Notre Dame Takeaways vs. OSU

Notre Dame takeaways

Given the expectations, there were a lot of good Notre Dame takeaways on Saturday night. The No. 5 Fighting Irish led the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes for over half the game. They held Ryan Day‘s offense to their lowest point total since October of 2018. At times, they looked like a much better team, despite being 17.5-point underdogs. Moral victory?

“I’m not in this for moral victories, man,” head coach Marcus Freeman said after his Irish fell 21-10 to the Buckeyes. Freeman is now 0-2 as the Notre Dame head coach, with a road loss and a neutral-site loss, both to top-10 opponents. In both cases, the Irish led at halftime. In the second half, the opponents outscored the Irish 37-7. “We just didn’t finish well,” Freeman commented.

That was clear enough from the game. Notre Dame started strong, with a 54-yard pass on their first play from scrimmage. Although they stalled and only notched a field goal, the Irish traded touchdowns with the Buckeyes in the first half, leading 10-7 at the break. However, a lack of offensive depth seemed to catch up to the Irish. Only tight end Michael Mayer notched more than a single reception. Five receivers recorded one catch apiece. Sophomore Tyler Buchner played mistake-free, but he didn’t do quite enough for the win with just 177 passing yards. With under 300 all-purpose yards, the Irish finished 3-13 on third down and punted eight times. It wasn’t an offensive recipe for success, and even a herculean effort from the defense couldn’t save the Irish.

Ultimately, Ohio State wore down the strong Notre Dame defense. The Irish clung to a 10-7 lead until late in the third quarter. Ohio State engineered a 10-play scoring drive, punctuated with a scoring strike on 3rd and 11. Then, after Notre Dame pinned the Buckeyes at the 5-yard line, Ryan Day’s offense went to work. Ohio State engineered a brutal 14-play, 95-yard drive. They ran the ball 10 times, including on the final five plays of the drive. After finally punching the ball into the end zone, the Buckeyes went up 11 with under five minutes left. A 3 & out on Notre Dame’s final possession cemented the reality for the Irish.

Thankfully, as Freeman noted, he doesn’t have to wait eight months for his next chance. And the fact remains that with a competitive loss to one of the preseason national championship favorites, the Irish have everything to play for. They’re not eliminated from anything with this loss. So while Freeman and the Irish aren’t in it for moral victories, there are important takeaways (and avoidable overreactions) from the opener.

Notre Dame Takeaways

While the Irish didn’t get a victory, they did get a measuring stick for exactly what they are, and what they’re not.

Notre Dame is a top-5 or top-10 team

Many complained about the Irish’s preseason top-five ranking. And while they’ll drop in the polls this week, they measured up pretty well overall. The offense has plenty to work on, but the defense could be historically good.

Purdue in 2018 was the last team to hold Ohio State to 21 or fewer points. The Irish forced the Buckeyes out of their system. They challenged Ohio State to beat them in the trenches, something that the Buckeyes struggled with last year. The Irish asked Ohio State to lean on their revamped defense under a new coordinator. And credit to the Buckeyes, they responded. It was an ‘ugly’ win, as Ryan Day described it, and one that was played in the style that Notre Dame wanted. They just couldn’t get the key offensive drive when it was required of them.

The secondary stepped up

The biggest concern entering the contest for the Irish was their secondary. Their perceived defensive weak spot did not match up well with Ohio State’s biggest strength. One of the biggest Notre Dame takeaways was the quality and depth of their secondary. For the most part, a lot of questions were answered. There were the freshmen – Jaden Mickey and Benjamin Morrison. Both played a lot of key snaps, locking up Ohio State receivers and minimizing most of the damage. Morrison, not even considered a potential contributor early in the preseason, delivered a key pass breakup. The Irish are in good hands with these two, who just faced one of the biggest challenges they’ll see in their career, and probably their toughest assignments of the season.

Additionally, Tariq Bracy, playing a prominent role in Notre Dame’s nickel defense, put together a strong effort. He notched one of two Notre Dame tackles for loss and a pass breakup. Clarence Lewis answered several questions with a much stronger game after being torched in the Fiesta Bowl. Cam Hart had one bad drive, with a pass interference and a bad angle on Ohio State’s first touchdown pass. Afterwards, he largely bounced back and contained Ohio State receivers. The Buckeyes notched only one play of 30+ yards and three of 20+ yards. Against an offense of that caliber, any defense would gladly take those numbers.

Don’t stress about the running game

The stats were pretty ugly as far as the ground game was concerned. 30 carries for 76 yards (although that does include three sacks). A long-term concern? The second Notre Dame takeaway: the sky is not falling in regards to the running game.

Firstly, this is not only an incredibly talented Ohio State defensive line. But they also expressed confidence in rotating up to twelve players on the line. That’s a challenge for any offensive line to match up with that depth. Ohio State’s best pass-rushing threats came from the edge, preoccupying sophomores Blake Fisher and Joe Alt in pass protection. Then, on the interior, the Irish were limited with the status of Jarrett Patterson, their captain and one of the best offensive linemen in the country.

The Irish also rarely used Logan Diggs, who may end up being the workhorse back. He’s 3-4 weeks ahead of his initial injury schedule. He will be a bigger force in both the passing and rushing game. The Irish faced probably their biggest defensive line challenge without arguably their top offensive lineman and top running back. Struggles were to be expected there, even if they were worse than Irish fans hoped.

Special Teams may be more of a strength than anyone thought

Notre Dame entered the year with a new kicker and a new punter. There were obvious concerns about how special teams would factor into the game. Notre Dame takeaway number three? As far as the kicking game is concerned, take a deep breath. Kicker Blake Grupe drilled his only field goal effort from 33 yards out. On the first kickoff, Notre Dame allowed a 25-yard return. They notched two touchbacks after that.

The punting game was incredibly solid, highlighted by punter Jon Sot. Sot’s season average was under 40 yards last year, but it would be hard to tell that from Saturday’s performance. He averaged 46.3 yards on eight punts, including a booming 75-yarder. He pinned Ohio State at their 5, 7, and 11-yard line on three different occasions.

Notre Dame needs to improve on kickoff returns after Chris Tyree returned two kicks for 22 total yards. But other than that, there was a lot to like on special teams.

There are no moral victories for a top-10 team. And make no mistake – despite another tough loss in a top-10 game, the Irish are indeed a top-10 team. In fact, top-four remains within reason. But there are weaknesses to shore up. And a few major Notre Dame takeaways that must be internalized and utilized to continue the much-needed improvement.

Next up for Notre Dame is Marshall. If they lose there, maybe hit the panic button. But Notre Dame largely performed above expectations on Saturday. The first win of the Freeman era may have to wait another week, but the Irish are set up well for the rest of this season.

 

Main Image courtesy Ben Jackson/Getty Images