Difference-makers abound as No. 5 Notre Dame football visits No. 2 Ohio State
PLAYERS TO WATCH
(12) QB Tyler Buchner
Another Notre Dame quarterback makes his first start for the Irish in another road/season opener. Last year, it was Jack Coan, who survived the soupy/suffocating/swamp-like stage in Tallahassee, Florida in his Irish quarterback baptism for an overtime win over Florida State.
Now, it’s Buchner, who steps under center for the first time as a starter in a stadium that holds 104,000 with a national television audience tuned in against a team that many believe will eventually play for the national championship. The pressure and the expectations and the demands on Buchner’s arm and legs Saturday are enormous. That comes with the position. But we’re often told that this is why guys like Buchner come to Notre Dame — to play in these types of games.
Still, this is A LOT to ask a first-time starter. Maybe, too much. Buchner was named the starter over Drew Pyne early in camp, but for someone who last started a game that mattered in his early days of high school, he remains a massive blank slate. Is he ready for this? Can he do this? What will Buchner do best? Throw it? Run it? Above all, he must take care of it. Move the offense, make smart decisions and trust the guys around him. Do that, and his debut might mirror Coan’s.
(16) RS BRANDON JOSEPH
Joseph quickly and confidently compared himself early in his Notre Dame career to former Irish safety and first-round NFL draft pick Kyle Hamilton. He talked late in the summer not of IF but WHEN Notre Dame goes into Ohio Stadium and returns with a win. He's shown flashes of eventual first-round NFL draft skills on the back end of the defense.
Joseph now must walk that walk. On everything and in every way. He’s been solid, if not spectacular during preseason camp. When Hamilton was at work during his Augusts, he often did something that forced observers to sit up and say, WHOA! That really wasn’t Joseph last month, but it has to be Joseph this month. On Saturday night. The Irish defense (cornerbacks) will be stress-tested routinely by Ohio State. Joseph has to use his experience and moxie and ball skills to clean up any potential missteps, and make a few momentum-swinging plays. Last year during Labor Day weekend, Hamilton put college football (and the NFL) on notice when he came from nowhere for a diving interception at Florida State. A play or two like that from Joseph in this one would be nice.
Surprisingly, Joseph was listed as an "OR" starter with Ramon Henderson on the Irish depth chart. He can't have an "OR" kind of season. He has to be a game-changer, starting Saturday.
Predictions:How NDI staff sees 2022 unfolding for Irish
(32) RB TREVEYON HENDERSON
You can pick from an impressing/intimidating list of players to track when it comes to the Ohio State offense. Who do you watch? Who don’t you watch? Quarterback C.J. Stroud (4,400 yards passing, 44 touchdowns) last season is a Heisman candidate. Wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba caught 95 passes for 1,606 yards. He had a combined 587 yards receiving in TWO games. That’s just downright ridiculous. Offensive lineman Paris Johnson moves from guard to left tackle this season and is a future high first-round NFL draft pick.
Watch all those guys, and you tend to forget about the sophomore Henderson, also a Heisman candidate who rushed for 1,248 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. He caught 27 passes for 31 yards and four more scores. He can do a lot, and usually does, in an offense that has weapons at every spot. Focus on the quarterback or the wideouts or the line, and Henderson is off on another big gainer. He has to be near the top of defensive coordinator Al Golden's game plan.
(9) DE ZACH HARRISON
A veteran Irish offensive line again under the tutelage of position coach Harry Hiestand, someone who churns out NFL-caliber guys seemingly every season, is going to be challenged from the jump by an Ohio State defense that believes it has plenty to prove coming off last season, where it didn’t uphold the usual standard.
At defensive end, the 6-foot-6, 272-pound Harrison is a handful. A team captain last season and second team All-Big Ten for a second straight season, Harrison tallied 34 tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles and four passes defended while starting 12 games for the first time in his collegiate career. He also runs the 40 in 4.7 seconds. He's often showed plenty of reasons why he was the top-ranked defensive end prospect coming out of high school.
Notre Dame bookend tackles Joe Alt (left) and Blake Fisher (right) are really good as true sophomores. How good? We’ll find out in having to deal with Harrison. As much as the Ohio State offense is feared, the defense believes this has to be THEIR year. Same for Harrison.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.
No. 5 Notre Dame (0-0) vs. No. 2 Ohio State (0-0)
When: Saturday at 7 :30 p.m.
Where: Ohio Stadium (104,944), Columbus, Ohio
TV/Radio: ABC, WSBT Radio (960 AM)
Line: Ohio State favored by 17½
Series: Ohio State leads, 4-2.
Last meeting: Ohio State 44, Notre Dame 28 (Fiesta Bowl), Jan. 1, 2016, Glendale, Ariz.