Ohio State won, and that’s all that matters. That’s the thing I’ve been telling myself since the Buckeyes’ 17-14 win at Notre Dame on Saturday night. Do I have some concerns after that game? Certainly. But those are a problem for future me, as present me gets to go into a bye week feeling good after Ohio State beat a highly ranked team in their own stadium.
Still, we’re here every Monday to grumble about stuff, so let’s get to it. Here’s what had me kicking things in my sports lair (yes, I have a sports lair).
Play Calling Still Leaves a Lot to Be Desired
This started right off the bat. Ohio State began the game with a wide receiver screen, with Kyle McCord firing to Emeka Egbuka in the flat, but the play lost three yards. Losing yards on first down is no way to start on the road against a raucous crowd, and those plays have largely not produced much.
Ohio State’s first good drive came early in the second quarter. Chip Trayanum was getting great push on two straight runs. He came off the field to set up an obvious play on third down, which Notre Dame stopped because... obvious play. Then, Ohio State didn’t have either starting wideout on the field on fourth down, so there was no surprise in the play-action pass with hardly anyone out there to cover. That was overthinking on the final set of downs that should have netted points.
However, the worst play call of the game came on a late drive with Ohio State deep in Notre Dame territory. Facing fourth down and inches, Ryan Day blew a timeout to call a jet sweep for Egbuka, and Notre Dame wasn’t fooled, easily snuffing out the play for no gain. In an era when you’re allowed to push the quarterback from behind, and on a team that’s got Miyan Williams, Trayanum, and Henderson, it is coaching malpractice to make that play call.
You need inches. Go get them by going directly forward and offering no chance to string out the play, and if you must jet sweep, Egbuka is not your biggest, strongest guy who will get that extra half yard after contact. Day railed about how tough his team is after the game, but when he needed only inches, he showed no confidence in that toughness.
Another Pre-snap Penalty Stalls Opening Drive
On the final set of downs of the first Buckeye drive, Ohio State was called for a false start, but it looked offside on the defense for stepping into the neutral zone prior to the movement. On the next play, Ohio State unwisely chose to run on second-and-15, and then McCord wildly overthrew Egbuka down the middle of the field on third down and long to stall the drive. Short runs aren’t bad when faced with normal yardage to make, but the penalty pushed the Buckeyes behind the chains.
Ohio State let Notre Dame quickly get into scoring position on its first drive by failing to get any pressure on Sam Hartman. The Buckeyes rushed three and dropped into a soft zone multiple times, but each time at least one Notre Dame receiver was all alone. Ohio State dropped too deep to cover the running back underneath on one play and didn’t cover the tight end on another.
After Cody Simon stopped Hartman just short on fourth down, Ohio State took over but quickly punted back to Notre Dame. Two TreVeyon Henderson runs set up the offense with a manageable third down. The Fighting Irish brought pressure and McCord had his check down man, Egbuka, open to his right. Rather than keeping his eyes downfield, the young quarterback panicked and looked to escape the collapsing pocket.
He tried to run for the first down but came up short. The check down should have been his first instinct, and it would have continued the drive. McCord acquitted himself much better later in the game, even in the face of pressure, but those early moments were a bit jittery.
McCord delivered a strike to Egbuka in the end zone late in the second quarter. It appeared on first look that he caught it for the touchdown. However, the future first-round pick dropped the ball. On the road, in a big game, a player of Egbuka’s caliber has got to help his young quarterback by pulling that in. McCord threw into double coverage for Cade Stover on third down, and the Buckeyes had to settle for three instead of seven, leaving four points on the field. That would have been the difference in the game had Trayanum come up short.
Defensive Front Gets Bossed… at Times
After Henderson’s long touchdown run, the defense had a chance to help Ohio State put a stranglehold on the game. Instead, the defensive front got pushed around on a long Notre Dame scoring drive that was almost entirely on the ground. The line was getting pushed around, the linebackers weren’t filling holes, and it made things easy for the Irish to march down the field. Every now and then, when the Buckeyes forced a third down, Hartman simply hit a receiver on a short hook route, because it was always open and he was never hurried.
Uncalled Hold Prevents a Harrison Touchdown
After Notre Dame pulled within 10-7, Ohio State put together a good drive, and it would likely have ended with a long touchdown pass to Marvin Harrison Jr. Locked up in single coverage and beaten, the Notre Dame defensive back grabbed Harrison’s jersey and noticeably slowed him down. Harrison still managed to get a hand to McCord’s pass, but it was just too far in front for him to pull in. Had the penalty correctly been called, the drive would have continued. It should have anyway, except…
McCord threw complete to Egbuka for a first down one play after the hold wasn’t called, and it appeared Ohio State had a first down. However, Josh Fryar was called for a personal foul during the play rather than after, when he jumped on a prone Javonte Jean-Baptiste. The penalty wiped out a first down and Ohio State could only pick up about half the yardage on third-and-long.
Davison Igbinosun had a brutal drive after Ohio State punted the ball back to the Irish following Fryar killing the previous drive. He had good coverage on one downfield throw that could have drawn a flag. But later in the drive, he left no doubt by wrapping up his receiver and holding on, giving Notre Dame a first down. Later in the drive, Igbinosun fell down on the goal line, allowing an easy touchdown pass to give the Fighting Irish the lead.
Another Josh Simmons Mistake
It’s been a tough season for Josh Simmons thus far, as he’s been penalized far too often. He saved one of his worst for late in the game at Notre Dame. Simmons’ false start came on the drive after Notre Dame took the lead. He got bailed out on the next play when JD Bertrand committed pass interference on a pass intended for Henderson.
After dwelling on the negatives, it’s always good to point out the many positives.
Ohio State’s defense was stingy in the red zone, even though it was soft up the middle for much of the game, especially in the second half. JT Tuimoloau had a fairly quiet night but made two huge plays to help the Buckeyes get the ball back for the winning drive. Denzel Burke didn’t allow anything on his side of the field.
Henderson had a good game. McCord likely took a giant step forward by leading his team to the winning score on the road in a big game. Egbuka was excellent aside from his drop in the end zone, setting up the winning score with a key first down near the goal line. The offensive line picked up the needed short yardage with the game on the line.
All of those, plus a win over a Top-10 team on the road in a hostile environment, are huge positives, lest you think I’m the Grinch who stole Christmas.
The Buckeyes are off next week, and that might make me grumpiest of all. Ohio State returns home to host Maryland on Oct. 7.