Notre Dame Offense Keys vs. Ohio State

Notre Dame offense

In its toughest game of the season, how can the Notre Dame offense attack Ohio State this weekend? While the defense is the strength of this team, the expectations against the Buckeyes’ high-powered offense can only be so high. This means the Irish’s relatively inexperienced skill position players must show up and try to find chinks in the Ohio State armor. 

On the defensive side of the ball, where are those chinks for Ohio State? Here are three ways the Notre Dame offense can succeed versus the Buckeyes in Columbus.

Notre Dame offense key 1: Target The Linebackers 

To say Ohio State has weak linebackers would be an overstatement. To say that the Ohio State linebackers are the weak spot in this particular defense feels accurate. Denzel Burke and Ronnie Hickman patrol the secondary. J.T. Tuimoloau and Zach Harrison are among the scarier edge-rushing duos in the country. Both the defensive line and secondary feel like they could turn into top-5 level units. The linebacker corps doesn’t strike the same fear into the hearts of opposing teams. When it comes to finding success against the Buckeyes, this is priority No. 1 for the Notre Dame offense. 

Thankfully for the Irish, they have the perfect recipe for attacking a weak linebacker corps. That is, they have a dual-threat quarterback and an elite tight end. Specifically, they have the best tight end in the country in Michael Mayer. Buchner will be making his first collegiate start, but he gained some valuable experience last season. He can make plays with his legs, and he has the arm talent to open up a defense that must respect his running ability. Additionally, in the run game, if Notre Dame can get past the line of scrimmage, their backs have the power, speed, and shiftiness to elude linebackers and turn solid runs into big gainers. 

Notre Dame offense key 2: Run between the tackles

Notre Dame has strong running back depth and one of the top offensive lines in the country. Breaking down that offensive line into two parts, they’ve both got distinct roles in this contest. First, there are the tackles, Joe Alt and Blake Fisher. Both highly athletic and talented tackles, they’ll be responsible for blocking Tuimoloau and Harrison throughout the contest. The Irish can use their athleticism to design some creative run plays, but the Irish want to prioritize protecting Buchner. 

That’s why this key focuses on the between-the-tackles ground game. The Buckeyes have a strong defensive line, but the top-end talent is on the edge. With zone-reads and Buchner’s dual-threat capabilities forcing those edge rushers to respect the outside run, Notre Dame’s offensive line can assert themselves in the middle. Josh Lugg, Zeke Correll, and Jarrett Patterson (if healthy) can maul in the trenches. And if the Notre Dame offense consistently opens up holes in the middle, the Buckeyes will be forced to load the box to try and prevent big gains. This opens up more 1-on-1 matchups and creates more outside room for Buchner and the Irish to use their speed. 

Notre Dame offense key 3: Stretch the field

That’s the easy catchphrase for this point. Specifically, Notre Dame needs to turn what is certainly a weakness – their wide receiver depth and inexperience – into a strength. With a host of inexperienced but talented and athletic receivers, there are a lot of candidates for who Buchner’s top target will be, sans Mayer. This isn’t exactly a matchup nightmare for Ohio State, given they have talent in their secondary, but it can become a matchup frustration. 

Notre Dame is going to roll out a bunch of speed, physicality, and four-star caliber talent on Saturday. Many of those receivers have the ceiling of a go-to wide receiver in a Power-5 offense. But who takes a central role in Columbus? It’s really anyone’s guess. Lorenzo Styles, Deion Colzie, Jayden Thomas, Braden Lenzy, and Tobias Merriweather all have the speed and/or physicality to win a 1-on-1 and take the top off a defense. Particularly if they’re matched up against Ohio State’s third corner, or they draw a linebacker in coverage. There’s potential to turn this weakness and lack of a standout receiver into a strength on Saturday, but it’ll take creative play-calling to do it.

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