Notre Dame Debriefing: Ohio State’s overhauled defense strengthened as offense stuttered early
Defense wins championships.
Ohio State lost to Oregon a year ago because its defense was not up to par. They lost to Michigan in a butt-whooping to put an exclamation mark on the problem. Ryan Day took notice and blew things up in the offseason, bringing in a $2 million coordinator and nearly all the new assistants, saving only future Hall of Famer Larry Johnson.
Against a top five opponent in a prime time season opener, it looks like the plan worked. While the vaunted Buckeye offense stuttered for the first 30 minutes, the Silver Bullets went about the business.
TL;DR: JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM
It was a two-part story for CJ Stroud and the Buckeye offensive. In the first, the Buckeyes scored just a single touchdown, missed a field goal, and rushed just 50 yards.
But things opened up a bit for the home team in the second round as Stroud settled in and Day reminded himself he could actually call a rushed game. The Buckeyes increased their offensive performance by 65% after the break and scored two extra touchdowns thanks to Xavier Johnson and Miyan Williams.
But the story of the night is how, for the first time in ages, Ohio State was able to rely on its defenses to get the job done. Tommy Eichenberg and Mike Hall Jr. were sensational, the play call was spot on and fans could see plenty of reasons to look forward to things to come from the Jim Knowles-led regime.
HOW IT WENT
They got you sweating early on, that’s for sure. Just 149 yards total offense in the first half and it seemed like Jaxson Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming were both knocked out that things were going in the wrong direction for the country’s best offense.
The unit certainly didn’t look like the unstoppable juggernaut unveiled at the Rose Bowl nine months ago, with just a touchdown beside a missed field goal to show for their first-half effort.
Apparently Ryan Day made the right halftime speech, as the offense seemed a lot more confident in the second half, reeling off 246 yards in a much more rushing attack. Day only called 11 carries before halftime but chose two dozen in the second. Running the ball paid off as Treveyon Henderson and Miyan Williams combined for 171 yards on the floor at an average of 6 yards per clip.
The questions for this unit coming into the season were who would become the big playmakers when Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson move to the league and if the offensive line is up to scratch. Both questions were tested on Saturday night as JSN and Julian Fleming were not factors in the game due to injury concerns and Notre Dame’s defense looked like it was too much for comfort in Stroud’s face.
Emeka Egbuka emerged as the team’s leading receiver, not entirely surprising given what was expected of him, and he and the rest of the receiving corps made Brian Hartline proud of a night that wasn’t perfect but was good enough to get the job done to do . Day may need to lean more on his ground game than he would prefer given his pass-first mentality, but he clearly has the horses to get the job done on land or in the air.
It’s worth noting that Ohio State’s 21 points is its lowest total since losing to Oklahoma in 2017 and the team rushed for under 400 yards (395) for the second time in the Ryan Day era.
CHOP CHOP CHOP: It took Ryan Day too long to run the ball like he meant to, but when he finally pulled the pin, Miyan Williams was amazing. Oh, and did you see that catch on the sidelines late in the game?!?
Xavier Johnson: On a night when the Buckeye offensive name brands weren’t having their best showing, Johnson rose big with a crucial touchdown.
CJ Stroud: There were a few throws that didn’t look good early on, but with an exhausted receiving corps, he still managed to complete 71% of his passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. That will work.
Will you check out that defense huh??? After an ugly opening drive spotted Notre Dame 71 yards and a field goal, and a 10-play, 87-yard bleeder added another touchdown early in the second quarter, the Irish just couldn’t move the ball against Knowles’ aggressive, confident Buckeye defense .
It was a revelation after last year’s puffy Ode to Mediocrity.
The players made some big games, the scheme looked just as good as advertised, and more than anything it looked like a unit built to keep Ohio State in big games regardless of what’s on the other side could happen (or not happen) Ball.
With three sacks and six tackles for losses to their tally, the Knowles unit looks poised to delight in Big Ten teams in the weeks to come, and one in particular that can keep Ohio State on track to win in November and beyond.
