Ohio State vs. Notre Dame score, takeaways: No. 2 Buckeye fight back to beat No. 5 Fighting Irish – CBS Sports

Ohio State vs. Notre Dame score, takeaways: No. 2 Buckeye fight back to beat No. 5 Fighting Irish - CBS Sports

No. 2 Ohio State overcame lackluster play and an injury to one of their star players while fighting back and ultimately beating No. 5 Notre Dame 21-10 in a thrilling season opener. The Buckeyes trailed at halftime and in the third quarter before the Ohio State offense put together its best drive of the night late in the contest when star quarterback CJ Stroud completed 24 of 34 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns.

That 10-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Stroud to Xavier Johnson that seemed to wake up the Buckeyes and the 100,000 in attendance at Ohio Stadium. It was the last moment they had to cheer, however, as Ohio State followed with an even better drive, going 95 yards in 14 plays to put the game out of reach.

After losing star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba to a leg injury in the first quarter, the Buckeyes struggled to find a rhythm on offense, but Emeka Egbuka and running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams stepped up to fill the void.

The Fighting Irish offense got off to a promising start, picking up 54 yards on the first play of the night, but it managed just 199 yards the rest of the game. Tyler Buchner (177 yards passing, 18 rushing) made some plays, but Notre Dame could never find consistency against an Ohio State defense that played with its hair on fire.

Tommy Eichenberg finished with two sacks for Ohio State, while Mike Hall had another sack and two tackles for loss. With their second-half comeback, the Buckeyes were able to avoid becoming the first top two team to lose its season opener since #1 Miami fell to BYU to start the 1990 season.

Let’s take a look at the key takeaways from Ohio State’s big Week 1 win over Notre Dame.

Ohio State’s defense won the game

There were questions about how Ohio State would perform in Jim Knowles’ first game as defensive coordinator. Early returns are quite promising. While the Buckeyes ended up winning somewhat comfortably, it’s only because their defense picked up a lackluster offense time and time again. While Notre Dame hit the occasional big play through the air, the Buckeyes didn’t allow the Irish to string together meaningful drives. It looked like a completely different unit than the one that too often allowed teams to move the ball down the field in crucial areas last season.

The most important difference was the pressure. Knowles threw all sorts of guises at the inexperienced Buchner. All of it — blitzes, stunts, and passers like Zach Harrison dropping into coverage — was designed to keep Buchner guessing and unsure of where to go with the ball; it worked, for the most part. The Buckeyes finished with six tackles for loss and three sacks as they held Notre Dame to 5.3 yards per play. More importantly, it allowed the Irish to convert just 3 of 13 third downs while forcing them into third and long situations all night. That kept the Irish from being able to continue drives, and it bought the Buckeyes offense more time to figure things out.

Ohio State’s wide receiver depth is a problem

Who would have thought we would say that?! Ohio State’s receiver corps is supposed to be the best in the country, but Smith-Njigba suffered an undisclosed leg injury on the team’s first series and saw only a few more plays the rest of the night. Julian Fleming was already smitten. That meant the Buckeyes had to play with a lot of inexperienced receivers, and it showed. There was a miscommunication about where they were supposed to be on routes and the timing was off with Stroud.

However, things picked up in the second half with Egbuka emerging as the most reliable target. Egbuka finished with nine receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown. Marvin Harrison Jr. caught five passes for 56 yards, and while Johnson only caught two passes, his 24-yard touchdown proved to be the game-winner. In the end, six receivers besides Smith-Njigba (two catches, 3 yards) caught passes from Stroud on the evening.

Notre Dame needs to find a running game

Coming into the evening, I thought Notre Dame’s problem on offense would be a lack of explosive plays in the passing game, making it difficult to keep up with the high-powered Ohio State offense. While they weren’t consistent enough on the night, Buchner and his receivers connected for four passes of at least 20 yards, including a 54-yard connection with Lorenzo Styles on the first play of the game. The problem was that the Irish couldn’t do anything on the ground. The Ohio State defense held Notre Dame to just 76 yards rushing on 30 carries. Adjust for sacks, and that number only improves to 95 yards on 27 carries (3.5 per touch).

With a young quarterback making his first start on the road in a demanding environment, the Irish ideally would have gotten more from their ground game to take on Buchner’s load. Instead, Buchner had to carry the load, and it went about as well as you’d expect in the long run.

Stroud can — and must — do better

Frankly, Stroud looked ordinary in the first half and shaky to start the second half. It wasn’t until the middle of the third quarter that he seemed to find a rhythm, and from that point on, Ohio State took control of the game. Stroud’s final stat line won’t turn many heads (not for the right reasons, anyway), but he made big plays late when he had to and helped his team pick up a decisive win.

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