Chat Transcript: Can Notre Dame pull off the upset at Ohio State?
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame football beat writer Mike Berardino held a live online chat Tuesday morning. The following are excerpts from that chat.
Mike Berardino: Good morning, everybody. Sorry for the late start. I was just finishing up a feature story for NDInsider.com that I think you'll enjoy. On to the chatting.
wgale.wembley: Coach Freeman wants to establish a consistently effective ground game first. That being said, will power rushers' like Diggs and some others be starters? Bill Gale
Mike Berardino: Hi Bill, thanks for the question. When I think of "power rushers" in Deland McCullough's running backs room, Diggs isn't the first name that comes to mind. That would be Audric Estime, the 228-pound sophomore who has redefined his body and his role since arriving on campus. His confidence is through the roof, as I've noted on Twitter during training camp, both in his words and in his actions. He's the one that appears poised for a breakout season, but McCullough has a history of finding roles for a variety of backs with differing styles and experience levels. Diggs, who switched his number from "22" to "3" in honor of injured captain Avery Davis, will be a key component once he's cleared for game action following late April labrum surgery. The good news is he's been out of that red jersey since Aug. 19.
Tools of the trade:Notre Dame running backs coach Deland McCullough and his bag of training toys
Alan from Whiteland, Indiana: Mike, with Notre Dame having little depth at both running back and wide receiver, plus an inexperienced quarterback, how do you see the offense moving the football this season? Thank you for answering my question.
Mike Berardino: Hi, Alan. Thanks for checking in. Depth has been an issue at wide receiver, even before the injuries to Avery Davis (ACL), Deion Colzie (PCL) and Jayden Thomas (hamstring). That's why Xavier Watts is carrying two different jerseys to practice each day. But I wouldn't characterize the RB room as lacking depth. Losing January enrollee Jadarian Price to an Achilles' injury this offseason was a tough setback, but it was offset by the June arrival of former Indiana signee Gi'Bran Payne. McCullough, who recruited him to both Bloomington and South Bend, sounded quite pleased with Payne's progress and potential this fall.
As far as Tommy Rees' offense in 2022, it still has the best tight end in the country (Michael Mayer), a dual-threat quarterback in Tyler Buchner, a reinvigorated offensive line that hopes to get preseason All-America first-teamer Jarrett Patterson back soon from a sprained foot and a nice blend of speed and hands in the expanded receiving corps (including Chris Tyree and Payne as slot hybrids).
Ryan mars pa: Mike when does coach freeman name the captain’s it’s almost game week.
Mike Berardino: Hi Ryan, should be any day now. Could be a couple of your PA guys on that list, depending on how deep the Irish want to go with permanent captains. Maybe they're buying a little more time after Patterson's foot sprain to make sure it's not more serious than initially thought.
Dave W: Any news on the status of Marist Liufau?
Mike Berardino: Hi Dave. He's been out there every time the media has been allowed in for highly orchestrated practice viewings, but the plan all along was to limit the number of repetitions and scrimmage snaps for Liufau in August. It was right around this time last August that the fourth-year junior from Manti Te'o's old high school suffered a devastating injury to his lower right leg (broken fibula, dislocated ankle). Saving him for the games that count makes plenty of sense, especially after he had all spring to learn Al Golden's defensive enhancements to the scheme Marcus Freeman had already put in place.
Jake E: What is the early speculation on Cam Hart’s status?
Mike Berardino: It's never advisable to speculate, so we won't do it here. Not saying this is the issue currently, but it's documented that Hart has had scopes on both shoulders to repair labrum injuries during his college career. He was able to do some non-contact work near the end of spring practice and hadn't missed any of the open sessions since training camp started on Aug. 5. Clearly, Hart's services will be vital to withstanding the vaunted Buckeye passing game on Sept. 3.
ND Harvey Philly Pa: Hey Mike, all good here in Philly, home of Mike McGlinchey. Watch out for my man Marist Liafau, he is going to be a stud this year, how do you feel. Beat the Buckeye’s. Go Irish
Mike Berardino: Hello, Harvey. Nice to hear from you. You are on record with your prediction for No. 8. See my answer above. A healthy Liufau should be a nightmare for opposing offenses, but that was a MAJOR injury he suffered on Aug. 25, 2021. Brian Kelly said at the time it was similar to the one receiver Jaylen Waddle suffered while he was at Alabama. Waddle made a full recovery and ended up going sixth overall to the Miami Dolphins in the 2021 draft.
