Denson/
    Sanford/Lyghtj types)
    There is the famous David Nelson incident.
    As a Christian I remain ever incensed that he repeated his false oath “May God strike me down dead if I ever talk about rebuilding” as he prepared for the elegant 2007 season. And John Jenkins before whose name I can not abide any descriptive term failed to stop him.

    But as I learned about 10 years into my corporate career when there is a raving incompetent, look not at the incompetent fool, but the bigger fools who hired him. And I remain, as a student of the Gospels, perplexed over which of Christ’s teachings that Jenkins was following when he kneecapped Father Malloy and then laid with Phil Purcell, one of many unindicted Wall Street criminals.

    He is Notre Dame’s Iscariot.

  7. I get the sense someone doesn’t like Charlie Weis :). I have to admit at that time I thought maybe he had something. I guess my first inkling of trouble was when he tried a fake punt early in the game deep in our own zone. But I had hoped that he would be the one to bring glory back to ND. 2007 was far worse than I thought it would be, but I swallowed my pride because we were playing with very little experience that year. I hoped 2008 would be better, but it was only marginally so (though they would finally get the bowl monkey off their back that season). But 2009 I expected much better than 6-6. I knew halfway through that season, once and for all, that it was not to be. Weis is just not a good head coach. His only strength seems to be that he can build a good rapport with QB’s.

    I credit him with one thing–that is bringing recruiting back as a strength. Recruiting had dropped significantly under Willingham and we were once again pulling top recruiting classes under Weis-but unfortunately he could not develop that into a team.

    What aggravates me the most though is all the promises. His schematic advantages. You can’t make statements like that and fail. And I’ll never forget the Navy game where he went for 4th and 10 at the end of the game instead of trying for a FG to win it. Absolutely no reason for going for it, esp. since the score was tied. Even if you had the worse FG kicker in the world there was almost no risk (the only risk I can think of is if it were short and a Navy player returns it for a TD–a highly unlikely scenario unless your Auburn).

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