No. 6 Ohio State has its offensive game plan ready for its top-10 matchup at No. 9 Notre Dame at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday. The Buckeyes will “let it rip,” as Ryan Day said.
“That’s going to be our mentality. We have to go into this environment and go get it,” Day said. “There’s no other way to be. Our guys understand that, they feel that this week and that’s the way we’re going to play. We’re going to go as hard as we possibly can and not look up at the scoreboard until the fourth quarter.”
Day’s talk about an aggressive approach is similar to the way he sounded going into last year’s Peach Bowl against Georgia, when Ohio State’s offense played one of its best games despite the 42-41 loss. Now, after juggling a new quarterback in Kyle McCord and three new offensive linemen through the first three games, Ohio State is taking the national stage with its new-look offense.
Notre Dame-Ohio State beat writer breakdown: What to expect in top-10 showdown
Here are three things to watch for the Buckeyes:
Ohio State staying on schedule offensively
McCord has looked significantly more comfortable the past two weeks after an uneven opener at Indiana. Yes, the talent level of the opponent dipped against Youngstown State and Western Kentucky, but there’s no doubt Ohio State has been more efficient.
Last week, Ohio State scored 63 points against Western Kentucky. McCord played nine drives, leading the Buckeyes to touchdowns on six of them.
Ohio State allowed just two tackles for a loss. In one situation, it was a second-down pass to Cade Stover that lost one yard. The other was a McCord sack and fumble, a play in which he held the ball too long.
Other than that, Ohio State did a great job of staying on schedule. It’s no coincidence that McCord had the best day of his young career.
“We always want to be on schedule. The minute we get off schedule, that’s difficult for any quarterback,” Day said. “We had a couple penalties on Saturday, we want to get rid of those. We want to win first down. First down is four yards; if we can win first down, that gives us a chance to get ourselves in third-and-manageable and be explosive. … We have to win first and second down.”
Per TruMedia, Ohio State gained at least four yards on 69 percent of its first-down plays against WKU, up from 48.3 percent at Indiana and 53.8 percent against Youngstown State. Last year, it gained at least four yards on first down 58.9 percent of the time (second best in the country), including 61.3 percent in the opening win against Notre Dame. Early-down success will undoubtedly be pivotal Saturday night on the road in South Bend.
McCord is walking into the biggest game of his career thus far. While everybody around him believes he doesn’t get nervous before games, keeping him in a position where he doesn’t have to play out of his comfort zone early will go a long way toward helping him get in a groove early.
Notre Dame has a better defense than any of the first three opponents, though the Irish haven’t been particularly disruptive yet. They are averaging 4.2 tackles for loss per game, which ranks No. 118 nationally.
This is an area of the game Ohio State must win. If running back TreVeyon Henderson has a good day, then McCord will likely have a good day, too.
How Denzel Burke put Georgia behind him: Is he becoming Ohio State’s latest shutdown CB?
Defensive line must cause havoc
We spent much of the offseason talking about how good Ohio State’s defensive line was going to be this year. And the line has been good, even if fans are clamoring for more sacks than the five Ohio State has through three games.
Against a pass-happy WKU offense that gets the ball out quickly, the Buckeyes had only two sacks, but star ends JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer had 13 combined pressures, per TruMedia. Ohio State has generated pressure on 35.8 percent of opposing dropbacks this season, which ranks 42nd.
Tallying a sack against Hilltoppers’ quarterback Austin Reed was difficult, defensive tackle Tyleik Williams said.
“Our defensive ends generate a lot of pressure,” Williams said. “You can’t expect them to get there if he’s throwing the ball in two seconds. It’s literally impossible.”
Sacks aren’t everything to a defense. Pressures are sometimes just as good because the quarterback can feel it all game, even if it’s not there.
Ohio State needs to pressure Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman, who’s been one of the nation’s most effective passers throwing downfield. The Buckeyes have loads of talent up front, and in big games, your best players have to step up. Beyond Tuimoloau and Sawyer, defensive tackle Michael Hall Jr., is a future NFL player and Williams is playing the best football of his career.
This is the game Ohio State’s defensive line has to leave its mark on against what’s expected to be one of the best offensive lines in the country, led by likely first-round pick Joe Alt at left tackle.
Slowing down Estime
Ohio State has rotated running backs, but Notre Dame is going to rely on Audric Estime all game long. He’s been a workhorse, including 20 carries for 176 yards last week against Central Michigan.
In four games, Estime has 521 yards and five touchdowns. He’s a talented back who is averaging 8.3 yards per carry. At 227 pounds, he is a physical player, but he can also break away from defenses, as shown by his 80-yard touchdown run against NC State. Per TruMedia, he’s averaging 4.7 yards after contact, good for No. 12 in the country among running backs with at least 30 carries.
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) September 9, 2023
It’s also hard to get to Estime to initiate first contact. Because of Notre Dame’s elite offensive line, he’s averaging 3.7 yards before contact, as well.
The good thing for Ohio State is that it’s been stout up front. Opponents are averaging just 2.53 yards per carry against the Buckeyes, and a big part of that is their interior defensive linemen. Williams, Hall, Ty Hamilton, Jaden McKenzie and others have been good at soaking up blockers to allow the linebackers to come in. But they also have made tackles at the line of scrimmage, as well.
This is going to be a crucial part of the game. Just as staying on schedule will help McCord, the same goes for Notre Dame. If Ohio State can contain Estime and get itself into positions where the defensive line can just get after the quarterback on second- or third-and-long, Ohio State will like its chances.
Ohio State 28, Notre Dame 24
This is the game where Ohio State’s defense steps up and shows on a major stage that it’s more improved than people think.
Inside Notre Dame’s strategy to keep Ohio State red out of the stadium
(Photo: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)