Jake: Hello, I haven’t really seen highlights from spring or fall ball so far but from what I reading it sounds as if many feel Buckner is a below average passer is that the case. I thought he had real arm talent and not just running ability.
Mike Berardino: Hey Jake. I've been meaning to check with you about my car insurance. Oh, wait. Different Jake? Not sure what you've been reading, but Buchner's arm strength is solid and he throws a nice deep ball. It's ball placement on the short and intermediate routes that I'd say merit the most watching, along with his decision-making in general. He's a legit dual threat, but Buchner will be the first to tell you he must keep that front shoulder closed as long as possible in order to remain accurate and fit passes into tight windows. Lack of experience is a greater concern, at least at the outset. His first pass in Columbus on Sept. 3 will be just his 36th pass attempt at Notre Dame.
The Jet from Evansville: Who do you think will be our top wide receiver?
Mike Berardino: Game 1? Lorenzo Styles. By the time the season reaches Vegas and the Shamrock Series game against BYU, Tobias Merriweather could be rolling.
Mike from costa calif.: What is going on with Tosh Baker ? Sounds like he is lost in the shuffle . I thought he would be a three-year starter.
Mike Berardino: The towering tackle (6-8, 310) from Phoenix was back on the practice field Monday after being among five Irish offensive linemen to enter concussion protocol at various points this camp. Baker was among those wearing the Guardian helmet padding, joining fellow O-linemen Michael Carmody and Aamil Wagner. Baker, a former top-100 recruit in the 2020 class, never got his job back after making two starts and playing extensively in a third at left tackle early last season. He still got some run on the field goal/PAT unit but just seven more snaps came his way at LT after the Wisconsin game. Notre Dame has two young bookends in LT Joe Alt and RT Blake Fisher. Baker has been backing up at LT, but it won't be easy to beat out those two talented tackles in front of him.
Jeff, Rosarito Beach, Mexico:Hope I am wrong, but their QB at OSU has 4.3 speed and is gonna run when pressured for 200 yrds,,and their WR's are much better than Ok State, foemer Townie. Again, ND hasnt beaten a legit top 5 team in ages ,Clemson was missing their best playas and that was a ND home game to boot.
Mike Berardino: Hey Jeff, we're all jealous of your location. Sounds relaxing. As for Stroud, he might win the Heisman and he might shred the Irish secondary with his impressive accuracy and arm strength, but he probably won't beat them with his legs. This isn't a Justin Fields situation. Fields piled up more than 1,100 yards rushing in 34 college games, including his time at Georgia. Ohio State gave up just 17 sacks in 13 games last season, and Stroud still finished with minus-20 rushing yards on 32 attempts.
Brandon Joseph, the Northwestern transfer, spoke extensively on Monday about the comparison between Fields, who beat the Wildcats in the 2020 Big Ten Championship, and Stroud. Joseph's conclusion: "Justin was probably more of a runner, and C.J. throws a little bit prettier, in my opinion."
SueKo Hollidaysburg, PA: Perhaps I am the only one overreacting, but Jack Swarbrick’s worst business deal EVER was aligning ND with Under Armour. ANY chance of hooking up with Nike and getting the Jump Man for our most deserving Irish gridders in the near future?!? After all, they deserve the best!
Mike Berardino: It's important to remember that Notre Dame's 10-year deal with Under Armour for a reported $90 million was widely lauded when it was announced back in January of 2014. That total haul was 10 percent greater than the previous record for a college sports equipment deal, Michigan's $82 million deal over 10 years with adidas, Notre Dame's former supplier going back to 1997. At the time, CEO Kevin Plank and Under Armour were on a roll, one that continued in the immediate aftermath of the ND-UA alliance. By late September of 2015, Under Armour stock reached an all-time high of $52 a share. The worm turned, of course, and Under Armour saw its share price plummet in 2017, followed by a series of deal cancellations with college athletic departments such as UCLA, Cal, Cincinnati and Boston College. Notre Dame's arrangement, as Swarbrick reportedly told ESPN at the time, included provisions to take some of the cash in company stock. No clue on how that aspect of the deal panned out.