Jim Knowles: There are still many things that we haven’t shown yet. Tonight we were rather simple.
— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) September 4, 2022
Consider Notre Dame punctuating 8 of his 10 drives and only 12 first downs all night. Or that Ireland quarterback Tyler Buchner started the game with eight straight passes but then completed only two of his last 10 passes.
Yes, that seems like a good start for a rebuild project.
Tommy Eichenberg: 9 total tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFLs…this guy looked like he was everywhere. He looked fast, he looked confident, he looked like the defensive leader Knowles promised in the offseason.
Mike Hall Jr.: 4 total tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFLs… Hall was a monster in the middle and was a big part of the reason Notre Dame averaged a paltry 2.5 yards per carry.
Jesse Mirco: Yes, the punter isn’t technically part of the defense, but the big boot had Notre Dame secured against its own end zone most of the night. Four of his five punts landed inside the 20, and the average starting position for the Irish was the 17-yard line.
HAS THE DEFENSE HITTING 30% LESS THAN LAST SEASON?
Faithful listeners of The Eleven Dubcast (subscribe wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts!) will know that I’ve repeatedly dismissed the notion that Ohio state’s overhauled defense needs to be in the top 5 in the country. As good as Ryan Day’s offense was (yeah, I know that wasn’t their best game ever), Jim Knowles doesn’t need to turn the Silver Bullets into the ’85 Bears to win championships, You only have to vacuum 30% less than last season.
To put that in perspective, last season’s defense gave up an average of 372.9 yards and 22.8 points per game. It hurts to write this, trust me.
So it seemed only logical to add a new feature The debriefing each week this season to assess how well the defense is meeting that goal and at the end of the season to see if “The 30% Hypothesis” holds.
Notre Dame managed just 253 net yards in total offense, which is better than 30% less than Ohio State’s legal average last season, and just 10 points, which is ALSO better than 30% less than last year’s legal average .
VERDICT: YES, Ohio State’s defense sucked at least 30% less than last season!
JIM TRESSELS AT THE LOST POPULAR MOMENT OF THE GAME
Coach Tressel loves nothing more than to see his youngsters grow and succeed, so his team’s 20th anniversary of the 2002 National Championship was a wonderful opportunity to see some of his favorite players and enjoy the upstanding men he has always known that they could be her.
Putting on a popular sweater vest, he looked at Miss Ellen and said, “You know, it just feels right” as they left the hotel for another ride to this sacred place where he remembered the modern era of Ohio State Football ushered in .
While the premium suites aren’t quite as comfortable as his broken chair, being back on campus and feeling the energy of 106,000 friends and neighbors was more than worth it. The thoughtful staff had even stocked the mini-fridge with ice-cold whole milk (“You’re cheating yourself if you drink skim milk,” he once explained) and had warm chocolate chip cookies brought in at halftime.
The playoff was amazing all night, and the Buckeyes won against a top five team by relying on their defense and superior field position! The day didn’t go fourth like a riverboat player high on dumbbells or whatever the kids are puffing on these days.
It really felt like the universe knew just the kind of game it needed to see to make a wonderful weekend almost perfect. No heaps of that flash-and-dash stuff and running the score on a worthy opponent; just honest, sane, basic Ohio State Football.
In a near-perfect game, seeing a beloved protege fall 2-0 as head coach was the living legend’s least favorite. “It will come, Marcus,” he said to himself as CJ Stroud got on his knees to seal the victory for the home team. “Stay the course, it will come.”
WHEN WAS IT OVER
… Miyan Williams cupped it from the 2-yard line with less than 5 minutes left to give Ohio State a 21-10 lead. The Buckeyes wouldn’t cover the 17.5 point spread, but the biggest game of the weekend showed that the biggest problem plaguing last year’s team is well on its way to being solved.
NEXT: Ohio State goes from hosting College Gameday for one of the biggest games of the season to hosting a typical September midday game against Arkansas State, a Sun Belt Conference team.