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  • Nick Savko

Connecting The Dots: OSU defeats Notre Dame 21-10

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

(COLUMBUS, OH) The stars were out for the first game of the season in Columbus on Saturday night. The Buckeyes kicked off the season vs. Notre Dame under the lights in the Horseshoe, and like the stars in the sky the stadium was filled with stars from the past.

Ezekiel Elliott, Joe Burrow, Justin Fields, LeBron James, Jayson Tatum, Chase Young, Sam Hubbard, Terry McLaurin, Jerome Bettis, Jeff Okudah, Dre’Mont Jones, Baron Browning, Curtis Samuel, Maurice Clarett and Orland Pace – just to name a few. The dots were connected in Columbus.

It was a highly anticipated game between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Notre Dame. Two former star football players from the past for Ohio State were coaching for the Irish. It was a night for the recruits, ten 5-star football recruits were present. It was a night where LeBron James brought his son, Bronny, a 4-star basketball recruit. The stars were out for sure.

The line started at -13.5 and climbed all the way up to -17 for the Buckeyes. The energy, the excitement, the anticipation was all present. Hardly a single person thought Notre Dame stood a chance. Well folks that is why the games are played. Not everything falls into place like we all think it should.

Notre Dame was led by the first-year starting quarterback, sophomore Tyler Buchner. Buchner was a 4-star recruit from La Jolla, California. Although he did not play his senior season of high school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during his junior season in 2019 he led the country in total yards (1,610 rushing, 4,474 throwing). The stage was not too big for the young man as he started the game on Saturday completing his first eight passes for 128 yards; with his first pass of the game being completed to Lorenzo Styles Jr. for 54 yards. Styles Jr. is the son of former Ohio State linebacker, Lorenzo Styles, and his brother, Sonny, is a 5-star freshman safety for the Buckeyes. Both played for Pickerington Central, a suburb of Columbus. More stars connected.

Although Notre Dame went into halftime with a 10-7 lead, the rest of the night would not have the same success for Buchner as he finished the game going 2-10 for only 49 more yards. That is nothing to be ashamed of. The young man was up against 106,000 fans in the Horseshoe and a retooled Ohio State defense.

For over the past few years Ohio State has been known for their high-powered offense. They have had two quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the NFL draft in recent years (Dwyane Haskins 2019 & Justin Fields 2021). C.J. Stroud might be the best of the three; and with those expectations, Notre Dame’s defense was well aware of the Buckeyes’ top threat.

It was not the performance that Buckeye fans have become used to. Stroud was efficient (24/34, 223 yards, and 2 TDs), but the offense lacked rhythm. Notre Dame spread their defense out and made it hard for the Buckeyes to gain yards. Early in the game, Stroud completed a pass to his number one target, Jaxson Smith-Njgiba, who ended up getting injured on the play. The injury to Smith-Njigba was a small indication of the type of game the Notre Dame defense was playing, extremely physical. They did not give the Buckeyes much space to work with.

The Notre Dame front seven was a well-oiled machine. They did not give up big running plays, and when they needed to, there were times when they only rushed two linemen and dropped nine back to defend the pass. This credit goes to Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, Al Golden. Golden is no slouch in the college football world. Once a star tight end at Penn State, in 1990 Golden once caught a touchdown pass in an upset victory over then No. 1 Notre Dame. As a coach, he took on the task of turning a Bottom 10 Temple program to a level of success their program had never achieved. Although that success did not follow Golden to Miami (FL), he is still a former head coach with nearly two decades of coaching experience. Al Golden and the Golden Domer defense may not have won the game, but they absolutely put up a fight and took a 10-7 lead into halftime.

The best way to counter a physical defense? Throw a bowling ball at it over and over again. Statistically sophomore star running back TreVeyeon Henderson had a fine game (15 carries, 91 yards, 6.1 avg.). It was not the type of performance Buckeye fans were used to, but the bowling ball performance belonged to his backup, Miyan Williams (14 carries, 84 yards, 6.0 avg., 1 touchdown). In the second half of the game, Miyan was an unstoppable force playing against Notre Dame’s eleven immovable objects. His energy, his force, and his determination is what ignited the Ohio State offense.

