Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 10, 2022*

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

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26 SEPT. 10, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 1. Line Of Scrimmage Marcus Freeman kept hammering the point home in game week media availabilities. Notre Dame's game plan reinforced it. The Irish wanted to run the ball and control the clock. For a half or so, they did. They built a 10-7 half- time lead by averaging 6.5 yards per play and holding the ball for 16:35. The five plays that fol- lowed a 54-yard completion to open the game were runs. Their 10-play, 87-yard touchdown drive was a 50/50 run-pass split. Each team ran just 28 plays. Their preferred formula was working. Notre Dame stayed committed to it. Its second possession of the second half started at its own 12-yard line, and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees called two straight runs off the bat. Success was fleeting, though. None of Notre Dame's six second-half drives were longer than 40 yards or 3:36 on the clock. Ohio State's run defense stabilized and its own offense leaned into the same emphasis. The Buck- eyes rushed 24 times for 124 yards in the second half. They iced the game with a 14 play, 95-yard drive that milked 7:06 off the clock. Ten of those plays were runs. That's the type of drive Notre Dame put together in the first half and needed to replicate in the sec- ond half to win. Instead, the Irish ran just 20 plays after halftime, held the ball for 10:26 and turned 10 non-sack rushes into 34 yards. 2. Line Of Scrimmage, Part 2 Notre Dame holding Ohio State junior quarter- back C.J. Stroud in check is a credit to defensive coordinator Al Golden's game planning and the secondary. But the Irish fell short of rattling Stroud, notching just 1 sack. It came on Ohio State's sec- ond play. That sack wasn't the end of pressure on Stroud, but this was a game where quarterback hurries had to turn into more hits and havoc plays. The Irish didn't produce enough of them to send Ohio State backward or get off the field. Stroud's off- script ability can neutralize pressures, as it did when he fired a third-and-3 completion to running back Miyan Williams when multiple Irish defenders flushed him out of the pocket. Notre Dame needed its best pass rushers to pro- duce a couple highlight moments. That starts with senior viper Isaiah Foskey. But he had zero sacks. As did junior defensive end Rylie Mills. All told, Notre Dame made just 2 tackles for loss. 3. Defensive Depth Golden's debut performance slowed down one of the nation's best passing offenses. Stroud av- eraged 6.6 yards per pass attempt and 9.3 yards per completion, down from his 2021 averages of 10.1 and 14.0, respectively. Downfield shot plays and chunk yards after the catch were few and far between. A questionable Notre Dame secondary not only held its own, but showcased the improved depth Freeman forecasted this preseason. The Irish played five safeties and five cornerbacks, includ- ing two freshmen, and spent most of the game in nickel defense. First-year corners Benjamin Mor- rison and Jaden Mickey earned significant playing time. Ohio State's receivers are as skilled a group and as deep a unit as any other in college football. Even though junior Jaxon Smith-Njigba barely played due to an apparent injury, it's still a potent bunch. Mixed with Ohio State head coach Ryan Day's cre- ativity on offense, slowing them down is a big ask. Any secondary needs the requisite talent to stick with those receivers and depth to avoid burnout. Notre Dame made an early case that it has both. 4. Confidence Building Freeman and Rees wanted to get sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner an early confidence boost in his first start and in a raucous road en- vironment. A quick-hitter to sophomore receiver Lorenzo Styles that turned into a 54-yard catch- and-run on the game's first play sufficed. So did completing his first eight passes and tak- ing a halftime lead. Unless disaster ensued from there, Buchner could head into his next start with proof he can handle the position and the moment. A 2-of-10 finish wasn't quite disaster, but it was a departure from the rhythm he found in the first half. Still, Buchner committed zero turnovers. That's priority No. 1 for Freeman and Rees. Rees called high-percentage throws early, but let him hunt big plays as his confidence grew. The first play of the second half — which came after the Irish forced a three-and-out — was a shot for Styles. Later in the third quarter, Buchner fired into double coverage for graduate student receiver Braden Lenzy. It was incomplete and a high-risk decision, but indicative of a quarterback who was feeling himself. A 32-yard downfield completion to Lenzy immediately after Ohio State scored a go-ahead touchdown hinted at Rees' trust in him. Buchner had to be steadier for Notre Dame to beat Ohio State. The Irish need more from him than they got in his first start. But he can leave with a sense that he belongs in this role and that he has his coaches' full support. 5. Quiet Receivers Part of Buchner's progression involves a better connection with his wide receivers. That's a collab- orative effort, but one the Irish need to fast track. Buchner completed three passes to a wide re- ceiver against Ohio State. No wideout had more than one catch. He did not connect with Styles — Notre Dame's potential No. 1 receiver — after that first play. Sophomore starter Jayden Thomas didn't catch a pass in his first career start, which followed a preseason camp breakthrough. The receiver room's depth and prior manage- ment was the subject of the position's scrutiny this offseason. Those are still relevant concerns, but they took a backseat to disappointing production and cohesion in the opener. FIVE INITIAL THOUGHTS BY PATRICK ENGEL Senior Brandon Joseph and Cam Hart were part of a deep Irish secondary that limited Ohio State quar- terback C.J. Stroud to just 6.6 yards per pass attempt and 9.3 yards per completion. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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