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Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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46 PRESEASON 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED GAME PREVIEW: OHIO STATE Sophomore defensive ends J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer will headline the defensive front, while talented senior Zach Harrison will see plenty of snaps as well. Ohio State returns one of the best cornerback duos in the country in sophomore Denzel Burke and graduate student Cameron Brown. The Buckeyes finished fifth in the Big Ten last year with 12 interceptions. Advantage: Ohio State SPECIAL TEAMS Needing to replace both the starting placekicker and punter from last year, first-year Irish special teams coordinator Brian Mason had a lot to sort through this preseason. Mason, who landed the Notre Dame job when 2021 coordinator Brian Polian moved to LSU with Brian Kelly, went to the transfer portal to fill his placekicker vacancy. Graduate transfer Blake Grupe came from Ar- kansas State and enrolled in January. Grupe was a four-year starter and an All-Sun Belt Conference performer for the Red Wolves. He and sophomore Josh Bryan were locked in a battle for placekicking duties during fall camp. Irish true freshman Bryce McFerson is expected to handle the punting duties. The special teams for Notre Dame were solid in 2021 but not spectacular. Highlighted by a 96- yard kickoff return for touchdown by Tyree against Wisconsin, the Irish ranked 31st in kickoff returns. They were 55th in punt returns, 47th in punt cover- age and 53rd in kickoff coverage. Ohio State returns its full battery of specialists, including graduate student Noah Ruggles, who made 20 of 21 field goal attempts last season. With a 29-yard average, Buckeyes sophomore wideout Emeka Egbuka proved to be a dynamic kickoff returner as a freshman last season. Ohio State punter Jesse Mirco recorded no touch- backs and averaged 42.3 yards on his 31 tries. Advantage: Ohio State COACHING Because of the surprising defensive struggles last season — Ohio State allowed more than 30 points five times in 2021 — Day brought in Knowles from Oklahoma State to fix it. Under Knowles' guidance last season, the Cow- boys — Notre Dame's Fiesta Bowl opponent — led the high-powered Big 12 in scoring defense at just 18.1 points allowed per game. Day has gone a remarkable 34-4 during his first three-plus seasons at Ohio State. For Notre Dame, Freeman was given a pass after the disappointing 37-35 loss in the Fiesta Bowl, his first career game as a head coach. The honeymoon is over. The new staff is in place and the rah-rah feelings and high hopes that came with Freeman's popular hiring are finally put to the test. Does Freeman have the ballistics to pull an upset and hit the ground running? Or, is this game just the first step in a longer developmental process? Advantage: Ohio State INTANGIBLES Ohio State enters this season with much to prove and plenty of extra motivation after failing to win the Big Ten title for the first time since 2016. Add to the disappointment the fact that rival Michigan dethroned the Buckeyes and earned a spot in the College Football Playoffs for doing so. Home-field advantage needs be considered here as well. Day is 23-1 at the Horseshoe in 24 outings. It's no secret that Ohio State features one of the best offenses in the country. So, the question becomes, can the Irish defense — particularly with an unproven secondary — hold up? Playing Ohio State in the season opener could be advantageous for Notre Dame in the same way it was for Oregon last September when the Ducks pulled the upset in the Buckeyes' home opener and handed Day his only home loss to date. Advantage: Ohio State Ryan Day has posted a 34-4 record in his first three-plus seasons at Ohio State (including three wins as interim head coach in 2018). He led the Buckeyes to Big Ten Championships and the College Football Playoff in 2019 and 2020, and is looking to return to that level in 2022. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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