With just one second left on the clock, Ryan Day‘s Ohio State offense put the game in Chip Trayanum‘s hands and was rewarded with a game-winning one-yard touchdown. Despite being held to the fewest points since 2017, Ohio State came out on top in a pivotal, top-10 matchup against fellow blueblood and CFP hopeful, Notre Dame.
From the jump, it was a defensive struggle with a myriad of massive stops and poor offensive playcalling decisions. At the drop of a pin, this game turned back and forth. It very well could have gone the Irish’s way but having 10 men on defense on back-to-back plays is not going to help.
Recaps and rehashings of this matchup will be everywhere for years. Ohio State continues its “dominance” of Notre Dame by extending its unbeaten streak against the Irish since 1936. Sidebar: it’s incredibly impressive that these two powerhouse programs have only played eight times throughout history. The Silver Bullets on defense paved the way and provided the patience needed for the offense and it all paid off for the Buckeyes in this one.
Patience Paid off As Buckeyes Dispatch Irish
Leaning on Defense Worked
It’s as cliché as can be but Ohio State’s defense epitomized bend-don’t-break. Notre Dame had a total of seven actual drives and Ohio State did not force a single three-and-out. In total, they forced just two punts off of a pair of five-play drives. Those other five drives? 14 plays, seven plays, eight plays, 13 plays, and 11 plays. However, when it counted, the Buckeyes’ defense was able to step up.
Limiting the impact that Sam Hartman had on the game was key. For the most part, the defense won the day in the pass game. Jack Sawyer and Jaylahn Tuimoloau (not J.T.T., Jaylahn Tuimoloau, or J.T.) may not have had a breakout performance on the stat sheet but their presence was felt. Tuimoloau recorded six tackles, half of a tackle for loss, and a crucial pass breakup on the final defensive series. The defensive line, as a whole in the passing game, was good but not game-wrecking great. Aside from Tyleik Williams and his team-high 82.4 PFF grade.
Nowhere to Run
On the ground, the defense was hot and cold. When they were hot, they were red-hot. When they were cold, it was freezing. On the day, Notre Dame ran the ball 39 times. On 11 occasions, the Buckeyes held Notre Dame to one or fewer yards (not including the one-yard touchdown, obviously). That’s a run-stuff rate of 28.2%. They were 108th in the FBS in run-stuff rate leading into this game. Ohio State kicked off the game in a massive way in that realm. On Notre Dame’s first drive, Ohio State stuffed the Irish four times in six attempts. It was capped off with a stop of Hartman on a quarterback sneak on fourth down.
The cold reared its freezing head on the other drives as the Irish finished with 4.5 yards per carry on the day. However, when the defense needed to buckle down, they did. On Notre Dame’s first drive in the second half, they drove down the field nearly effortlessly until the defense tightened up. Ohio State, led by that defensive line, stuffed the Irish on back-to-back-to-back plays capped off with another stop of Hartman.
Notre Dame’s offense is commendable and will continue to carve up defenses this year. When the dust settles, what Ohio State did in South Bend on September 23rd will look even more impressive.
Kyle McCord has “It”
Heading into this game, the main critique of Kyle McCord is that he makes routine plays routinely but he doesn’t elevate. He’s not on the same play-making level as Dwayne Haskins, Justin Fields, or C.J. Stroud. McCord set those concerns to rest with his final drive.
McCord was not perfect on the day. He missed a number of throws that should have been easy conversions. On the first play back from his ankle injury, Marvin Harrison, Jr. caught a pass across the middle and had to fall down to catch it. If McCord put the ball in front of his star receiver, he would have followed up the massive touchdown run by TreVeyon Henderson with a home run of his own. On the final drive, McCord missed Henderson on an easy dump-off. Even then, he came up clutch.
A concern of the Buckeyes’ was their offensive line. That concern was well-founded as the unit allowed 16 pressures, 13 hurries, three quarterback hits, as well as committing three penalties. Despite that, McCord was as even-keeled as can be and was not rattled. He did not allow himself to be sacked nor did he throw an interception. Despite not quite having the athleticism of his understudy, McCord was slippery enough to get the job done. The only real bone-headed play was on third down on that game-winning drive where he intentionally grounded the ball.
His Clutch Gene
That throwaway was key but also incredibly rare. On third down, Ohio State took a massive step forward by converting 10 of 17. McCord was asked to throw it 13 times on third down and completed it 10 times for 155 yards and converted nine first downs.
McCord’s connection is also deepening with his second receiver, Emeka Egbuka. When the biggest throws had to be made, he did not go Harrison’s way. Egbuka finished the game with seven receptions for 96 yards despite dropping a sure-fire touchdown. On that final drive, McCord found Egbuka twice on third down for 23 and 21 yards. The latter was a third and 19 conversion that set the offense up at the Irish one-yard line.
McCord made the plays that needed to be made. As Notre Dame got the ball back, all of the Ohio State fandom was beginning to feel deja vu. Ohio State lost to Georgia because they could not stop the Bulldogs on that crucial drive. The same could be said for the 2021 Oregon and 2019 Clemson games. That final offensive drive epitomized what a clutch quarterback was supposed to be.
Bad Play Calls or Elaborate Set-up?
One of the biggest gripe with Day’s play calling — which hasn’t been given back to Brian Hartline? — is that he gets too cute and cannot convert crucial downs in the red zone. While the Buckeyes did convert 10/17 on third down and 1/3 on fourth, the failed plays set everything up.
Looking at the plays that did not work, it was apparent to Notre Dame that the Ohio State offense was going to go their right. On fourth and goal from the one early in the second quarter, the call was a play action to the boundary to the right in 23 personnel. On fourth and one on Notre Dame’s 11-yard line, Ohio State used 12 personnel and overloaded the boundary side of the offensive line (to the right). McCord handed it off on an Egbuka jet sweep that was immediately swallowed up. Finally, on second and goal on the penultimate play of the game, Day dialed up another 12 personnel sprint out to the right where McCord missed Harrison at the front of the end zone.
All of this is to say that Day set up the final play perfectly.
On that final play, Notre Dame countered the unbalanced offensive line by shifting its own defensive line over to the quarterback’s right side. They know that Day’s bread-and-butter is a play to the right. This time, the right side is the field side, so it’s even more enticing. Ohio State had played its hand perfectly and while the defensive line and linebackers shifted over, Trayanum found the endzone to win it.
Onto the Bye
College football is the greatest sport in the United States. It’s fans are the best and worst parts. This game epitomized that.
All night, with each and every mistake, it was the end of the world. As a fan, if one were to go back and rewatch this game with the mindset that they are watching an NFL game, it feels a lot more natural. Fans of these teams and others who have a long, storied history tend to get spoiled. If the game isn’t 77-0, it was too close.
This game was a masterclass. It was an instant classic. From the top down, both teams played and coached their best. From the fire of Coach Day’s remarks to Lou Holtz to singing Carmen Ohio, Ohio State came to play on the biggest stage thus far.
Now, it’s time for the bye week. Ohio State is set to resume its season on October 7th against a solid Maryland team. Ohio State has shown reason for optimism. It’s time for them to keep taking care of business.