Under Armour stock reached a 52-week low of $8.10 a share in mid-July, so Domers no doubt hope the strike date was very early in the 10-year agreement period. Considering Under Armour seems to be divesting itself of college sports partners, Notre Dame could well find a new equipment supplier once this deal ends in 2024. Remember Swarbrick's famous line in early 2014: "We don't believe we're partnering with a $2 billion company. We're partnering with a $20 billion company." Under Armour's market cap, as of this morning, was $1.97 billion.
Frank,Lakeside Park,Ky: Haven’t heard much about Mike Mayer , what’s up with that?
Mike Berardino: Hey, in training camp, no news is good news. We'll talk to Mayer on Wednesday evening along with some of his fellow tight ends. By the way, remember the placekicking brothers Steve and Nick Mike-Mayer from the NFL of the mid-70s to early '80s? Your question made me look them up. Never realized Steve, 74, was born in Budapest, Hungary while Nick (2 1/2 years younger) was born in Bologna, Italy. Seems like that could come in handy on sports trivia night somewhere. Thanks for sending me down that rabbit hole.
CHUCK FROM CLEVELAND "THE LAND": Hi Mike, in watching how Oregon went to Columbus last year and beat the Buckeyes, my keys to an Irish win are, 1) Dominate with the O-Line which provides run/pass balance and, 2) NO TURNOVERS --- NADA, NONE! My biggest concern here is Correll. He has played soft in the past and , if JPAT is healthy, why is he NOT playing Center vs Zeke? I respect Hiestand tremendously but the O-Line MUST dominate to beat the Bucks as IMHO, no matter how good our Defense is on paper, that OSU Offense is deadly. Avoid turnovers and minimize OSU Offensive possessions. Thanks, Mike.
Mike Berardino: Hey Chuck, did you copyright that "The Land" thing yet? Might want to look into it. Ball control that keeps C.J. Stroud and Co. on the sideline would be a great way to start the recipe for a stunning upset. So would a turnover margin of plus-3 or better on the night. I'm not sure why you're cracking on Zeke Correll. Granted, it was a bit risky to move Patterson off center — where he's a first-team preseason All-American and the starter of 34 of the past 38 Irish games — after he missed all of spring practice. But the calculus was all about getting the best five Notre Dame O-linemen out there together. Harry Hiestand was impressed enough with Correll's spring showing at center that the decision was made to keep him there. In Patterson's absence, Andrew Kristofic, who replaced Correll at left guard for the final eight games last season, is back with the 1s. The hope remains that Patterson will be able to take the field on Sept. 3 and be his dominant self, but that seems like a tall order given the timing.
BB: Want to get your thoughts on why NBC is going with an inexperienced broadcast team (as compared to prior years).
Mike Berardino: Not sure if that's you, Coach Belichick, but I'll answer as if it were. "Jac Collinsworth comes from a good football family, knows the game, knows the program, knows the campus, knows where to park, gave us some quality work last season. We like Jac. We like his future. Jac will be fine. Jason Garrett, we all know Jason. Good football man. Princeton man. Solid backup. Learned from Troy Aikman. That should help. Former head coach in Dallas. Did a lot of good things there. Had some tough moments as well, but who doesn't? I didn't watch any of the USFL this spring, at least not with the sound on. I did see a few long snappers I took some notes on, but from what I'm told Jac and Jason, they went up that hill and they fetched the pail of water just fine. I mean, just fine. I would suggest both of them watch their step on the way back down the hill, for obvious reasons. I don't know if that answers your question. I'm on to Columbus."
Gil Patrick: Hello Mike: It is obviously a tall task for the Irish to beat the Buckeyes in the 'Horseshoe" on a Saturday night. In my opinion Notre Dame's only path to upsetting 'The" Ohio State is by playing strong defense and being able to run the football. My question is do you think they can consistently move the ball on the ground against Ohio State's defense? Will they use the option play more this year with Tyler Buchner at QB? Thanks!
