CHAT TRANSCRIPT: Who will be the X-factor for Notre Dame offense at Ohio State?
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame football beat writer Mike Berardino held his weekly in-season chat Tuesday afternoon. The following are excerpts from that chat. Questions have been edited for length and clarity.
Mike Berardino: Hello, Irish football fans. Sorry for the late start, but I was finishing up a feature story that will post soon on NDInsider.com. I think you'll enjoy it. On to the chat!
Ken - Pensacola: Mike – What is ND’s path to victory over Ohio State and do you think that Ohio State is overconfident about Saturday’s game. Tell me what you feel the final score will be?
Mike Berardino: Hi Pensacola Ken, thanks for checking in. As I mentioned here last week on the chat, I believe the formula for an Irish upset starts with 35-plus minutes of possession time, a fast start and a plus-3 turnover margin. Marcus Freeman certainly emphasized the importance of "establishing long drives" during Monday's half-hour visit with the media.
The longer C.J. Stroud and Co. must wait and watch from the sideline, the better it is for the visitors. The Irish completely abandoned the run in the Fiesta Bowl against Jim Knowles' former defense, so it will be interesting to see who is committed to the run on Saturday night.
It wouldn't surprise me if Tyler Buchner was their leading rusher as I think the remaining carries will be fairly split. One thing that did surprise me in looking back over Ohio State's last decade (117-13 combined record): the Buckeyes were -2 or worse in turnover margin just three times in those losses. They've actually been plus-1 in turnover margin in three of their past six losses.
That dates to the Baker Mayfield game in 2017. The two outliers in recent years were the 2019 CFP semifinal loss to Clemson (minus-2 TO margin) and 2017 at Iowa (minus-4 in a 55-24 drubbing). It's possible Notre Dame could spring the huge upset without help from Ohio State — whether that be turnovers and/or penalties — but the clearest path against a prohibitive favorite is for the more talented team to implode.
Sam - Philadelphia: Realistically, how many points do the Irish need to score if they want a real shot at winning this? I think the Irish have everything it takes to pull off a win, but they'll need a lot of offensive power to pull this one off. Who needs to be an under-the-radar X-factor on this offense that not many people may be paying attention to right now?
Mike Berardino: Hi Sam, great question(s). Before blowing a 21-point first-half lead in the Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had won 42 straight times when scoring 30 or more points. Considering the Buckeyes have averaged 39 or more points in each of the past six seasons, that Irish formula could be tested again Saturday. The betting total of 58 seems like the biggest inefficiency I've spotted so far. It's hard to imagine a winning score for either team that doesn't start with a "3" if not a "4." As for the X-factor, let's go with Xavier Watts. The WR/S isn't listed on the (mostly meaningless) two-deep that was distributed Monday, but I could see him making an impact in all three phases on Saturday.
Ryan, Mars, PA:Thanks for communicating with me on Twitter the other day. What is your score prediction for Saturday? I’m going with the Irish by 7.
Mike Berardino: Hey, Ryan. My DMs are always open. Same with email, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, the whole deal. Truly a privilege to interact with such an informed and engaged fan base. I'll note your prediction here. I'm not quite ready to reveal mine. That should be up online at NDInsider.com on Wednesday afternoon.
Damion: What is the latest on Jarrett Patterson?
Mike Berardino: Hey (Parts Unknown) Damion. There's still great uncertainty about Notre Dame's preseason All-America left guard and his sprained right foot. Freeman said Monday: “I expect him to come out this week and practice." Whether Patterson, who suffered the injury the night of Aug. 15 out at Penn High School, can make it all the way back to play 19 days later against the second-ranked team in the nation seems like a huge ask. I wouldn't be shocked to see Patterson give it a go, at least in pregame warmups, but how effectively he'd be able to play is another question entirely. The good news is Andrew Kristofic, who has been filling in for Patterson, started seven times and essentially went the distance at Virginia Tech after taking over for (now center) Zeke Correll last season.
Per the PFF-College database, Kristofic had a rough outing at Virginia last November, but otherwise his grades were remarkably consistent (between 65 and 68) once he took over at left guard. Correll's grade each season has ranged from 65.5 (2019) to 56.6 (2020) and then back up to 58.2 (2021), for what it's worth. Point being, Kristofic has been tested and is more than serviceable. Dominant like Patterson? No. But more than serviceable.
