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Three Things to Watch: No. 2 Ohio State hosts No. 5 Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish will provide a strong challenge to the Buckeyes in the season opener.

Notre Dame v Virginia Tech Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Congratulations, Buckeye Nation — we have survived the barren wasteland known as the offseason, and are on the verge of starting the 2022 season. It does not get much better than this, with the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame coming into Ohio Stadium for the first time since 1995 to take on the second-ranked Buckeyes in a nationally televised contest on ABC.

While Ohio State fans are well-aware of the tremendous changes implemented by head coach Ryan Day this offseason, the Irish experienced an upheaval of their own even before the conclusion of the 2021 season, when long-time head coach Brian Kelly resigned to take the head coaching position at LSU. Notre Dame wasted no time by promoting from within, elevating defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to head coach.

The former Ohio State linebacker will still have his involvement in the defense, but Freeman hired Al Golden from the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals as the linebackers coach/defensive coordinator this offseason.

With Ohio State’s staff changes, combined with Marcus Freeman making his regular season debut as Notre Dame’s head coach, there is no shortage of intrigue and excitement for this contest.

Below are “Three Things To Watch” from Notre Dame when this game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC:

1) The Ohio State Offensive Line Versus The Notre Dame Defensive Line

OSU’s new offensive line coach Justin Frye was brought in by Ryan Day this offseason, and Frye’s pupils have a stern challenge from the onset, going against a very talented and experienced Notre Dame defensive line, led by defensive end Isaiah Foskey. Listed at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, Foskey plays a “Vyper” end, comparable to what Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles refers to as the “Jack” linebacker.

In 2021, Foskey had 11 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 52 total tackles. It remains to be seen how and where Foskey will be deployed, but a key match-up for the Buckeyes may involve new left tackle Paris Johnson Jr. trying to stop the Irish end.

Johnson was a starter at guard in 2021 but moved back to his natural tackle position for this season. Johnson will be responsible for protecting quarterback C.J. Stroud’s back side. It will be crucial for the success of Ohio State’s fearsome passing game that the QB is well-protected from Foskey and the rest of a Notre Dame defensive unit that accounted for 41 sacks in 2021.

2) The Ohio State Secondary Versus Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer

Ohio State fans who have often lamented the lack of tight end involvement in the offense through the years will get a full glimpse of what a TE that is an integral part of an offense looks like when Michael Mayer comes to town. Mayer is coming off of a 2021 season that saw him catch 71 passes for 840 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Listed at 6-foot-5, 241 pounds, Mayer is a match-up problem for any defense. Considering the relative inexperience of ND quarterback Tyler Buchner — who will be making his first career start on Saturday — Mayer will be a likely major security blanket for the new starting QB all game long.

How will, or should, Ohio State prepare to defend Mayer? With the introduction of Knowles as OSU’s new coordinator, I will be watching to see if Oklahoma State transfer safety Tanner McCalister is given the assignment of defending Mayer. Another possible candidate could be Kourt Williams, who is believed to be slotted in as a hybrid safety-linebacker in the new scheme, and just might be able to physically match up against Mayer.

No matter what Knowles decides to do to try and limit Mayer’s impact on the game, it is going to be one of the major factors for fans to keep an eye on throughout the game.

3) Is Ohio State Ready To Match Notre Dame’s Physical Style Of Play?

As I mentioned above, Frye was brought in as Ohio State’s new offensive line coach and running game coordinator, to help reestablish a tenacity in the running game that hampered Ohio State’s title chances in 2021.

Buckeye fans will sadly recall how OSU struggled in the trenches in games against the best competition on the team’s schedule. Notre Dame will represent a similar type of opponent as those teams, with an emphasis on controlling the lines of scrimmage, and trying to make the Buckeyes earn every yard they get.

Keep an eye on how well Ohio State is able to establish the running game, while attempting to clamp down on the Notre Dame ground attack.

How Do I See It Turning Out?

As I stated in The Silver Bullets Podcast with Michael Citro on Tuesday, I believe that this game is going to be a slugfest well into the second half, and that is when Ohio State will be able to eventually pull away from Notre Dame.

There are going to be some anxious moments for Ohio State fans, but I see the Buckeyes winning this one late in the fourth quarter, by the score of Ohio State 38, Notre Dame 20. For everyone going to the game — have a great time, be safe, and Go Bucks!