As much as fans love a flashy offense, the big anticipation was for the new look defense, led by new Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles. Knowles is known for being very calculated, which is probably why he opted not to be on the field but watched his players from the press box. Outside of Buchner’s first completion of the game (54-yard pass to Styles Jr.), the Ohio State defense looked much improved. They were fast, they tackled harder, they just had a different vibe about them. The defense did what good teams do, they adjusted.

Notre Dame had two scoring drives during the game. Their first drive was the opening drive of the game. That drive included a 54-yard pass which also had a questionable 15-yard roughing the pass penalty. The drive ended with a field goal. The second scoring drive included two passes that each went for over twenty yards and would result in a touchdown. The rest of the game was a shutout for the defense. That is improvement right in front of our eyes. Of those three passing plays, none of them were to Notre Dame’s top offensive threat, 6’4” 265-lb tight end, Michael Mayer. It has been said that Mayer is the most NFL-ready prospect in college football right now. ESPN college football analyst and former Ohio State quarterback, Kirk Herbstreit, said that Mayer could be starting for any team in the NFL. Mayer finished the game with 5 receptions for 32 yards.

It was not the big play, high-scoring game Ohio State fans were anticipating. 21 points scored is the lowest amount of points the Buckeyes have scored in a win during the Ryan Day era. In the post-game press conference, Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked, “you guys have thrown it so well since you got here. I know it’s not easy, sometimes it looks easy. You have super skilled receivers and a super skilled quarterback…you talk about winning ugly, are you almost eager to shed that label…not that it’s a burden to be great at throwing the ball, but it feels like you’re really enjoying the fact that you won this way.” And with a confident smirk on his face, the first word out of Coach Day’s mouth, “Yes.” A hard-fought game. It is hard to learn about yourself if something is easy. All the cliches one can think of about testing a team’s character, this game had it. But most importantly, what Day added to his response, “…it’s been a huge emphasis to win this way; and it starts with defense.”

In the recent past, Buckeye fans have been fed a Thanksgiving feast of offense. First-round quarterbacks, first-round running backs, first-round wide receivers. The high-scoring offense made up for the lack of blue-collar defense the fans were once used to. On the first Saturday in September when the stars of Buckeye past were aligned under the stars at night, the Ohio State Buckeyes were graced with the presence of former head coach Jim Tressel. For one night, the Ohio State football team reminded us of the story of Tressel-ball. Hard work. Blue collar. Not pretty. Win.

This Saturday the Buckeyes will take on the Arkansas State Red Wolves who are coached by former Cincinnati and Tennessee head coach, Butch Jones. Arkansas State is coming off a 58-3 win over Grambling State this last weekend. This is the first meeting between the two schools and it is only fitting the stars align this way, with their first meeting in Columbus, Ohio in the Horseshoe. As this is the 100th season celebration of the Horseshoe which also holds the nickname, “The House that Harley Built,” in reference to Chic Harley.

Chic Harley played for Ohio State from 1916-1919. He did not play during the 1918 season because he left school to be a pilot in the United States Army Air Service during World War 1. As a football player, Chic Harley played halfback, safety, punter, and kicker. His 8.7 ppg average remains a record at Ohio State, and so does his most interceptions in a game (4) which came against Michigan in 1919. In the 120-year history of Ohio State football, the Buckeyes have had eight 3X All-Americans, and Chic Harley was the first and most important. He never played a game in Ohio Stadium. When he played the Buckeyes played on a 20,000-person field called “Ohio Field.” It was his aura, his energy, his story that ignited fans to come from all over to watch him play. Chic Harley was such a star for Ohio State, his aura was attracting more people than Ohio Field could hold. The play of Chic Harley is what inspired the University to build Ohio Stadium, also known as, The House that Harley Built.

It is only fitting that the stars have aligned, on the 100th year anniversary of The House that Harley Built, during a season that honors the 2002 National Championship team, that Arkansas State comes to town with their Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator, former Ohio State player, Rob Harley (the nephew of Chic Harley) who was also a member of the 2002 National Championship Team.

Dot connecting.

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