Mike Berardino: Hey Gil, couple things here of note. First off, I find it fascinating that Notre Dame faced a Jim Knowles defense in the Fiesta Bowl, even if he didn't coach it for Oklahoma State because he'd already agreed to work for Ohio State moving forward. The run-pass balance in that game, obviously, was a bit askew for the Irish. Was that just because of Kyren Williams skipping out and Josh Lugg being unavailable? Not sure, but Knowles' last defense with the Cowboys finished fifth nationally in fewest yards allowed per rushing attempt. Ohio State was 33rd last season in that department. It's also interesting to me that Al Washington is on the Irish staff now, of course, after spending the last three seasons coaching linebackers at Ohio State. He spoke recently about the close relationship he's built with Harry Hiestand as they tutor Notre Dame's men in the trenches. Can't hurt to have all that available knowledge in the building when it comes to scheming against the Buckeyes' front seven.
Then again, that's Knowles' scheme now with Ohio State talent, much of which Washington had a hand in recruiting. More connections? Ohio State's new O-line coach is Justin Frye. He spent the last four years at UCLA, but before that he was at Boston College from 2013-17 as O-line coach and run game coordinator. Al Washington, a BC alum, was on the BC staff during that time as running backs (2013-15) and D-line (2016) coach. There's also Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. He was Indiana's head coach from 2011-16. His running backs coach that whole time was Deland McCullough, now at Notre Dame. Oh, and Ohio State RB coach/assistant head coach for offense Tony Alford was at Notre Dame from 2009-14. From 2012-14, he was Irish RB coach with Harry Hiestand running the O-line. So, yeah, should be quite a chess match.
Sean, Portland OR: Hi Mike, I am worried that Buchner might be another Wimbush. Wimbush was a fine, winning, athletic QB, and a great young man. However, he was quite a bit overhyped. He came into college as one of the most accurate high school quarterbacks in the country, but that didn't translate. I went to the Vandy game in 2018, and watched him warming up next to Ian Book. Book clearly through a better ball, tighter spiral, more accurate, could hit receivers in stride... Things Wimbush struggled with, despite maybe having more athleticism and a better arm. Do you think a Buchner/Wimbush comparison is fair?
Mike Berardino: Thanks, Sean. Appreciate the question. I started my time here with the Stanford game in 2018, so I can't speak to the recruiting hype or the subtleties of how Wimbush played in 2017-18 before losing the job to Ian Book. Here's a parallel, though, one we discussed with Brandon when we had him on Pod of Gold a few months back to discuss his MOGL NIL marketing venture. Buchner has 35 career pass attempts as he makes this season-opening start. That's the fewest for an Irish QB since Wimbush entered 2017 with five career pass attempts, all of those in 2015. Wimbush led the Irish to a 49-16 win at home. Yes, it was against Temple, but he still finished his career 13-3 as the starter and distinguished himself as a team-first guy in the wake of his personal disappointment.
Let us also not forget that while throwing accuracy was a problem, Wimbush did run for 16 touchdowns and 1,156 yards (5.4-yard average) before going the grad transfer route to Central Florida. Buchner averaged 7.3 yards per rush last season and could be a game changer with his legs. His mobility and knack for off-schedule throws should make him difficult to defend. Final answer: Your comparison seems apt, but Buchner should have a much higher completion percentage. It was 60 percent on the nose last year, but that, as mentioned earlier, was a small sample size.
Ken - Pensacola: Do you believe ND can defeat Ohio State, and if so, what will it take for a win by ND?
Mike Berardino: Hi Ken, we still have 11 days left to hype this thing, so I won't be pinned down! As mentioned earlier, the formula for a Notre Dame upset probably starts with a plus-3 turnover margin, at least 35 minutes of possession time and a 10-point lead after the first quarter. That would take some of the wind out of that nighttime crowd of 110,000 that will pack the Horseshoe. Even then, the visitors would have to hold off a late rally from a Buckeyes team now favored by 16 1/2 points, per the VegasInsider.com consensus.
Over the previous 10 seasons, Ohio State has lost just four home games. In all but one of those — 2017 against Baker Mayfield and No. 5 Oklahoma (31-16 Sooners) — the Buckeyes were a double-digit betting favorite. The line was Ohio State by 7 1/2 before that signature performance for the eventual Heisman winner. No. 12 Oregon upset the Buckeyes in 2021 as 14.5-point dogs. In 2015, No. 9 Michigan State was a 13-point dog, and in 2014 unranked Virginia Tech came in as a 10-point dog.
Well, that's all the questions we have. Enjoyed it as always. Thanks again for stopping by. I invite you to keep reading NDInsider.com and follow me on Twitter for all the latest updates as the Clash In Columbus draws ever closer.