Ten years after their last meeting, Ohio State and Notre Dame get together in the desert again for the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. The Buckeyes had been hoping to be competing in a second straight College Football Playoff, but a loss to Michigan State in late November derailed those plans. Now Urban Meyer's team will have to get up for this matchup against the Fighting Irish, but it shouldn't be too hard since it's always a big deal when Ohio State and Notre Dame get together. This is just the sixth matchup between the schools, but the third straight one in which both teams were ranked in the Top 10. Ohio State has won the last three meetings, including the 34-20 victory over the Fighting Irish 10 years ago in the Fiesta Bowl.
The last time Buckeye fans saw Ohio State on the football field was over a month ago, when Ohio State had little issue dispatching Michigan 42-13 in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes went into halftime up 14-10, and pulled away in the second half for their fourth straight win over their hated rival. J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott combined to rush for five touchdown, with Barrett adding another through the air. Elliott racked up 214 yards in the win, while also moving into second in Ohio State history in career rushing yards, passing Eddie George. The junior running back won't be able to take the top spot though, as he is well behind Archie Griffin, and Elliott has already announced his intentions to declare for the NFL Draft.
Much like Ohio State, Notre Dame had dreams of the College Football Playoff coming into the year. In early October, Hurricane Joaquin derailed some of those hopes. The Fighting Irish fell to Clemson 24-22 in a rain-soaked game under the lights in Death Valley. While that loss didn't eliminate Notre Dame from playoff contention, the 38-36 loss to Stanford in late November was the nail in the coffin of any playoff hopes for the Fighting Irish. A win here would give Notre Dame 11 wins, which would mark the second time in four years they did that. The only other time the Fighting Irish had two seasons of 11 wins over a four-year period was when they won 12 games in 1988 and 1989.
It's impressive Notre Dame even made it to 10 wins after looking at the injuries the Fighting Irish have had to deal with this season. After rushing for 889 yards and six touchdowns last year, running back Tarean Folston was lost for the season after injuries his knee just three plays into the season. Notre Dame had little trouble in the season-opening win against Texas thanks to junior quarterback Malik Zaire, who threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns. In the next game against Virginia, Zaire was also lost for the season after breaking his ankle, leaving redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer to take the snaps.
Notre Dame Five Factors
|FIELD POSITION||Avg. FP||29.4||81||25.9||7||29.9|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.09||36||4.27||35||4.66|
|TURNOVER MARGIN||EXPECTED||-0.5||76||Turnover Luck (PPG):
Ohio State Five Factors
|FIELD POSITION||Avg. FP||34.4||4||25.1||3||29.9|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.19||30||3.73||9||4.66|
|TURNOVER MARGIN||EXPECTED||-0.35||73||Turnover Luck (PPG):
Ohio State's Biggest Advantages
Take it to the air: Ohio State might have relied on Ezekiel Elliott and the running game for most of the season, but they would be wise to open up the passing game in the Fiesta Bowl. Notre Dame comes into this contest missing a trio of players in the secondary, with the most notable injured player being senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who suffered a fractured right tibia against Boston College in November.
Russell's replacement, junior cornerback Devin Butler, fractured a bone in his foot, which means he'll also miss the Fiesta Bowl, leaving sophomore Nick Watkins to start at one of the cornerback positions. If that wasn't bad enough for Notre Dame, junior safety Max Redfield has been suspended for this game for violation a team rule.
Wide receiver Michael Thomas has caught at least one pass in 28 straight games, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Thomas get more targets with Notre Dame having a depleted secondary. Jalin Marshall has started to make some strides in the passing game, catching a touchdown pass in each of the last two games for Ohio State. Also, with Braxton Miller playing in his final game for the Buckeyes, Urban Meyer will probably have a few extra targets penciled in for Miller.
To go or not to go: Often times when there is speculation of players getting ready to declare for the NFL Draft, a bowl game without anything on the line can lead to some lackluster performances. Ohio State won't be fighting for a national title like last year, but there are a number of Buckeyes who will be looking for strong performances to bolster their draft stock. Ezekiel Elliott announced his intention to declare for the NFL Draft after the Michigan State game, but that didn't slow him down against Michigan the next week.
Joey Bosa will likely declare for the NFL Draft after the Fiesta Bowl, too. Even though Bosa seems to be a given to be taken with one of the first three picks of this spring's draft, a big performance against the strong Notre Dame offensive line could boost Bosa all the way up to being the projected top pick overall in the draft.
For others the decision on whether or not to leave isn't as cut and dried as it is for Elliott and Bosa. Players like Darron Lee, Eli Apple, and Vonn Bell will have an important decision to make following this game. If the trio is as impressive in the Fiesta Bowl as they have been during their Ohio State careers, it could lead to them declaring for the NFL Draft and foregoing their final season in the scarlet and gray.
Then there are some players who will definitely be playing their last game for Ohio State. Linebacker Joshua Perry, offensive linemen Taylor Decker and Jacoby Boren, and Braxton Miller are just a few of the 18 seniors who will be appearing for the final time for Ohio State. A win would tie Boise State's four-year record of 50 wins from 2008-2011 for the most wins by a senior class. For those suiting up for Ohio State for the last time, there is plenty of motivation to end their careers on a high note.
