Cus Words: Final thoughts on Ohio State-Notre Dame

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

I was initially skeptical of Ryan Day’s good feelings about how the Buckeyes beat Notre Dame on Saturday night.

Jim Tressel was in the building, after all, so assuming anything the Ohio State football coach said was some mix of coach speak and window dressing was only natural.

But you know what?

Day was right.

The Buckeyes did have good reason to be happy they won that way.

After about 2.5 quarters of doing the same things they did much of last year — eschewing the hard (or sometimes easy) yards on the ground to chase hard yards through the air — the Buckeyes mixed things up and found a way to put two touchdowns on the board.

That was plenty because the defense was nearly perfect outside of a couple of big pass plays.

Normally we’d like to file this earlier in the week, but it was a long holiday weekend and a top five match-up like Ohio State-Notre Dame bears extra attention anyway.

Here are some final thoughts after re-watching the game:

  • Teams are likely to invite Ohio State to run the ball all year, and it is up to Day to accept when appropriate. Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson make a great one-two punch because Henderson is a home-run threat and Williams won’t be going down on the first hit. So one can extend short runs to medium gains regularly even if the box is loaded, and the other can take it the distance any time — especially if the box is loaded. We’ve seen Williams bust the long one before, too, but Henderson showed some solid between-the-tackles chops Saturday night.
  • That Ohio State won without Henderson breaking off a long run (a la Penn State last season) or Jaxon Smith-Njigba really contributing at all has to be bothersome to Notre Dame. They played a very solid game defensively, but C.J. Stroud made a handful of big-time throws, showed off a newfound ability to scramble and find the open man and got some timely help on tough catches even without his No. 1 target.
  • Notre Dame coming in with the intention to play Tresselball is pretty ironic not only because Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman played for Tressel but also because Tressel was present for the recognition of his 2002 national championship team.
  • Beyond that, one of the things that was always Kryptonite for Tresselball was bad field position, and Notre Dame had that in spades Saturday night. The Fighting Irish’s average starting point was their own 16, which is almost unfathomable, and they never started a possession outside their own 30. Ohio State punter Jesse Mirco put four of his five punts inside the 20, and Ohio State’s kickoff coverage was also excellent.
  • This reminded me of the 2008 Ohio State-Penn State game in some ways as Notre Dame had multiple drives where they got going a little bit but were still far from scoring range because their starting position had been so bad. That’s death to Tresselball.
  • That said, the deeper you dig, the better the Ohio State defensive performance looks. The two Notre Dame scoring drives were both highly reliant on a big pass play, one of which was a circus catch on third down to avoid punting on their lone touchdown drive.
  • We saw new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles mix and match styles, fronts and coverages, while a handful of guys flashed what they can do. Tommy Eichenberg led all tacklers with nine and as a bonus had two sacks. He also showed off what the coaches said he has — an anticipation to get started toward the ball a little early and make up for a lack of God-given quickness. Add in solid play at safety from Lathan Ransom, including an impressive form tackle on ND star tight end Michael Mayer, the quickness of big man Mike Hall Jr. and versatility of safety Ronnie Hickman and there are a lot of building blocks.
  • Knowles never brought in a third linebacker off the bench to combat the Notre Dame running game, but he had Hickman in the box a lot to fill that role at times. That he was trusted to do that was interesting because we heard a lot in the offseason about Kourt Williams perhaps doing something like that or a package with a Sam linebacker replacing the nickel safety. Overall, the coaching staff kept the rotations a lot tighter in a big game against a top opponent to open the season, so it will be interesting to see how that evolves.
  • Notre Dame’s game plan might have worked — or Ohio State might have had to turn to the running game earlier — if Stroud weren’t so good at making hard throws look easy. His ability to hit the far hash or sideline regularly really opens up the offense, It’s almost as good as knowing you can run for at least four yards on any first down. Being able to instantly diagnose the defense and drop a dime to Xaiver Johnson for the game-winning touchdown against a heavy blitz is also pretty useful, and the laser to Emeka Egbuka looked even more like it would be intercepted on TV than it did live from the press box.
  • I still think the running game could have used more early reps. Henderson made a couple of cutbacks that maybe he didn’t have to if he trusts the blocking more, and ironically the backside wasn’t blocked well on those plays so he was stuffed anyway. It will take some time for all those pieces to figure out how they work together best under new coach Justin Frye, but there was some nice variety in the running game. That included a nice Williams run on a counter that was opened up by right tackle Dawand Jones’ pulling. Jones had not looked great in the run game up to that point, including those poor backside blocks.
  • Of course like any game Ohio State was a handful of plays that if they were executed a little bit better or they got a better bounce the results would’ve been different.

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