Can the Notre Dame defense slow down Ohio State on Saturday? Slow down is the operative term here. Because the Irish won’t completely stop the nation’s most explosive offense. In two losses last year, Ohio State scored 27 and 28 points. Notching 30+ is basically a requirement for the Notre Dame offense. But if the offense can do their part, what are the three keys to the Irish limiting the damage in Columbus and keeping this game close? Here are three stats to keep an eye out for as Notre Dame attempts to pull the stunner.
Notre Dame Defense: 3 Key Stats vs. OSU
Notre Dame defense key stats
Yards per reception
This one makes logical sense. But C.J. Stroud is a talented quarterback with a ridiculous wealth of wide receiver talent available to him. Keep those wide receivers underneath. The Irish employed this strategy on several occasions last season, notably against Drake London and USC. The Notre Dame defense conceded the fact that London would touch the ball constantly (15 catches). However, they kept him to 11.4 yards per catch and no touchdowns. By limiting him in the red zone, and largely keeping him in front of the defense, Notre Dame forced USC to find other ways to extend drives. With just 16 points in the game, they largely failed.
Ohio State has much more talent than USC did, but they’d love to just have their top players run all over the Irish. If Notre Dame can prevent that and put the Buckeyes off script, they can at least disrupt Ohio State’s offensive flow.
Plays per scoring drive
This is a weird one, undoubtedly. But Notre Dame’s experience throughout their defense is notable, and they’ve got experience all down the two-deep. They can rotate in players to keep the defense fresh, which is good because a key on Saturday will be forcing Ohio State to grind out long drives. Last year, in five scoring drives against Michigan, Ohio State averaged 11.6 plays per drive. Their offensive mojo centers around big, explosive plays that take the tops off defenses in a hurry. Michigan took that away and asked the Buckeyes to nickel-and-dime them to death. The Buckeyes largely couldn’t do so. And on the occasions they did, the Michigan offense was well-rested, responding to each Buckeye touchdown with seven points of their own.
So for Notre Dame, make Ohio State run 10, 11, even 12 plays to find paydirt. Keep your thinner, less deep offense well rested and ready to be explosive when on the field. And put the Buckeyes out of rhythm by making them sustain long scoring drives.
1st down efficiency
This one works hand-in-hand with the previous two. But for the Notre Dame defense, forcing Ohio State to be one-dimensional, or close to it, is important. Efficiency on first down is defined as getting at least half of the yards to go. So for Notre Dame, keeping the Buckeyes off of that mark, and forcing them into repeated 2nd & 10 or 2nd & 9 situations, they’ll start making Ohio State a little more predictable. If Ohio State is forced to pass, the Irish can dedicate more defensive resources to limiting the aerial attack.
These three stats are not the sole metrics that will deliver the Irish an improbable victory. But they do force Ohio State into more uncomfortable situations. And if the Notre Dame defense can make Ohio State at least uncomfortable, they have a chance at keeping the Buckeyes under that 30-point threshold that feels so critical.