Familiar coaching foes: For a few coaches this game has some extra meaning since they used to work at Notre Dame. Before taking over at Bowling Green, Urban Meyer was the wide receivers coach at Notre Dame from 1996-2000. Meyer undoubtedly has a lot of respect for the prestigious school, but also wants to secure his 50th win as head coach at Ohio State.
When Meyer was filling out his staff when he arrived in Columbus, it was heavy with coaches who were working at Notre Dame. Current co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner served as the offensive line coach at Notre Dame during then 2010 and 2011 seasons before moving to the same role in Columbus. Tight ends coach Tim Hinton was on the same staff with Warinner at Notre Dame before also moving to Columbus to take on the same role. Strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti coached with Meyer for a few years at Notre Dame, serving on the Fighting Irish staff from 1998-2005 before joining Meyer at Florida and then at Ohio State.
The latest coach to move from Notre Dame to Ohio State came in the offseason, when after six years as running backs coach at Notre Dame, Urban Meyer hired Tony Alford to replace Stan Drayton, who took the running backs coach position with the Chicago Bears. With all these past ties this is a game that all these former Notre Dame assistant coaches would love to win for bragging rights.
Notre Dame's biggest advantages
Attack the weakness: It might be crazy to call the Ohio State defensive line weak, but in this game it might be the weak link of their defense just because of the interior linemen they will be missing. Not only did Adolphus Washington get suspended for his final collegiate game after being cited for soliciting a prostitute, but senior Tommy Schutt will also miss his final game due to a broken foot. Even at full strength the offensive line was going to have their hands full with a talented Notre Dame offensive line, and now it'll be even tougher without two key players.
Even though Notre Dame took a hit early in the season with the loss of running back Tarean Folston, they have had a couple players step up to fill the void. Senior running back C.J. Prosise has carried a lot of the load for the Fighting Irish, rushing for 1,032 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 156 carries this season. Prosise has dealt with injuries late in the season, which leaves questions on just how much of an impact he'll have in this game.
If Prosise is still hampered by injury, freshman Josh Adams will be looked on to pick up the slack left by Prosise. Adams has made quite a name for himself during his first season in South Bend, with the highlight being a 98-yard touchdown run against Wake Forest, which is the longest play from scrimmage in Notre Dame history. So far this season Adams has 757 yards rushing, leaving him just a bit shy of Darius Walker's freshman record of 786 yards set in 2004.
Kizer chiefs: After losing Malik Zaire to a broken ankle in just the second game of the season, many Notre Dame fans were probably thinking the season was already over. Redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer has played above and beyond expectations for the Fighting Irish since stepping in as the starter for Zaire. Kizer has thrown for 2,600 yards and 19 touchdowns, while throwing just nine interceptions. The quarterback can also elude defenders, as he rushed for over 100 yards against Temple and Stanford.
Kizer might have a little extra motivation in this game as well, as the Toledo native didn't get much attention from Ohio State in the recruiting process. Had the Buckeyes made a bigger push, Kizer might have had a tougher decision when choosing schools, but Ohio State chose to target a number of other quarterbacks instead of Kizer. Now Kizer has a chance to make Urban Meyer and his staff regret not making a stronger effort to get the quarterback to come play in Columbus.
Count on the specialists: It's tough to win 10 games in a season in college football unless you have all facets of the game working at full capacity. Notre Dame has gotten tremendous play out of their offense and defense, but their special teams has also contributed a lot to their successful season this year.
One name that might ring a bell with Ohio State fans is C.J. Sanders, who is the son of former Buckeye wide receiver Chris Sanders. The younger Sanders was a bit of a child star, as he played young Ray Charles in the movie Ray. The true freshman has been a star on special teams in his short time in South Bend, becoming just the third Notre Dame player ever to return both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same season.
Another true freshman who is making his mark in the special teams unit is kicker Justin Yoon, who has made 12 field goals in a row. On the season Yoon has only missed two field goals, with one coming in each of the first two games of the season. Ohio State has had plenty of issues with field goal kicking this year, so if this ends up being a close game, the Fighting Irish will have a little more confidence if it comes down to a field goal attempt.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 32, Notre Dame 28
Win Probability: Ohio State 60%
It's always a game that can't be missed when Ohio State and Notre Dame square off, just because these two storied programs don't see each other on the field all that often. Had it not been for the bowl meeting with Ohio State, this would have been the first year since 1916 in which Notre Dame didn't play an active Big Ten team. Add in the former coaching ties of Urban Meyer and his staff to Notre Dame, as well as all the NFL talent on the field, and this is a game that should live up to the hype.
Projections have Ohio State winning this game by four points, which puts it just inside the nearly touchdown the Buckeyes are laying with the point spread. Both teams have some areas of concern on their defenses due to injuries and suspensions, which could make this a little more of a high scoring game than some were expecting. In the end, Ohio State gets up for this game and squeaks out their fourth straight win against Notre Dame.