KNOWLES KNOWS DEFENSE: For two consecutive games now against Jim Knowles designed defenses, the Irish offense has been mostly stymied, particularly in the second half. Knowles is the Ohio State defensive coordinator who was hired away from Oklahoma State last December. Knowles was attractive to the Buckeyes because he had built top notch defenses at each of his coaching stops. The Oklahoma State defense finished last season ranked #5 nationally in total defense and rushing defense. In the Fiesta Bowl after giving up 28 first half points, the Irish were held to a single touchdown in the second half while Oklahoma State mounted a furious rally. For that game the Irish averaged 2.0 yards per carry, and managed just 42 yards in rushing on the day.
Knowles worked his magic again this past weekend against the Irish. Pre-Knowles in 2021, the Buckeyes gave up 22.3 points per game including a combined total of 87 points in their last two contests. Saturday night, the Irish showed some life in the first half against the Buckeyes, managing a 10-7 lead, but the second half of the game was a lesson in futility and the art of punting the football. NO points, 60 yards gained and punts on each of their five possessions. For the game the Irish totaled 76 yards on the ground and averaged just 2.5 yards per carry.
Fortunately, for the year, the Irish are done with Jim Knowles……. at least until the post season.
SPECIALISTS MAY BE SPECIAL: With the loss of veteran placekicker Jonathan Doerer and veteran punter Jay Bramblett, question marks swirled throughout the spring about the status of these two important positions. The Irish signed freshman for each role but also brought in tranfer help as insurance policies. It looks like the insurance may have paid off. Blake Grupe, transfer from Arkansas St, had a strong fall camp and he nailed his only field goal attempt Saturday from 33 yards out, with plenty of yards to spare.
The punting game, which unfortunately got a lot of play Saturday, was handled by Harvard transfer, Jon Sot. Sot (who also handled holding duties) punted eight times for a 46.3-yard average. Included in that barrage was a beautiful effort which was downed at the Ohio State five in the 4th quarter. Three of his kicks were downed inside the 20. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes from there went on a 95-yard march that gave them their final 21-10 lead. Sot may have saved his best for last, with 3:42 left in the game he hit one good for 75 yards.
TURNOVER? WHAT TURNOVER? Every game has turnovers and they often tell the tale of the final outcome in big games. That is football dogma. Well that black letter may need to be reconsidered. Saturday night ND and Ohio State combined for zero fumbles lost and zero interceptions. That is the mark of two well coached football teams. Even when Michael Mayer lost one when transferring the football to the other hand after a nifty 17 yard gain in the third quarter, he executed a textbook recovery, of his own fumble. Last season in 13 games, between the Irish and their opponents there was an average of 3.2 turnovers per game. The average for 2022 so far is 0.00.
QB COMPARISON: At halftime Tyler Buchner had better passing stats than Heisman trophy candidate CJ Stroud. Those numbers were 8-10 for 128 yards for Buchner and 11-17 for 99 yards for Stroud. Stroud made up for it in the second half however as he rallied the Buckeyes. Included in his effort was a couple of dazzling laser shots that went for first downs just when it looked like the play was over and the Irish defense would get off the field. Those plays were instrumental in keeping the two long Buckeye touchdown drives of 70 and 95 yards going. Buchner finished his evening 10-18 good for 177 yards with 11 carries for 37 yards (sack adjusted). Stroud finished 24-34 good for 223 and 2 TDs. He added 11 (sack adjusted) yards rushing to his day.
JARRETT PATTERSON, ND MISSES YOU: Patterson was unable to play Saturday due to the foot injury he suffered in mid August. At that time it appeared very unlikely that he would be ready to see action for the opener. But as he graduated from a cart to a walking boot to some live reps in practice, Freeman kept hope alive for Patterson’s possible play on Saturday. It was not to be however and as a non-participant against Ohio State it would seem prudent to now hold Patterson out against Marshall this week and perhaps also against Cal the next. That would give him a full six weeks to recover and have him ready for North Carolina on September 24.
Andrew Kristofic who started seven games at left guard a year ago, played the entire game in place of Patterson. Kristofic is a very capable starter, but Patterson is an all-American.
NOTABLE QUOTEABLE: “We’ve got a good football team. We’ve got to learn how to finish,” Marcus Freeman postgame.
NOTES IN SEARCH OF A STORY: When TE Kevin Bauman hauled in a beautiful 22 yard Tyler Buchner pass across the middle in the second quarter, commenting on the rare catch by any tight end not named Michael Mayer, one reporter on press row commented, “well you save your trick plays for big games”. As a matter of fact in 2021, Michael Mayer had 71 catches, all other ND TEs combined for 4….Despite the Irish game plan to try and control time of possession, Ohio State won the battle with 32:59….Poor starting field position plagued the Irish. ND started 6 of 10 drives inside the 15. The average starting point for ND was their own 18….The Irish needed a big effort by their defensive ends to keep CJ Stroud in check. Isiah Foskey and Rylie Mills combined for 7 tackles but no sacks. ND had just one sacks, by Howard Cross …..By limiting the Buckeyes to 21 points, Al Golden’s defense held Ohio State to its lowest point total since they only managed 16 in a loss to Oklahoma on Sept 9, 2017….Saturday’s announced attendance was 106,594. Notre Dame was allotted just 5,000 tickets for the game. And considering the nearly uninterrupted sea of red in the stands of 100 year old Ohio Stadium, it would seem that Ohio State fans do not sell their tickets to the opponent’s fans.
THE STATE OF THE PROGRAM: It’s an old adage but it is true and this season for the Irish it could be REALLY true. “If you are going to lose, lose early”. We all hate moral victories (just about the first words out of Marcus Freeman post game) but the bottom line is the Irish played pretty well against the #2 team in the country, particularly on defense. They now have an opportunity to get their young offense to further develop over the next few weeks, against solid but lesser opponents. It’s a tall order with plenty of potential traps the rest of the season, but if the Irish win out with their only loss coming to the #2 team in the nation, they will make the College Football playoff for the 3rd time in five years.
THEY ARE MARSHALL: The Marshall Thundering Herd out of the Sun Belt conference visit ND next Saturday afternoon for a 2:30 PM match-up The Herd defeated FCS Norfolk St. 55-3 in their season opener. ND and Marshall have never played.
See you next Saturday in South Bend.