COLUMBUS -- Ohio State went old-school to beat an old foe.
The second-ranked Buckeyes ran the ball and played tough defense to prevail over No. 5 Notre Dame.
The hosts scored on back-to-back possessions to close the third quarter and open the fourth and turn a 10-7 deficit into a 21-10 win Saturday night in front of 106,594 fans at Ohio Stadium.
“We’ve got a lot to build on and a lot to improve on, but for a first game — there’s not a lot of first games where you play a top five team in the country right out of the gates,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “I’m glad we played ‘em at home because this crowd was awesome. And to see the support of Buckeye nation for this game, leading up to this game, all the former players that came back, it was tremendous.”
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. The Ohio State defense overcame an early miscue to turn in a strong performance.
The Fighting Irish struck for 54 yards on the first play when Tyler Buchner found Lorenzo Styles Jr. on the sideline, Styles sidestepped a tackler then sprinted down the sideline. That eventually led to a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
They only gained 182 yards the rest of the way though as the Buckeyes settled in under new coordinator Jim Knowles.
“Jim called a great game, the whole defensive staff but it was our players — players play,” Day said.
2. The offense’s early issues lasted much longer.
The Buckeyes scored once on their first seven drives, excluding the end of the first half kneel down.
Though Notre Dame is expected to field a tough defense under first-year head coach Marcus Freeman, it was not the start many expected from an Ohio State defense loaded with talent at every position.
“They have a lot of seniors,” Day said. “And when we lost (junior receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba), we got a little bit out of rhythm. We couldn’t convert on third down and got a little off schedule. There were a couple penalties that we got to clean up.”
3. A former walk-on stepped up with a pair of former five-star recruits sidelined.
Smith-Njigba caught two passes for three yards but missed most of the game with an undisclosed injury, and fellow junior Julian Fleming also was unavailable with an undisclosed injury.
Day said he hopes to have both of them available when the Buckeyes face Arkansas State next week, but their absence was felt.
Into the breach stepped Xavier Johnson, a senior from Cincinnati who caught the eventual game-winning touchdown pass from 24 yards out in the final minute of the third quarter.
Talented sophomores Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. also stepped up, grabbing nine and five passes, respectively, for 90 and 54 yards.
4. The running game emerged for Ohio State — eventually.
The Buckeyes averaged 4.5 yards per carry in the first half, but they only ran the ball 11 times while Stroud threw 17 passes.
They had 87 yards rushing through three quarters then nearly matched that total in the fourth as juniors Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson started getting the rock and delivering.
Williams finished with 84 yards rushing on 14 carries while Henderson added 91 yards on 15 carries.
“They were determined,” Day said. “They were in that huddle saying this was everything we’ve worked on. This is what we have to do. We have to we have to finish the game, and they did. Was it perfect? No, but we didn’t expect it to be. It’s the first game. Things like this kind of happen. And you have to kind of recalibrate a little bit and make adjustments, but we will.”
5. The Buckeyes beat Notre Dame for the fifth time.
The two programs in the top five for all-time wins at the Division I level have only played seven times, the first two coming in the mid-1930s.
The Fighting Irish won both of those contests (18-13 in 1935 and 7-2 in ‘36), but they have come up empty in the five since.
Ohio State swept a home-and-home series in 1995 and ‘96, beat ND in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2005 season and again 10 years later in the same game.
A fan’s sign during ESPN’s College GameDay broadcast noted 31,353 days had passed since Notre Dame’s last win over Ohio State, and it will be at least 385 more.
The teams are scheduled to play next Sept. 23 in South Bend.
Arkansas State at Ohio State, Noon, BTN, 1410