CHUCK FROM CLEVELAND "THE LAND": Hi Mike, Chuck from " The Land." One thing really caught my eye this week and want your insight as to whether this should be a concern or not. Noticed that OSU O-Line is well over 300-pound average but our D-Line has no one near 300 pounds. Will we able to handle all this beef? As info, our O-Line averages well over 300 pounds also but the D-Line for OSU has similar beef. Need to stuff their run and pressure Stroud but we seem to be "undersized." Thank you, Mike, for getting us ready!
Mike Berardino: Hey Chuck, good to hear from you again. I wouldn't stress too much about the listed weights. Yes, the Buckeyes average 316.8 pounds up front, but that is skewed a bit by 6-8, 359-pound right tackle Dawand Jones (Indianapolis Ben Davis). Keep in mind, Notre Dame's defensive line works daily in practice against another highly regarded O-line.
Plus, it's not like these Irish haven't faced Big Ten lines before. Remember last September in weeks 3 and 4 when Notre Dame handled Purdue (25 rushing attempts for 57 yards) and Wisconsin (28-78) in back-to-back weeks. Kurt Hinish and MTA have moved on, but Howard Cross/Chris Smith/Jacob Lacey/Rylie Mills/Jayson Ademilola and Co. have stepped up to fill the void.
That combined rushing output allowed of 2.55 yards per game and no touchdowns came against a Wisconsin line that couldn't protect QB Graham Mertz and a Purdue line that struggled as well. For the sake of comparison, the Badgers' projected starting O-line averages 314.8 pounds this season.
When I asked Mertz and Purdue QB Aidan O'Connell (at Big Ten Media Days) about facing Isaiah Foskey and friends last season, they winced at the mention of his name. C.J. Stroud's line could be tested in a similar fashion on Saturday night.
Whitey from Alpha, NJ: Hi Mike. I’ve been reading/hearing glowing reports about freshman tight end Holden Staes. I have a feeling he will be involved in the passing game but more in a wide receiver mode. What do you think?
Mike Berardino: Hey Whitey From Jersey, thanks for the question. Those glowing reports are justified on both Staes and fellow freshman TE Eli Raridon. I'd say it's certainly possible they will factor in the passing game in the opener, but more likely it will be backup Kevin Bauman (your fellow Jersey guy from Red Bank Catholic) who gets the first crack in the 12 personnel groupings. If Mayer draws as much attention as I expect, whether in line or when flexed out, look for Bauman to get some opportunities as a quick outlet over the middle. Bauman told us last week he has "improved tremendously" in his route running. Now week 2 against Marshall? I think we'll see a lot of Raridon and Staes.
Frankie from Virginia: Please, please tell head coach Marcus Freeman! Please go back to shoe tradition — black, blue or gold shoes !! No white. Doesn't make sense to me. Please bring (back) Notre Dame traditions.
Mike Berardino: Yo, Frankie! Haven't we been over this before? It's not the shoes. It's the dudes wearing the shoes.
Frankie from Virginia: Does the Notre Dame offense need (to be) more aggressive and (make) bigger plays? Need more play-action? (Ohio State's) defense will be aggressive.
Mike Berardino: I like this word salad, Frankie. Let me give it a try. Play action is only useful if your running game is a threat. The last time Notre Dame faced the Jim Knowles-taught defense — even though he wasn't present for the Fiesta Bowl — it asked Jack Coan to throw a whopping 68 passes and the Irish running game (sans Kyren Williams) averaged a whopping 2.0 yards on 21 carries.
The Buckeyes' defense that Knowles now oversees struggled to stop people on the ground last season, but was actually better than Oklahoma State when it came to preventing chunk receptions of 30-plus yards (17-14 Cowboys) and 40-plus yards (10-5 Cowboys). The Irish hit pass plays of 33 yards (Styles) and 53 yards (Tyree) in the Fiesta Bowl, plus gains of 29 (Styles) and three more to Kevin Austin Jr. (25, 21 and 20).
Bottom line: I agree with you that Tyler Buchner must take some shots down the field, and I believe he will.
Football coaches never telegraph moves they actually plan to make, and Freeman has talked extensively about establishing the run on offense, really going back to February. Do I think Notre Dame wants to throw 68 times on Saturday? Of course, not. But I don't think Buchner will be playing in handcuffs either.
Like Coan in Glendale, Buchner will be looking to gash a gambling hybrid scheme whenever possible.
Mike Berardino: Thanks for the questions, everybody. Keep reading NDInsider.com throughout the week, and we'll see you again right here on Tuesday Sept. 6 at 11 a.m. for our Marshall Week Live Chat.
Follow Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino and on TikTok @mikeberardinoNDI.