Tale of the Tape and predictions: Who has the edge when Notre Dame meets Ohio State?

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Not since 2007 at UCLA, with freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen, has Notre Dame won outright as an underdog of 17 points or more.

That's the challenge ahead of the fifth-ranked Irish as they face No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio.

How do the teams match up? Let's take a look:

Players to watch:Difference-makers abound as No. 5 Notre Dame football visits No. 2 Ohio State

WHEN NOTRE DAME HAS THE BALL

With a first-time starter at quarterback in Tyler Buchner (35 career pass attempts) and injury questions on offense, most notably with preseason All-America left guard Jarrett Patterson (sprained right foot), ball control seems like the better play than getting caught up in a real-life game of “Madden.” In its only two losses last season, Ohio State allowed Oregon and Michigan to rush for a combined 566 yards and nine touchdowns.

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

New Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has brought his distinctive 4-2-5 hybrid system over from Oklahoma State, and nickel safety Tanner McCalister came along as a grad transfer. Knowles didn’t coach the Fiesta Bowl, when Jack Coan passed for 509 yards and five touchdowns against the Cowboys, but the Irish and re-hired offensive line coach Harry Hiestand know it will take more than 2.0 yards a carry this time to pull off the upset as 17 ½-point underdogs. Look for offensive coordinator Tommy Rees to stretch the field horizontally more than vertically with a quick passing game that highlights future first-rounder Michael Mayer and speedsters Lorenzo Styles, Braden Lenzy and Chris Tyree.

Edge: Notre Dame

WHEN OHIO STATE HAS THE BALL

When a team has more returning Heisman Trophy candidates (three) than home losses (two) over the past six seasons, the challenge is evident. Sophomore quarterback C.J. Stroud, a 72-percent passer, is remarkably accurate and poised, even when chased from the pocket. Top receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba torched Utah in the Rose Bowl for 347 receiving yards on 15 catches, and super recruiter Brian Hartline’s wide receiver room is bursting with four-star talent.

Ohio State quarterback  C.J. Stroud will be much for Notre Dame's defense to handle Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022 in Columbus

Running back TreVeyon Henderson (5-10, 214 pounds) somehow becomes more dangerous after contact — 63% of his 1,248 rushing yards as a freshman came after the first hit. Speed rusher Isaiah Foskey and the Irish defensive line had their way with beefy Big Ten lines last season against Purdue and Wisconsin. New defensive coordinator Al Golden and former Buckeyes defensive assistant Al Washington must solve a Buckeyes’ O-line averaging 6-foot-5 and 317 pounds.

Edge: Ohio State

SPECIAL TEAMS

Irish kicker Blake Grupe (Arkansas State transfer) and punter Jon Sot (Harvard transfer) have never experienced a game-day environment anywhere close to what awaits at 104,000-seat Ohio Stadium. New special teams coach Brian Mason spent the past four seasons at Cincinnati, where the Bearcats blocked a combined 14 punts and kicks in that span. Marcus Freeman has cited “superior” special teams play as a key to victory this week.

Notre Dame kicker Blake Grupe (99) watches his field goal kick during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Ohio State with Australian Jesse Mirco ranked just 33rd in net punting last season, but Emeka Egbuka was 12th nationally in kickoff return average. Irish freshman kickoff specialist Bryce McFerson has a “monster leg,” according to Mason, and is tasked with taking Egbuka out of play. Buckeyes kicker Noah Ruggles, who transferred from North Carolina before last season, missed just one of 21 field-goal attempts in 2021 but has a career long of 49 yards.

Edge: Notre Dame

COACHING

Since taking over for Urban Meyer in December 2018, Ryan Day is 34-4 with just one of those losses coming at home (35-28 to Oregon last September). Day, who once coached wide receivers for Al Golden at Temple (2006), still calls the plays on offense. Freeman, coming off a Fiesta Bowl collapse that saw the Irish blow a 28-7 lead in his head coaching debut, won’t get as granular in his new role but still faces a learning curve when it comes to sideline decisions.

Edge: Ohio State

STAFF PREDICTIONS

What does the South Bend Tribune/ND Insider team that will be coving the game Saturday in Columbus think?

COLUMNIST TOM NOIE — Ohio State 41, Notre Dame 31

ND Insider columnist Tom Noie

Notre Dame is good, but not THAT good with too much unknown at head coach, at quarterback, at receiver, to pull off the impossible. For now.

BEAT WRITER MIKE BERARDINO Ohio State 35, Notre Dame 30

Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com

The Buckeyes are more vulnerable than the oddsmakers thought, but just have too many weapons for the Irish to complete the upset bid.

SPORTS WRITER JUSTIN FROMMER — Ohio State 38, Notre Dame 17

South Bend Tribune Sportswriter Justin Frommer

If this game was played in Week 4 with Tyler Buchner having more reps under his belt, I would like Notre Dame a little more. Ohio State has too much firepower.

SPORTS EDITOR MICHAEL WANBAUGH: Notre Dame 28, Ohio State 27

South Bend Tribune Sports Editor Michael Wanbaugh

What the heck, somebody had to say it. If the defense can keep them in the game late, it will be up to the Irish offense to pull off a little Notre Dame magic. And if I'm right, there will be no living with me.