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Behind Enemy Lines: When it comes to Notre Dame, Ohio State is hoping history repeats itself

The mid-1990s Ohio State teams were the last to have a home-and-home against the Irish and they were up to the task.

Ohio State v Notre Dame

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about checking in on Ohio State’s opponents. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Behind Enemy Lines” articles here.

On Sept. 23, the Buckeyes of Ohio State University will travel to South Bend, Indiana to complete a home-and-home series against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish that began last year. The Buckeyes will be looking to repeat what John Cooper’s Ohio State teams did in the 1990s — complete the two-game sweep across two seasons. The Buckeyes handled No. 18 Notre Dame 21-10 to kick off the 2022 season, so they’re halfway there.

These two schools don’t play each other often. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series, 5-2-0. The most recent two meetings prior to last year were both in the Fiesta Bowl, in 2016 and 2006. Ohio State won both. In fact, the Buckeyes are on a five-game winning streak in the series after falling in a home-and-home regular season series back in 1935 and 1936. Those were the first two times the Buckeyes and Irish played. Ohio State has won each of the last five by double digits.

The last time these two storied programs met in the regular season prior to last year was in the mid-1990s, and it was a two-year series to remember. With this being ‘Behind Enemy Lines’ week, it seems like the perfect time to look back at those two matches.

There was a ton of hype when the Fighting Irish visited Ohio Stadium in 1995. Ohio State hadn’t met Notre Dame on the football field in nearly 60 years. Both teams were ranked, with the Buckeyes at No. 7 and the Fighting Irish at No. 15.

Lou Holtz’s Notre Dame team entered the game at 3-1. The Irish had lost a strange, 17-15 game at home against a once-in-a-generation Northwestern team that went on to win a conference title for the first time since 1936 — and it was the first Wildcats side to ever win double-digit games. Notre Dame rebounded from that loss with wins over Purdue, Vanderbilt, and No. 13 Texas.

Cooper’s Buckeyes were 3-0, with wins over No. 22 Boston College, No. 18 Washington, and Pittsburgh — hanging 54 points on the Panthers at Pitt Stadium the week before the Notre Dame game.

Ohio State Eddie George...

After a scoreless first quarter, Notre Dame jumped out to a two-score lead in the second. Kevin Kopka kicked a short field goal and Randy Kinder scored a rushing touchdown from three yards out as the Irish went up, 10-0. Bobby Hoying then found Terry Glenn for a 10-yard touchdown on a post route to get the Buckeyes on the board.

Kinder scored from seven yards out on a draw play to restore Notre Dame’s two-score lead, but the Buckeyes struck last in the first half when Hoying found Dimitrious Stanley in the corner of the end zone down the right sideline to cut the deficit to 17-14 at the break.

The second half was much more fun for the Ohio Stadium faithful. Eddie George and the big offensive line started to wear down the Notre Dame defense. George went on to finish the day with 207 yards rushing.

Kopka added another short field goal in the third quarter as the OSU defense bent but didn’t break. However, the Buckeyes finally took the lead when tight end Rickey Dudley caught a 15-yard scoring pass from Hoying. Josh Jackson’s extra point put Ohio State on top, 21-20. The go-ahead drive was set up by a muffed punt that the Buckeyes recovered in Notre Dame territory.

Momentum shifted for good when Shawn Springs intercepted Ron Powlus and then Hoying hit Glenn on a slant pass, and the speedy receiver split two defenders and raced down the field for an 82-yard touchdown. The Buckeyes carried a 28-20 lead into the fourth quarter and then poured it on. George scored two touchdowns in the final frame to offset another Kinder touchdown, and Jackson tacked on a late field goal to put the finishing touch on a 45-26 beating.

Fans — full disclosure: including me — rushed the field. Attempts were made to tear down the goal posts, but they wouldn’t come down. Lessons had apparently been learned from the 1985 Iowa game.

The Irish were hungry for revenge in 1996 when the Buckeyes visited Notre Dame Stadium — the most recent time Ohio State has visited South Bend. It was a matchup of Top 5 teams, as No. 4 Ohio State came in 2-0 after hanging 70 points on consecutive opponents. The first was a 70-7 win over Rice, and the Buckeyes followed that with a 72-7 dismantling of Pitt at the Horseshoe. Notre Dame was the first OSU road trip of the season.

No. 5 Notre Dame was 3-0 — once again having played one more game than the Buckeyes. The Irish opened with an uninspiring 14-7 win at Vanderbilt before throttling Purdue, 35-0, and beating No. 6 Texas on the road, 27-24.

Ohio State had a lot of turnover at the skill positions. George was in the NFL and Pepe Pearson took his spot at tailback. Hoying was replaced by the two-headed quarterback monster of Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine.

Ohio State v Notre Dame

Dimitrious Stanley was still on the team, however, and he returned the opening kickoff all the way to the Notre Dame 13-yard line to set up the first score. Pearson took a handoff to the left side, broke a tackle, and ran it in from three yards out to give the Buckeyes the advantage. However, a high snap on the extra point left the lead at 6-0.

Notre Dame answered a couple of series’ later when the right-handed Jackson threw a ridiculously ill-advised pass while running to his left and had it deflected and then picked off. The Irish capitalized on the turnover with a Powlus two-yard pass to fullback Marc Edwards to put the hosts ahead with the extra point.

Cooper must have liked the play call on the Notre Dame touchdown because the next time Ohio State got close to the goal line, he called the same play. Jackson threw a short touchdown pass to fullback Matt Calhoun. The try for two points was unsuccessful and Ohio State took an unconventional 12-7 lead into the second quarter on the road.

The Buckeyes took control in the second period. After having a long field goal partially blocked, Ohio State took the ball away with an interception and set up Josh Jackson with a much shorter kick, which he made. Pearson added a touchdown from a yard out just before the half. It was only fair for Pearson to get the final yard of the drive, because he made multiple big plays on the ground and catching the ball out of the backfield to help get his team into scoring position.

Ohio State was in great shape with a 22-7 lead at halftime. Pearson was outstanding in the game, finishing with 173 rushing yards and 42 more yards receiving.

Jim Sanson kicked a short field goal from 26 yards out for Notre Dame early in the third quarter to cut the lead to 12 points, but Ohio State closed the third quarter strong. Jackson found tight end D.J. Jones on the left, and he dragged his defender into the end zone to make it 29-10 with 1:44 left to play in the third. The Buckeyes began the fourth quarter in complete control.

Edwards added a cosmetic touchdown for Notre Dame midway through the fourth period, but Ohio State blocked the PAT and held on the rest of the way for a 29-16 victory, giving Cooper back-to-back wins over Holtz and the Irish. The Buckeyes held Notre Dame to just 126 yards rushing and 154 passing yards in their own stadium. Linebacker Greg Bellisari led the way with 14 total tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack.

The home-and-home sweep of Notre Dame in the 1990s came from two dominant performances. While the 2022 Buckeyes didn’t exactly dominate the Irish a year ago at the Shoe, there are some comparisons with the 1995 game. In both, Ohio State started sluggishly and had to come from behind, playing a strong second half.

If the Buckeyes can get a good performance out of a new quarterback on the road in South Bend again, they just might repeat what the mid-1990s Ohio State teams did against the Irish.