South Bend, Indiana, will be the center of the college football universe on Saturday. All eyes will be on Notre Dame Stadium as the No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-0) host the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes. In 2022, Ohio State spoiled head coach Marcus Freeman’s debut with the Irish, beating Notre Dame 21-10. The win extended Ohio State’s win streak in the series to five straight.
Games that occur in mid-September that could potentially impact the College Football Playoff always grab attention, and Saturday’s rematch between Notre Dame and Ohio State is a prime example. Both Notre Dame and Ohio State have high hopes of making it to the playoffs this season. The Irish and the Buckeyes enter Saturday’s test performing exceptionally well on offense. The early-season success is largely due to the outstanding performances from their quarterbacks.
Notre Dame: Experience a Key Factor on Offense
The Irish have capitalized on Sam Hartman’s arm and sound decision-making to remain unbeaten. A crafty veteran, Hartman has been outstanding in the opening four games of the season. The Wake Forest transfer has already amassed over 1,000 passing yards. He has thrown 13 touchdowns to zero interceptions and has a completion rate of 71.1 percent. Playing in his sixth season, Hartman brings a wealth of experience to the position.
While he has been a dominating leader on the field, Hartman has yet to face a defense comparable to what Ohio State will field. For Ohio State to have success against the Irish, it is imperative that the Buckeyes’ defense pressure Hartman early. That is no easy chore with standout Irish tackles Joe Alt and Blake Fisher protecting up front. If Hartman is comfortable and has time to find his rhythm, it could be a long day for the Buckeyes’ secondary.
For Hartman, confidence in his teammates and trust in the system are keys to victory on Saturday.
“We have an unbelievable O-line that I have a lot of confidence in,” Hartman said in the weekly press conference. “Our running backs have all been playing incredibly well. The tight ends have been doing great, and outside we’ve shown we have some explosive capabilities and the ability to spread the ball around when we need to. And be able to run the ball when we can.
“The trust and belief that everybody around me is doing their job, which they’ve been doing all year, and we’ve been doing since the spring,” he added. “So, it’s exciting. It’s an exciting opportunity to go out as a team and play a complete game.”
As for the atmosphere and the pressure, Hartman said, “Yeah, it’s a big game. I think it’s a huge opportunity for us as a program and as a team to go out there and show what we’ve got. Obviously, a really challenging opponent historically.
“I think this is a classic of two football greats that, growing up, you kind of think about and look at those games, Ohio State and all the other big ones, you’re like, ‘That would be a cool game to play in.’ It’s exciting. It is a big game. I think to shy away from that is foolish, but I think it’s going to be like every week. It’s going to be about us executing at the highest level and, like coach [Marcus] Freeman probably already said, reaching our full potential.”
Ohio State: Valuable Chemistry
Ohio State’s starting quarterback role has been entrusted to Kyle McCord, who beat out redshirt freshman Devin Brown. McCord spent the last two years as C.J. Stroud’s backup. Although he faced difficulties in Ohio State’s opening game against Indiana, the junior signal-caller has found his form. Following back-to-back strong performances against Youngstown State and Western Kentucky, McCord is poised to make a significant impact against Notre Dame. He boasts a completion rate of 69.7 percent and has thrown six touchdowns to one interception for a total of 815 passing yards.
Before becoming a Buckeye, McCord had already established a connection with one of his leading receivers. McCord and Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. both attended St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia. There they teamed up for three straight Pennsylvania 6A state titles.
This season, Harrison caught just two passes for 18 yards in the Buckeyes’ underwhelming win over Indiana. He picked up the pace in the second game. He caught seven passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns against Youngstown State. Last week against Western Kentucky, he hauled in five passes for 126 yards and a score. McCord connected with Harrison for a 71-yard touchdown against Youngstown State and a 76-yard touchdown against Western Kentucky. The catches were both new personal records for Harrison in consecutive weeks. Harrison’s average of 21.7 yards per reception ranks 10th in the nation. It is also the sixth highest among wide receivers from Power 5 conferences who have been targeted at least 15 times.
A Golden Opportunity for Notre Dame
In what could prove to be a game for the ages between two storied programs, Notre Dame has a golden opportunity for a statement victory. With the tune-up games behind them, Notre Dame and Ohio State should be set for a memorable, high-stakes tilt. The Fighting Irish are a much-improved team from last year’s 21-10 loss to the Buckeyes. If Hartman and company show up and show out, a blue and gold win over the scarlet and gray in primetime on Saturday night could serve as a pivotal moment, solidifying the Irish’s reputation as a force to be reckoned with the rest of the way.