Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
The Ohio State Buckeyes pulled off a stunner Saturday night in South Bend, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with just one second remaining... And I think we can just stop right there, Gene. Short, sweet, and to the point in recognizing OSU’s wild win over the Golden Domers. Talk about a freaking all-timer.
In all seriousness, though Saturday night’s contest between Ohio State and Notre Dame was not the most aesthetically pleasing college football game ever played, it will likely be talked about and remembered for quite some time. By both fanbases, as well as the larger CFB universe. We saw strange coaching decisions, high level execution (at times) by two top-10 teams, and physical, hard-nosed play reminiscent of the 90s and early 2000s — all set against the backdrop of Touchdown Jesus.
Oh, and we also witnessed a walk-off score typically reserved for baseball. Yes, I know that Notre Dame got to try the pitchy-witchy-woo-woo play as time expired, but c’mon. I mean, how often do we see a fourth down conversion for a touchdown with just one second remaining!? Are you serious? I’m still feeling the heart palpitations and other aftereffects.
While some might be tempted to jump on several coaching decisions and/or weigh in on the play of certain position groups, Gene and I decided to focus solely on the positive for this edition of You’re Nuts. How could we not? Saturday’s win was a big, big moment for our Buckeyes, regardless of how they achieved said result. So my old partner and I are going with the tried and true ‘most positive takeaway’.
For me, the most positive takeaway from Saturday night was the play of OSU quarterback Kyle McCord. Actually, it was not just his play and/or performance. It was that, combined with his attitude, demeanor, and let’s just call it what it is: Moxie, baby! In just his fifth career start, McCord went into a hostile road environment, against a top-10 team with a top-10 defense, and made timely throws when the Buckeyes needed him to. In the words of Terrell Owens: “That’s my quarterback.”
Now, a hater could point out that McCord was ‘only’ 21-of-37 for 240 yards with 0 (that’s a big, fat ZERO) touchdowns, and I would really have no leg on which to stand. QB1 certainly did not light up the house that Rudy built. But he also didn’t make big mistakes. He didn’t try to do too much. And then, with the game on the line, he was as cool as the other side of the pillow. Like a big, hairy, American winning machine.
Ohio State had been left for dead when they got the ball with just under 90 seconds remaining. McCord had a swing pass tipped, then he overshot TreVeyon Henderson on another short attempt. But from that point forward, he was calm, cool, and collected — which is not something you get from all (most) inexperienced QBs, let alone ones playing a top-10 Notre Dame team in South Bend.
After a rough start to the final drive, McCord found his footing with a long third down throw to Emeka Egbuka. Next, he found Julian Fleming underneath on a life-or-death fourth down play. Later, he rifled one into a busy area for Marvin Harrison Jr., setting up the final few plays. And then, when all hope seemed to be lost, McCord threw an absolute seed into the middle of Egbuka’s chest, paving the way for Chip Trayanum’s one-yard plunge.
Not to sound overly hyperbolic, but McCord’s last drive was pretty damn heroic. I think it will give both him and Ryan Day increased confidence moving forward. Which is of the utmost importance, as OSU still has several hurdles to clear. So that is my biggest positive takeaway, Gene. Ohio State should have a very confident QB1. And as we’ve seen in recent years — in Columbus — that can be a dangerous, dangerous weapon at the Buckeyes’ disposal.
Before I go into this week’s You’re Nuts, I do want to say that Josh and I honestly did pretty well with our bold predictions heading into the game. I said that Ohio State’s defense would hold Sam Hartman to under 200 passing yards, and while it doesn’t sound all that bold, they did accomplish this feat — something that had only been done twice over Hartman’s prior 30 starts. Josh said that J.T. Tuimoloau would have a big game, and while he failed to register a sack, he did impact the game with 0.5 TFLs and a pass breakup. I’ll count that as an overall win for us as a unit.
That being said, I’m going to build off of last week’s bold prediction and say that my biggest takeaway from the Notre Dame game is that Ohio State’s secondary is legit.
Especially on an afternoon where the Buckeye pass rush — stop me if you’ve heard this before — was virtually non-existent, Ohio State’s defensive backs were up to the task. They still let up their yards and made some mistakes, but at the end of the day if you can allow just 14 points against a team with a strong offensive line, good running backs and a super experienced quarterback that has all day to throw, that's a job well done.
A handful of players in the secondary really stood out, chief among them being Sonny Styles and Lathan Ransom. Styles was credited with six total tackles (three solo) on the afternoon, and alongside Ransom made one of the big key defensive plays of the game stopping Hartman on a QB sneak on 4th-and-1 on Notre Dame’s first possession of the second half, setting up the long TreVeyon Henderson touchdown run on the very next play. Ransom was perhaps the Buckeyes’ best defensive player in the back seven overall, tallying a team-high 13 tackles while adding one of the team’s three QB hurries.
The corners were strong as well, despite some struggles here and there for Davison Igbinosun. It felt like they were picking on the Ole Miss transfer at times, and he was flagged for the only defensive penalty of the night on a pass interference call in the fourth quarter. Still, it was a great job overall by the corners, as Denzel Burke and Jordan Hancock were both strong and Igbinosun did have his moments in coverage as well. In fact, of the 175 passing yards for Hartman, only 71 of them went to wide receivers (96 if you include converted RB Chris Tyree one 25-yard reception).
Somewhat surprisingly, Ohio State’s biggest struggles on defense aside from the poor pass rush came at the linebacker spots, where both Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers had uncharacteristically bad games. While I don't fully subscribe to PFF grades as an accurate measure of play, it is notable that Chambers and Eichenberg were the team’s two worst graded players on defense, with Eichenberg at 36.1 and Chambers at a team-low 29.9.
Notre Dame did a really good job of putting those guys in conflict, getting a ton of passing yards by attacking the soft zones in the middle, leading to a career-high 75 receiving yards for tight end Mitchell Evans. Chambers’ struggles were especially noticeable in the run game, however, as he was really having a tough time finding the correct holes and finding himself out of place more times than not. I’m not super worried about these guys in the long term, as we’ve seen how good they can be at their best, but it is definitely something a team like Michigan will see on film and look to attack as a team with a similar offensive approach to Notre Dame’s.
If anything, the struggles of the linebackers and the defensive line make what the secondary was able to do that much more impressive. I think you have six or seven really good dependable players to move around at the corner and safety positions, which is important to have in Jim Knowles’ scheme. Ohio State lacked much of any depth last season at those positions, and it costed them dearly down the stretch. I’m pretty confident those issues have been resolved, and there is a lot of football left for these guys to get even better ahead of two more big contests against Penn State and Michigan.